Canucks Stuck in Hockey Purgatory

The Vancouver Canucks had a dynasty in the making from the years of 2009-2012. Within that time period they won two presidents trophies, the division each year, a trip to the Stanley Cup final in 2011. Since that cup run, however, they have not been able to replicate the same type of success. They won the presidents trophy the next season, but ultimately lost out in five games in the first round against the eventual Stanley Cup winners, Los Angeles Kings.

Four years later, and the Canucks find themselves in a much different situation. They’ve been a lottery pick team two of the past three years, and look as though they will be the leagues basement dwellers for years to come despite trying to stay competitive. What happened? How did this once ferocious and offensively gifted team fall off so fast without any signs of hope to replenish the good name of the Vancouver Canucks anytime soon? This team is in hockey purgatory.

A few reasons are at fault for this purgatory position the Canucks have found themselves in. Firstly, bad drafting. Between the years of 2005 and 2010, the Canucks have just one player on their roster that they drafted, Anton Rodin.  He was a second pick in the 2009 draft; and even then, Rodin spent the last few years playing in Sweden. Just one of 34 picks panned out for the Canucks in those drafts. In other words, former General Managers of the club, Mike Gillis and Dave Nonis left nobody in the system for Mr. Jim Benning and company when they came into town back in 2013. Benning and Canucks President, Trevor Linden, continue to express the notion of acquiring 24-29 year old players in order to stay competitive. If just two or three more of those draft picks would have worked out and the team had a fallback replacement for Henrik and Daniel Sedin, maybe they would be in much better shape going forward. But that is not reality. The Vancouver Canucks lack top end players in their prime right now and are trading away assets and draft choices to acquire cast away players entering their prime with the hopes of them finding lightning in a bottle since they were unable to draft any of their own talent. Some examples of these acquisitions include: Emerson Etem, Sven Baertschi, Erik Gudbranson, Brandon Sutter, Markus Granlund, and in their most recent efforts, Loui Eriksson. The first few players in that list were highly touted players coming into their draft year and were first round picks; but inconsistent play had derailed them, and they became expendable allowing the Canucks to try to revitalize their careers. However, none of these players have top end skill and talent that can replace franchise players, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, who are 36 and in the twilight of their careers.

Having two future Hall-of-Famer’s in the line-up on a daily basis must bode well for any team, right? Wrong. As much as the Sedins have been a product of Success in Vancouver, they are currently another major reason for their purgatory status. Not at their own fault, but the team’s willingness and competitiveness to try and stay competitive until they retire– which many still be a couple years away. Sadly, IF Vancouver tries to stay competitive with the Sedins as their main point producers, and Jannik Hansen as their secondary scoring option, they will once again have a lottery pick. Rarely does the league see players regress from their prime and then revamp for a Stanley Cup run. This past season the San Jose Sharks had Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau step their game up and helped lead the team into the post season, and two games away from a Stanley Cup; but that is a rarity. If Vancouver tries to pull a San Jose and the Sedins pick up their offense with newly signed forward, Loui Erikkson, they will be sadly misguided from the Sharks fairy tale because the Canucks do not have a Logan Couture, or a Brent Burns, or even a Joe Pavelski. The Sharks aided their resurrection with the ability to find players in the 2005-2010 drafts and will be able to remain competitive for years. As mentioned earlier in this article, the Canucks have not done so. Thus, purgatory status remains.

Barring any type of massive move, the Canucks will have the Sedins signed through till the end of next season. They may not be done with hockey and could receive new extensions, which would ultimately set back the rebuild yet another season. Benning is working in an unconventional way to try and please ownership, the players, and the fans.

Thirdly, I do not place much of the blame on Jim Benning and Trevor Linden. Many have reported that the owners, the Acquillini family, are looking to sell the franchise. The belief from ownership is they need to put a competitive and winning product on the ice in order to get value for their team. Yet, sorry to break it to you, Francesco, the roster does not allow for that possibility without mortgaging the future. If this is in fact the case, then you’ve got to applaud Benning for what he’s been able to do, which keeping the Prospect reasonably pool intact, besides McCann, Shinkaruk, and Forsling. Jim Benning comes from a draft background so it’s odd to see him move so many draft picks, however. Since acquiring the job in 2014 he has traded away 11 picks since becoming GM; note some were acquired picks, but nonetheless, for a GM who got the job by being a great talent evaluator and an amazing drafter, he has given away 11 opportunities to find an NHL player for the Franchise. In a cap world, that is not the way to field a winning team on the ice. Luckily, He has drafted a good nucleus that seems like they could be the beginning of a new regime in Vancouver with Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, and Olli Juolevi.

The Canucks will try and compete for a few more years, this much is evident with the key word being try. Can Bo Harvat and Virtanen become top end talent a top 10 pick should be? Will Demko, Boeser and Joulevi become cornerstone pieces of the Vancouver Canucks in the future? We shall see, but one thing is for sure, this team will be in hockey purgatory for at least a few more years.

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