The Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations, Trevor Linden, met with media today in a rather impromptu presser in a hallway at Rogers Centre as the halfway mark of the NHL season approaches.
Linden said the performances so far have been “frustrating” for himself, in addition to fans.
Without being completely forthcoming, the former Canucks captain answered a range of questions including contract negotiations with GM Jim Benning, optimism for future youth development and the development of Brock Boeser, the trade prospects for Erik Gudbranson, and the health of injured skaters Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Brandon Sutter.
Here are some of the highlights:
Impressions of the first 40 games
The Canucks are 16-19-5 after 40 games and sit second-last in the Western Conference, 19 points behind the table-topping Vegas Golden Knights. Horvat is out with a broken foot, Baertschi with a fractured jaw and Chris Tanev returned to action yesterday in time for a 5-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
• “Overall, I am encouraged. I look at the positives. obviously Travis has come in, and has built a system that is really conducive to our group. The way our team played was fun to watch and the results were relatively good. Seeing Brock, the way he has come in and just adapted to the pro game has been pretty impressive. It’s been fun to watch for me and I know it has been for our fans.”
• “December 5th started a tough stretch for us with Bo going down and Sven the next night and Brandon [Sutter] was already hurt and Chris going down. So it’s been some challenges for the last little bit but we can get healthy and get back to where we were. I think we’re capable of it. But there are definitely been some challenges her lately.”
Goaltending struggles without a clear No. 1
Jacob Markstrom has allowed 2.79 goals a game and has a 9.02 save percentage. Over 29 games, it’s hardly sterling. By way of little contrast over 14 games, Anders Nilsson has let in 3.53 goals a game and has a .900 save percentage.
However, that doesn’t mean 22-year-old Thatcher Demko is being called up for a shot — “Absolutely not,” said Linden.
• “I think it’s a combination of things. Losing some of those drivers of offence from our group, especially down the middle, has impacted our zone play a little bit. There have been nights when our defence has struggled a little bit and there have been nights where, quite honestly, our goaltenders have not been as good as they were or have been. Both are capable of being better. They both played really well at times and won games for us. So, as a group, we feel comfortable they will get back to where they need to be, and our team is going to support them in that.”
• “Thatcher has taken a huge step this year from where he was last year … to being good every night. Thatcher has been relied on on a nightly basis and played really well and that’s where he should be. I know Clouts [Canucks goaltending coach Dan Cloutier] is really impressed with where he is at, but not for here.”
As #Canucks prepare to hit midway point of campaign, they’ve allowed 8 goals in the opening 60 seconds of a period this season. Last night was 1st time it happened at @RogersArena (once in 1st period & once in the 3rd).
— Joey Kenward (@kenwardskorner) January 3, 2018
Possibility of making a trade to fight for a wild-card spot
• “When you talk deadline plans, a lot can happen. There is a lot of hockey left between now and then. As always, we constantly talk as a group about where we are at and where we need to be. We understand that our eyes are focused on the future and we are excited about some of the young players that have taken steps here but also some of the players that have got a good opportunity — Chatfield, Brisbois, McEwen, Demko in Utica — and just the prospects, some of them are at the world junior some of them in college, some in Europe. So, if there is an opportunity to make that team better, we are going to do that. It will be with our eye firmly focused on the future.”
Meeting the mandate to develop youth
Regardless of the standings, they are investing in prospects and developing youth — as intended.
• “There is some positivity around the group. Obviously it’s been challenging the last bit. The results have been frustrating for me, the fans and certainly or people who follow the team, and I think we can be better. But there are some positives based on what has happened here and around our organization. We just have to stick to it. it’s been a challenging time but we are capable of getting some guys healthy and getting our game back on track.”
The word he chooses to keep using is “positivity.”
• “I think it’s a big part of some of the positivity around the group. At the end of the day, our fans can see the building blocks and whether Elias or Jonas played well. Even in Utica with those kids who are taking the next step, all those kids are going to turn pro, so next summer heading into camp will be a new crop. Kole Lind has had an outstanding year as well. I have been really impressed with where he’s got his game to in Kelowna.”
• “There are some good things happening. It’s been a long time since this organization has been able to say that about the depth of prospects. It’s going to take some time yet, but I think our fans and people around the team can see that is a positive.”
Boeser will be pressed to replicate his first 40 games of his rookie season. But let’s just wait and see, shall we? In the longer-term, will they have to manage their salary cap based on what they want to offer him and other prospects like Elias Pettersson?
• “Moving forward from a cap standpoint and knowing where the cap is going, we’re not going to have cap issues. Obviously Brock has had a very positive 40 games. It’s going to get tougher for him in the second half. He’s going to be a marked man. He is such a smart player, he has the ability to create time and space with his brain, which not many players can do. As far as moving forward with him, we will look at that at the end of the year and see what our options are. It is something to think about, with some of the player we have coming, whether that be Brock or Elias. But I think we are in good shape overall.”
