By: Brayden Fengler / November 18, 2021
Wow, have things ever heated up over these last few weeks. Even if I was approached with a predictive almanac, Back to the Future style, I still never would’ve bet that this Canucks team would get off to such a horrendous start.
It seems like the same talking points have been reverberating around the airwaves for the past few weeks, about key players not living up to their potential, about lines that haven’t found their footing. However, a few weeks ago that talk wasn’t happening with the same elevated blood pressure that we’re seeing now. Just a few weeks ago there was faith, faith that this team would soon see a bounce back.
Yet sadly, that faith has too quickly evaporated and although it’s still far too early in the season to write off this entire team, they’ve played enough games to warrant real concern. Something is seriously wrong and seriously needs to be fixed. But where does one even start?
Over the past few days, I sent out a few feelers to some familiar faces on Canucks and Hockey Twitter. These feelers contained the big task of narrowing down the most prominent issue that exists with this current Canucks team. Is the largest issue with this team the star players? The coach? The GM? Ownership? When everything seems to be wrong, there really are no wrong answers.
The Special Teams
One problem evident with this club is their special team abilities. This is something that we highlighted in a recent article which you can read here. Since publishing that article this past Saturday, the Canuck’s special team percentages have gone from 16.7% to 14.5% on the power play and even worse, they’ve also dropped on the penalty kill from 62.8% down to 60.3%.
“You simply cannot win with the special teams being as bad as they are. Not only is the penalty killing last in the league, but it is on pace right now to be the worst in league history. And the powerplay simply looks lost.”Pete
Pete is far from wrong, the penalty kill is especially bad and uninspired. You’d be hard-pressed to find a Canucks fan that watches the duration of a Canucks PK right now without squinting, wincing, or crying in utter disbelief. In my conversation with Pete, his focus was on the special teams, but he also touched on other areas of this club, that are of course also a part of the many recurring issues that plague this team.
“Ownership is stubborn and fails to commit to a long-term rebuild. The short-sightedness has filtered down into management who continues to trade assets or sign questionable contracts. The coaching staff feels stale; we’ve seen a lot of this before and this team isn’t getting the most out of their players”Pete
Green Is No Longer Green to the Job
Now, continuing on and zooming back in. All the issues that this team faces are of course connected, but directly connected to the special teams, is the person that decides how they are built, Travis Green. In an exchange I had with Brendan Kobliuk, @jabo_vancouver on Twitter, his main frustration lied with Green.
“For 3 years I have prayed this coaching staff would get it through their heads that run and gun will never get this team close to where it needs to be and we sit here now playing the same style with zero gap control and no real defensive system to speak of. They cycle in player after player with the same results and now under this coaching staff the core is starting to regress.”Brendan
Brendan has a more negative view of Green as a whole than I personally do, but he is not alone in the fan base. I know I personally have heard many radio callers over these past few weeks lambasting Green as being a “bargain bin” coach, unfit to perform at the NHL level.
Personally, I think for the most part Green has been a fantastic coach for this team, this considering what he’s had to work with during his time here. The results have been phenomenal from a development standpoint, but yes, clearly not from a “results” results standpoint.
However, now that the team is at least on paper, much better than they have been since Green arrived, is there more of a point than ever to what those that doubt Green are saying? Maybe Green is great at developing youth, but perhaps his talents don’t stretch much more beyond that?
“While I don’t necessarily believe this roster is quite a contender I do believe a new voice can get this team, that I do believe is a playoff team, playing the right away and get this ship steadied again.”Brendan
This statement may be true, and at the very least is the shortest path to “change” without derailing the entire organization. Any change to on-ice personnel would be a quick and massive admission of wrongdoing by the GM, Jim Benning.
Yet even still most that follow this team of course also know that owner Francesco Aquilini has a soft spot for Benning, and his leash seems to be long. All that to say that even those that don’t think removing Green is the best idea, tend to agree that of all big drastic moves that could be made off ice and on, having Green shipped out of Vancouver would likely be the first shoe to drop.
Speaking of Jimbo
Even if we all agreed that Green was the biggest problem facing this team. Isn’t it the GM who would be the most to blame? As Jim Benning didn’t just hire Green, but also extended his contract by two more years.
You would think that by this stage in Travis’ time with the Canucks, Jim Benning would’ve known the strengths and limitations of his head coach and should’ve been able to build a team this past offseason that could play to those strengths. This especially since Aquilini’s hands seemed to let go of the pocketbook over the summer, as Jim looked to have full control over the team he was building for Travis.
Apparently, this team is the exact team that Benning wanted to build… So what does that say about his abilities as a GM, more so than Green’s as a coach? In reaching out to Cody Severtson of The Crease Cast and AHLNucksHarvest.com, he seemed to also believe that at the end of the day, the blame so far this season can be mostly placed on the GM.
“The league is an efficiency contest and it’s the GM’s job to construct a roster that isn’t top-heavy or bottom-heavy. It’s his job to create a “rising tide lifts all boats” situation. A team where, even if your superstars are having off nights, you’re 2nd/3rd/4th line and 3rd pair players are good enough to lift those they’re on-ice with”Cody
If this is the job that the GM is supposed to do, it’s clear to many that Benning has not done this job, be that this year, or in years past. The Canucks are more comparable to the rising water that has been submerging much of the lower mainland. Cody went on to say:
“Look at Tampa, they’re without a top-5 player in the league and STILL perform throughout their lineup! Goals up and down the lineup! This team (the Canucks) is built on two stars. 1 C and 1 D. The GM’s strategy is “our superstars carry the weight and our goalie provides Vezina-calibre goaltending.” And that strategy simply doesn’t fly in today’s NHL. Teams are too fast, too deep, and too talented to get away with such a basic and exploitable roster construction. Especially when that same GM can’t identify a defenceman to save his life.”Cody
Maybe that’s the answer, this team is just built wrong, and as such Green can only ice a team that plays into the problems it has. It’s hard for Green to hide holes in this team if he only has three players to hide behind (Petersson, Hughes, and Demko). This is especially apparent right now of course because one of those three has yet to really show up on the scoreboard this season, that being Elias Pettersson.
For fans, perhaps it’s just easier to make the coach out to be the problem right now because that feels like a fresh angle of blame. Whereas I know personally I’m almost tired of coming to the conclusion that the problem with this team is Benning, because it never feels like he’s held accountable by ownership. I feel like Jesse Pinkman about to torch Walter White’s house. Almost every time the Canucks have issues, Benning is clearly the most to blame and yet he’s still out there selling his product without consequence.
It Keeps Going Up
Cody wasn’t the only person I talked to over the past few days that had a bone to pick with management. In a brief chat with Nick Bondi, former host of Locked On Canucks, his sights were set on Benning and Aquaman together, as the reason for the troubles as of late.
“Everyone has their share of the blame in this mess, but the biggest culprits are management and ownership. Management because they traded away significant assets and went all-in on a team that is so far not playoff caliber. Ownership because they’ve allowed this to fester over 8 years.”Nick
The trend in this article very much aligns with what Nick encapsulates in his statement there. The more you look into it, the more the blame naturally trends upwards in the organization. That’s not always the case when a team is underperforming, sometimes a sizable number of players are missing their mark, sometimes the coach has lost the room, sometimes the GM has straight-up produced a bad team.
However, in this instance, every problem the Canucks have points to another problem higher up the food chain, and that chain stops with Aquilini.
Petey is playing bland Hockey, but the pressure is immense for him to perform because this team doesn’t have the structure in place to function without him at peak level. Short of Conor Garland and J.T. Miller, Benning has not supplied this team with the kind of pieces needed to support a struggling Elias Pettersson, and that is not a problem that occurred overnight.
That problem has culminated over years thanks to the GM and it has only culminated for years because ownership has allowed it to. Nick then went on to sum it up perfectly:
”The longer you wait to make a move the more you’re saying that you endorse this mediocrity.”Nick
Let’s Lighten the Mood.
Lastly, the gentleman over at The HockeySports Podcast had an interesting take on the problems that the Canucks are facing, a take that may give flat earthers a run for their money:
“It’s really pretty understandable when you think about it. As most Canucks fans know, Elias Pettersson is actually both Sedin’s clean-shaven, pretending to be a single player. They “retired” the year he showed up, and created the persona of “Elias Pettersson” in order to stay Dominant in the league by sharing the workload. However, the Sedin’s (aka. Pettersson’s) age is finally catching up to them, and it’s showing in their play and leadership on the ice.”THP
This, in a very Vancouver way, makes no sense at all… but makes perfect sense at the same time. This fanbase has in many ways lost their damn marbles, due to this prolonged cycle of teetering on the edge of watching a team on the rise, and a team on the brink of a rebuild.
After enduring so much torturers disappointment, hysterical conspiracy theories involving underperforming players should honestly make few Vancouver fans bat an eye. This Petey/ Sedin theory fits right in with regular Canucks discourse at this point. Because the likelihood of Petey being revealed to be the Sedins, seems to be just as likely as anything significant actually changing with this organization.
The HockeySports Podcast crew then went on to drop this nugget, that in a weird way creates a brief glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel for this already depressing season.
“That, coupled with the fact that Luongo’s Cap recapture is one of Gary Bettman’s 7 Horcruxes, and is finally going to be destroyed after this season, make this season the perfect storm for this long-beleaguered franchise.”THP
What Did We Learn Kids?
Like many of you who follow this team regularly, after these last few games, I really did need to lean on a number of voices in order to get a sense of what is actually wrong with this team.
Like everything to do with the Canucks though, the answer to that question seems to be both simple, yet extremely complicated. The problems seem to come from the top, but that’s an easy assessment to make as outsiders to the organization. What are the chances Mr. Aquilini sees things the same as all of us?
Long story short, The options for solving the problems on this Canucks team could come in many forms, there is no quick fix, at least not one that is apparent. One thing is clear among Canucks fans though, even the pessimistic ones, this is not where anyone thought this team would be at this stage of the season.