The Vancouver Canucks missed the window to win—now it's time to rebuild.
Not retool, rebuild. Blow it up. Get younger, focus on depth, but do it as quickly as possible so the suffering that is sure to follow is as brief as possible. It seems harsh and to some might sound like an overreaction to a single disappointing season. But we've seen these same signs in Western Canada before.
The Calgary Flames went from a Stanley Cup finalist in 2004 to a division champion following the 2004-05 lockout, then gradually deteriorated to the point where missing the playoffs altogether became inevitable. Worse, it became acceptable. The supporting cast changed, but the core group of players just expected to win without working hard for it. They made the playoffs a few more years but weren't very competitive once they got there.
Finally realizing the flaws of his approach of annually tinkering (the dreaded retooling) with the roster by bringing in veteran players to support the core, then-general manager Jay Feaster admitted last season that it was time for a more drastic approach. Sacrifice winning in the short term to ensure a brighter long-term future. The team said goodbye to captain Jarome Iginla—the final piece of that 2004 core—and is fully entrenched in a youth movement.
It was too late to save Feaster's job, but the Flames will be better for it in the years to come. There's hope in Calgary, with a young collection of players showing promise and a pipeline of prospects much deeper than in previous seasons. Losing but making progress. Trending upward rather than plummeting.
Vancouver has reached that same critical point as the Flames did a few years ago. A decision has to be made to abandon the illusion of just being good enough to challenge for a playoff spot and doing something to improve for the future.
|The Downward Spiral of Division Rivals|
|Vancouver Canucks||Calgary Flames|
|2010-11||54-19-9||Lost in Cup Final||2003-04||42-30-7-3||Lost in Cup Final|
|2011-12||51-22-9||Lost in first round||2005-06||46-25-11||Lost in first round|
|2012-13||26-15-7||Lost in first round||2006-07||43-29-10||Lost in first round|
|2013-14||30-29-10||2007-08||42-30-10||Lost in first round|
|2008-09||46-30-6||Lost in first round|
The team's only proven netminder, Roberto Luongo, felt so snubbed and disrespected by the coach that general manager Mike Gillis had little choice but to find him a one-way ticket out of town, getting little beside cap flexibility back in return by ditching Luongo's long-term contract.
Feeling it's time to make some moves, Gillis dangled his most reliable playoff performer in Ryan Kesler, only to realize the market for his star center wasn't quite what he'd hoped.
Kesler's market will heat up at the NHL draft, with more teams able to get in on the bidding than were in play at the trade deadline—for salary-cap, budget and playoff-race reasons.
Enduring the worst seasons of their NHL careers, aging superstars Henrik and Daniel Sedin are now nearing the title of post-apex players—a term coined in Calgary by Feaster when referring to those climbing in age and deteriorating in skill.
|Sedin Twins' Depreciating Returns|
|Henrik Sedin||Daniel Sedin|
Change is coming. That part is clear. But there are questions as to how that will take place.
One is whether the Aquilini family will allow that change to be incremental or if they want it to be instant.
Dealing Kesler will likely bring in a high draft pick or two, a solid prospect and maybe a player young enough to help form a new core of key players for the Canucks right away. As it stands, the Canucks have one of the least flattering prospect pools in the league, with a couple of strong ones like centers Bo Horvat and Brendan Gaunce and defenceman Frank Corrado joining Hunter Shinkaruk as the only ones who are highly regarded.
Shopping assets such as Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins, Alex Edler and even the Sedin twins could set this team up for a new direction. Forget the deterrent of no-trade clauses. They only offer a player a choice of where he goes. Nobody wants to stick around when asked to leave...well, except Mats Sundin.
Another question is whether or not Gillis will even be allowed to lead the rebuilding process.
His mistake of trading two of the league's best goaltenders less than a year apart and leaving the most important position in the game in the hands of a pair of raw and inexperienced players is probably enough of a reason for him to be fired.
John Tortorella, Gillis' choice in coach for this season after sending Alain Vigneault packing, hasn't appeared to be a fit for a team built around the Sedin twins' skill, either.
If not for the hefty price tag that it would cost to pay both a new GM and head coach while fulfilling the obligations of four more years on each of their deals, it might be a total housecleaning. Gillis may receive a stay of execution, but the calls for his job from the fans—and any resulting effect on the business and ticket sales side of things that come as a result—could make that stay a short one.
Whatever ownership decides to do with the GM, and the GM decides to do with the head coach, the personnel on the ice needs a massive shakeup. The gap in prospect depth only means a team already so far from the glory of a few years ago will fall further behind in sustainability.
The core is rotten, same as it was in Calgary a few years ago. It's no longer a group that can win together, so it's time to send some away and bring in the pieces that will form the core of the future.