• “When you see a player that is that smart and has that sort of skill level and is able to shoot the puck like that, it’s just fun to watch. They are special players. For Vancouver fans, they can probably count on one hand the first time or the first few games they saw their favourite player or special players throughout the years and he’s one of those guys. I think we’re watching something pretty special from a young player right now.”
• “It’s because of his ability to create time and space. It’s not done by speed, it’s done by deception. It’s been fun for everyone, including myself.”
Contributions and increased minutes for the Sedins
Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin were averaging under 10 minutes to start the season but have stepped up once again in their long careers by increasing their contributions given the many injuries to the top line.
• “They have said it themselves that they welcome the day when they are maybe not our best offensive options. Early in the season, before Bo went down, we on a nightly basis thought that they weren’t. They had a good first 30 games.”
• “It’s a good problem to have. They are great pros, they handle the ups and down of the season extremely well, just like they always have. They are great leaders for our group, and nights like the last couple are difficult. Two real good teams and big, heavy physcial teams, and we weren’t able to generate a lot of offence but that’s not on them, that’s on our group.”
The performance of their occasional linesman, Loui Eriksson, has waned.
• “Loui had such a good month in November and was a big part of our success there. December has been challenging for him, not question, and our group has kind of gone the same direction.”
• “As a group, we struggle to score right now, and so he has been part of that. I think his overall game is one that benefits our group He is versatile at the same time we need contributions from people like that at this time.”
Ability to let a player leave for nothing as a UFA
Since they regularly have to sit a defenceman, is it time to let loose an unrestricted free agent?
• “We will do what is right for the organization. We’ve done that in the past we will continue to do that as we march through the next seven or eight weeks. We’ve got some good future pieces in our organization and we will continue to keep our eye on that.”
• “We’ve finally gotten healthy on the back-end and it’s created a little bit of a log jam right now. Obviously the play of Derrick Pouliot has been good and even Alex Biega has come in and pushed hard at a spot, so it’s created some challenges there, but those are good problems to have. We’re not in any rush to do anything. If something that comes our way makes sense that we feel makes us better, we will certainly look at it, but we are not looking to move anyone out. We understand that situation can change on this road trip pretty quickly.”
And will Gudbranson be moved or signed any time soon?
• “We haven’t really had discussion on re-signing him yet. And obviously we have been in contact with his agent throughout the year. And we in a situation right now where we will see how these next six or eight weeks unfold.”
Awaiting the return of Horvat
• “He is going for a scan today, which will give us a good indication of the healing process and see where that gets to. If it comes back positive, he’ll probably get back on the ice. I’m sure he’s eager to get there. He is probably trending in or around the all-star break. We will learn a lot more today and hopefully it’s good news and gets him making his way back into the lineup.”
• “The two guys down the middle have created, both those guys, Bo and Brandon, being out have impacted Travis’ ability to match and give him versatility. Bo, especially, is such a driver for us. He is a catalyst offensively. If there was any doubt as to his importance, we’ve seen it in the last month. He plays in every situation and we’ve definitely missed his contributions. But it’s part of the game and teams go through it. You have to find your way around it.”
The President of the Vancouver Canucks, Trevor Linden, says he’s encouraged. Are you?
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) January 3, 2018
What the future holds for Jim Benning
• “I’m not really going to get too into that at this point. I don’t think it serves anyone in purpose. We are focused on having a good second half here. I know Jim is focused on that. He came into a challenging situation, and I think we’re trending in the right direction.”
• I like the job Jim has done, but beyond that we are focused on the next couple months into deadline and then finishing and having a good season.”
And if he doesn’t have a contract at the trade deadline?
•”Jim has always been of the mind that, at heart, he is a guy that has a team-building mindset and he is going to have is eye on the future and that will be no different as we head into deadline.”
Addressing fan anxiety
After the past 12 games and a losing record, can he understand why there continues to be fear over yet another cycle toward the bottom?
• “The fist 40 games here, there have been some positive things. Fans have enjoyed the style of play that Travis has instilled. The emergence of Brock and Jake has played very well at times. Goldy has done some things and continues to build his game. That has been a real positive.”
• “Even after last night, I can’t fault the way we competed. We got on the wrong side of it and we couldn’t score. We have to find way to score regardless of who is in the lineup.”
The first-time head coach is drawn to a particular kind of player, and it’s one who works hard.
• Travis has said it himself. It’s a style of play, whether you are five-foot-nine or six-foot-five, it’s how competitive you are and how you battle and compete. That speaks to the type of drafting you do. I don’t think you add one guy that brings toughness and all of a sudden you become a more competitive team. Competitiveness is within your players. Our make up right now is one that nights like last night are challenging. We need to get better in that area and we need to draft players and find players that have that characteristic. It doesn’t happen over night.”
The Canucks set off on a seven-game road trip beginning Saturday in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.