Francesco Aquilini’s Opinion Means Nothing

Francisco Aquilini was apparently “absolutely livid” that the Vancouver Canucks drafted Olli Juolevi instead of Matthew Tkachuk. That according to former Vancouver sports columnist Gary Mason – and he should know. That is Francesco Aquilini opinion on the matter.

Let’s talk about why that’s bad news.

Aquilini’s Opinion Shouldn’t Matter

In reality, Francesco Aquilini opinion should not matter. Headline says it all, really. In day-to-day operations, the owner has as much say as he wants. But that isn’t a good sign for anyone who wants to work with them, and getting the right people into the right positions is where the owner’s focus should be. They are, like Hugh Fennyman, The Money.

That they should let their hired employees do their jobs without interference doesn’t mean that they will, of course. But even if Aquilini is – according to Mason – much more “hands off” now than he used to be, he still did the hiring. And a job interview is certainly one way to weed out potential staff who don’t agree with your vision.

He hired Jim Benning and Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin because they all told him that the Canucks were close to competing. That’s what Aquilini wants to hear and is clearly what he wants to believe, so that’s the Canucks’ direction. Everything else flows from there.

Juolevi Specifically

Okay, fine. Tiresome as it is, let’s run it down again.

Juolevi was drafted with the fifth overall selection in the 2016 entry draft. With the excellent play of Matthew Tkachuk – taken one pick later – it’s common for people to claim Juolevi’s selection was utterly inexplicable. The impression now is that “everyone” knew he was going to be a bust, or a second-rounder, or at best, a late first.

That’s nonsense.

He was taken higher than most of the publicly available mock drafts and scouting lists showed, absolutely. And there were good arguments for selecting Tkachuk, or Alexander Nylander, or, as some people* wanted, Mikhail Sergachev. But he was nothing like the reach some today pretend.

In these thirteen draft rankings from the year, the lowest he sits is 11th. What Franciso Aquilini’s opinion was at the time unpublished. Go figure.

It’s one thing to say that teams should draft the best player available, even if the prospect pool has a specific deficiency. After all, if the team ends up with a surplus of players at one position, they can always trade to build the area in which they lack.

It’s another to forget that the positions with the most value – in 2016 and now – are centres and defensemen. The 2015-16 season ended with Ben Hutton‘s one goal and 25 points leading the Canucks defence. The next year it was Troy Stecher with three and 24.

(Stares in available Canucks wingers)

Juolevi was the lowest-risk blue-liner available, lauded for his intelligent play and mature, well-rounded game. His weakness was in his skating, but that could be worked around. Injuries, unfortunately, made his weakest aspect drop to well below the NHL level and now it would be a surprise to see him return.

The Point

Hearing Aquilini’s opinion about a player Benning chose at the draft is… nothing. It’s literally nothing. Aquilini didn’t do anything about it, so what does his supposed rage matter? He was just another fan who had no choice but to – Oh, hold on.

Aquilini did end up firing Benning, but not before taking his side in the Jim Benning – Trevor Linden power struggle. That happened two years after the 2016 draft which annoyed him so. The owner didn’t just forgive Benning but continued to endorse his vision of the team.

And more than that, Aquilini needed to be consulted on the big moves Benning made. Loui Eriksson for 6 x $6 million? That would have been approved. Adding Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s six-year, $44 million contract? You KNOW that had to get run by the owners first.

It’s very, very easy to say “Oh, I wanted to do this instead” with no paper trail and years after the decision was made. Show us who your pick was in 2017, or who you’re willing to bet your career on here in 2023.

So now we, as fans, are in the hands of Aquilini’s latest hires, Rutherford and Allvin. We know what he wants them to do: get back to the playoffs without rebuilding. Do we trust them, all three?

There lies the question. Presumably, he trusts his hires; as fans, we have little say in the matter. What lessons – if any – has Aquilini learned from his experience with Benning? And how will he apply them?

The best of all possible worlds is that we never find out.



Main Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports