What We Learned: The Canucks need to be smart here, but they're the Canucks

The Vancouver Canucks seemed to be on the right track – but are they abandoning that direction? (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Lots of rumors starting to swirl around the Vancouver Canucks lately, and many of them should be disconcerting to anyone hoping that team goes anywhere any time soon.

It was only a little more than a week ago that the team’s effort to put everything together after kinda-sorta blowing it up a year or two back (at least as far as ownership would allow) was dubbed a “model rebuild” but that was not the world’s greatest take and I think everyone disagreed with it immediately.

The Vancouver roster has been dysfunctional for a long time — dating back to, what, the Tortorella days? — and every once in a while you start to get the feeling that they know it and are going to do something about it. Then, instead, they do something to totally dissuade you of whatever fleeting belief you had that they had figured anything out and, in fact, stick a thumb in your eye.

Case in point: This week rumors began to crop up that ehhh, they might not trade Erik Gudbranson after all, even though there’s some amount of demand for him (for reasons difficult to fully understand) because he’s likely to be a critical part of this team going forward. That’s their view, anyway, but this is a guy for whom they gave up a first round pick who was barely into his 20s. Not that Jared McCann is making them regret the decision with his play in Florida or anything, but Gudbranson isn’t helping anyone get anywhere.

Likewise the pending decision on Thomas Vanek, who’s been a great mentor (or at least competent linemate) to super-rookie Brock Boeser. Now there are some indications Vancouver might not trade him either — just about any article you read about the guy lately is about how he wants to stay and Vancouver has a decision to make, etc. — because well, he helps make Boeser look so good.

And then on Saturday night, they say on Sportsnet, oh well the Sedins probably want to come back for another season. Which is fine and understandable and they’re both on pace for almost 60 points this season and all that. But the reason they’re still on the Canucks at all is that the team doesn’t want to send them elsewhere. Fair enough given what they’ve meant to the franchise for nearly two decades and everything, but it’s that kind of emotionally driven decisionmaking that is all too pervasive in the sport writ large,

I think I said it a few weeks ago but a big part of the reason the New England Patriots are so good year after year after year is that there is no emotional attachment to anything. If Tom Brady threw three pick-sixes yesterday, Bill Belichick would have no misigivings about pushing him down an elevator shaft to save a little cap money next year in pursuit of yet another trip to the Super Bowl. That’s the way personnel decisions need to be pursued in sports, and if you can get literally anything for the Sedins at age 37 with a pair of $7 million AAVs, god, shouldn’t you take it?

Meanwhile, the Canucks can’t even commit themselves to fully stripping down a roster that’s currently four games below .500 even by the NHL’s all-too-generous points system. Of the four players mentioned, none are “we absolutely must keep them around”-quality at this point – though the Sedins are certainly in that ballpark. If you can wring any value out of Gudbranson and Vanek and get a prospect, a pick, or both out of the deal, then you absolutely need to pursue it. The fact that it’s even being discussed one way or the other five weeks before the trade deadline is mind-blowing.

There are also rumors that Chicago might want in on Michael Del Zotto, who’s 27 and perfectly okay but again, certainly not a guy you need to keep around as part of a rebuild effort. Chris Tanev? There are more rumors there but if you wanna keep him around — even as he’s already 28 — it’s fine, but they should at least entertain offers for him and literally everyone else on the roster not named Horvat and Boeser.

The understanding has long been that ownership doesn’t think local fans would put up with a full-on, strip-it-to-the-studs rebuild and that even if Jim Benning had the desire to get a little more aggressive here, that might not be an option that’s available to him because the guy signing the checks wants to limit that flexibility. Of course, fans are probably also sick of whatever attempt at competition the Canucks have rolled out for, what, the last three years. So there’s no winning strategy here from management.

Case in point, the most concerting rumor if you’re a Canucks fan is that Jim Benning might be on his way out this summer — which, hard to argue it wouldn’t have been well-earned based on the inefficacy of the team’s “rebuild on the fly” efforts, or his recent quote that he noticed the game was getting “fast” just TWO years ago. Benning, like the Sedins, Vanek, and Gudbranson, is out of contract at the end of the season and it’s one of those things where you go, “Well, about 40 percent of the hockey fans in Vancouver can probably do a similarly mediocre-at-best job of running this team, so let’s see what’s out there.”

The issue, then, isn’t that Benning would be allowed to walk, it’s that he might be replaced by Ken Holland. This was reported in the Vancouver Province, so it’s almost certainly sourced and all that stuff. Holland has done the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel worst job in the least over the past five years to not only lay waste the Red Wings’ quality but to make sure the earth was good and salted with about a dozen bad, untradeable contracts.

