Trent Leith / February 9, 2021
When you sort the league standings by point percentage the Vancouver Canucks are in the company of teams like the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, LA Kings and San Jose Sharks. Oof. It would not be a far cry to call the 2021 season to this point, a disaster, especially put in the context of the 2019/20 season as a backdrop.
This is the part of a new contender’s timeline where after the team loses some players they either find a way to improve anyway or tread water and learn some hard lessons. It is not the part where they fall apart at the seams and go back to the drawing board.
In such a unique year, what can be done to fix the situation and firmly put the team back on the rails, toward contention? That’s a big question with 4 potential solutions.
A Change Behind the Bench
What if the bench boss gets the boot? Usually, when a team is falling apart or underachieving to a degree like the Canucks are right now, management lets the coach go, to light a fire under the team. This also gets a fresh pair of eyes on the talent.
Travis Green remains a lame-duck coach with seemingly no contract in sight. Especially with the quality of play put on the ice this season, it’s far from unlikely that he may get shown the door before the campaign is up.
Travis Green put up the coaching job of a lifetime in the bubble against the Vegas Golden Knights, prolonging that series against a true contender. His praises were shouted from the rooftops and yet he still was not awarded a new contract. There have been on and off “on-going” talks, but no deal despite both sides reportedly wanting to get a deal done.
While he is coming off a hot summer in the bubble, Green is clearly having a much harder time getting this team on the same page. Defensive collapses, low effort, and poor results. While I don’t personally think Green is to blame, it often doesn’t matter if the coach is truly to blame in these situations. Cutting the head coach is an easy scapegoat in the name of a quick fix. With Green sitting without a contract, it only makes it easier to pull the trigger and let him go.
The biggest hurdle if the Canucks decide to shake up the coaching staff, is that whoever they bring is 2 weeks away, unless they are already in Canada. If the Canucks hire a new coach and let Green go, they have no one to coach for the duration of any required quarantine. It makes things much more difficult if that’s the route the Canucks decide is best.
There is no cavalry coming. Sure, Vasili Podkolzin has yet to join the team, but his addition would be far from enough to fix what is broken here. The border is closed and trades with any team beyond the other six in the Canadian Division is all but impossible. With quarantine rules in place, it makes it even harder and less likely to complete trades than ever before. While it remains an option, there aren’t many players with the value the Canucks would be willing to remove at this point.
You can shuffle the lines, but even that seems futile. Saturday night Green pencilled Loui Eriksson in the lineup for the first time this season and he had no shots, no assists, no goals, no blocks and a single hit. That was the ace up their sleeve, top six Loui Eriksson.
The Lotto Line has shown flashes of their old selves, but for the majority of the time, they are shells of their former selves. With no one expected to come into the room, all you can do is shake up what isn’t working.
If you put Höglander on the top line, he would act as a spark plug for Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller and also add some scoring touch with Brock Boeser on the second line. With how well Höglander is playing, I don’t think it’s a good option to slide him further down the line-up anyways.
Nils Höglander has had a higher compete level than most of the current top six and is producing at a half-decent rate. If you are expected to earn your ice time on Green’s team, he certainly has while many others have not.
A Change in Management
#FireBenning, we have seen the tweets, we have seen it trending on and off all season long, but is it truly an option? Of course, but it may not be the blanket fix you might hope it would be. For reasons already stated, the Canucks, with or without Jim Benning, are going to have a hard time moving players in or out and that’s about all that can be done from a management standpoint at this moment in time.
Depending on how well of a negotiator you think Benning is, firing him may be the absolute right or wrong call. If the Canucks ownership were to let Benning go it would prevent him from handling contract negotiations for Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko. These are contracts that will have massive implications on the franchise moving forward, and many don’t have confidence in the current management to get those deals done. Jim Benning hasn’t exactly won any favours with the up and coming stars lately either.
If you let Benning go midseason it sends a message to the disgruntled team from ownership, that reads: “we don’t stand behind what he did, we don’t approve of it, and we won’t have it”. After a lot of the comments made in the media by players like Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller, about their thoughts on the offseason, it was clear that the team was not happy, that not only the key departures happened, but the way they happened as well.
Ownership however has been cutting costs throughout the organization Some believe Benning didn’t buy out Brandon Sutter to make room to keep Tyler Toffoli because ownership wouldn’t allow paying any extra money right now. With that in mind, it’s hard to believe that the Aquilinis are comfortable paying Benning for a job he isn’t doing in the case he is let go.
Benning getting the boot could be a vote of confidence for the team, and maybe enough to jumpstart the room, but beyond that, it won’t affect the on-ice play at all. Ultimately, the problem lies on the ice, and that’s where the problem needs to be solved.
Now, this doesn’t sound like much of an approach to a problem, but there is more to this approach than a simple shrug emoji. A lot of the problems with the Canucks right now looks like leadership, effort and moral issues, and those are not often fixed with transactions.
We know the Canucks leadership core had quite the wrench thrown in the mix with Tanev and Markstrom leaving in the offseason. The holes left in the team are not easily filled and need to be filled organically, but that will take time.
The locker room issues are just like a tangled extension cord, it’s frustrating, you think there is a fast and easy fix to get it sorted out, but the only real solution is to just bite the bullet, sit down and just work through it, however long it may take. As it stands, that pesky cord is already a little better thanks to Braden Holtby taking a bit of a leadership role and holding J.T. Miller’s feet to the fire in Saturday night’s game. It may not seem like much but his staredown was worth a thousand words.
It will be things like that, small exchanges that will have large impacts on the team. Combined with a schedule that eases off a little bit, the team will then get to work through some more yardage of the extension cord in practice. Players holding each other accountable will make the team better. Challenging their peers, and helping each other Improve.
With this season being so strange, it might be the right approach at this point in the season to hold out hope. We all know this team is better than how it is playing right now. The team should eat their losses and be better for it next year. The Canucks should try not to make any massive knee-jerk reactions just yet. Let’s all give the team some time to breathe and let’s see what shakes out.