If this isn’t hockey’s “old boys’ club” at work, nothing is. The number of people who are more qualified to run an NHL franchise than Ken Holland at this point is considerable. And even if that weren’t necessarily the case, just the idea of “we’re gonna hire the guy who cratered Detroit” should be the kind of thing franchises fully understand will result in a torches-and-pitchforks gathering out in front of the arena, with fans howling for blood.

To be totally clear: What the Canucks should be doing, and should have been doing for at least the last two seasons if not three, is trading everyone over 27 for picks and prospects. Benning’s strategy of misevaluating players — only four more years of Brandon Sutter! — only deepened the hole out of which the team has to dig, and now they’re trying to dig their way out of it as well.

Anyone on earth could tell you how to proceed here, but the Canucks being the Canucks, that’s not going to happen. Truly amazing.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are on a nice little run at home here. Four straight. I totally buy them as a playoff team.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes’ win over St. Louis on Saturday was their first against the Blues in 13 tries. That’s wild.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins and Habs played each other three times in eight days. Boston won all of them. Fun stuff.

Buffalo Sabres: You legit just have to trade everyone.

Calgary Flames: The Flames had a seven-game winning streak snapped but they still got a point out of the Jets and that’s fine because the Jets are good and sometimes you lose to good teams even if you’re playing well. That’s life!

Carolina Hurricanes: Not having Sebastian Aho should be a bigger problem than it apparently has been.

Chicago Blackhawks: If they fire Quenneville it would be a very bad idea.

Colorado Avalanche: The Avs’ winning streak ran up to nine games on Saturday. They’d scored 37 goals in those nine games which, if you do the math real quick, is a little more than four goals a game. Good number! But Nathan MacKinnon, he has points on 19 goals in those nine games, meaning he’s been in on more than two a game all by himself. He is the winning streak and if he keeps this up, he’s the league’s MVP in a walk.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Thought Jokinen was a savvy pickup by Columbus. Let’s see how it goes.

Dallas Stars: Let’s try not to draw too many conclusions from kicking the hell out of Buffalo. I know it’s tempting, but it’s also only Buffalo.

Detroit Red Wings: Oh yeah, uhh, injuries are the problem.

Edmonton Oilers: Finally, they’ve figured out how to right the ship in Edmonton: Hire a guy who was good for the Oilers in the ’80s. For sure.

Florida Panthers: I don’t know if you guys heard but the guy who is coach of Vegas, which is good this year, used to be the coach in Florida. Under-reported story!

Los Angeles Kings: It was six straight losses for the Kings before they stopped the bleeding late Sunday night. They briefly dropped into a tie for fourth in the division with the team they’d just lost to. Feels about right.

Minnesota Wild: It is weird to me that Hockey Day in Minnesota is the same day as Hockey Day in Canada. They should be different days.

Montreal Canadiens: Ever since those rumors really started churning, Max Pacioretty has seven goals in his last seven games. Of course, the Habs have only won three of those games, so..

Nashville Predators: That’s five straight Ws for my sons.

New Jersey Devils: Will it surprise you to learn that a Devils team that looks like it’ll make the playoffs is drawing more fans? It won’t, you say? Hmm.

New York Islanders: The Islanders organization has decided it doesn’t like Josh Ho-Sang. Doug Weight’s quotes on the matter are………………. interesting.

New York Rangers: God, just sell everyone. It’s over.

Ottawa Senators: Erik Karlsson says he’s not that worried about getting traded away from the Senators. Yeah no kidding, right?

Philadelphia Flyers: Ivan Provorov has had a low-key phenomenal season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: I totally don’t know what to think of the Pens anymore.

San Jose Sharks: You’d think a headline like this one would be disconcerting, right?

St. Louis Blues: What are teams’ records in their first games after the bye week over the last two years? It can’t be that good, right?

Tampa Bay Lightning: Five losses in the last seven games? I bet not having that All-Star defenseman hurts. Just my theory.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Good thing they were only playing Ottawa.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks only just now realizing they need good young players is legitimately amazing.

Vegas Golden Knights: Vegas entered Sunday with one power-play goal in its last 12 games. It also had three regulation wins in its previous seven games. One assumes these issues are connected in some way.

Washington Capitals: Splitting up Backstrom and Ovechkin is one of those “I’m gonna say ‘hmmmmmm’” until the sun explodes.

Winnipeg Jets: I feel like this would be a super good seven-game series.

Play of the Weekend

Hoo baby what a shot.

Gold Star Award

This is simultaneously the best and worst custom jersey I have ever seen.

Minus of the Weekend

I’m still mentally processing the Kid Rock thing but it’s insanely bad for like 14 unique reasons.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year

User “camdon” has a take I actually kinda almost like?

Tyson Barrie and a 3rd for Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and a 1st.

Signoff

Superintendent, I hope you’re ready for mouth-watering hamburgers.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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