It’s a term the Canucks have shied away from the past two playoff-less seasons. These days, “rebuild” goes hand-in-hand with “tanking,” which is something the Canucks don’t believe they need to do for their fortunes to turn around. It’s not an option as the Sedin twins come to the end of their careers.
“I don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, ‘Strip it down.’ I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys. There’s different circumstances, be it in Toronto or Carolina or Vancouver, that require different routes. It’s not perfect, but I’m encouraged by the young players we’ve introduced, and we’ve got some young prospects,” Linden told Sportsnet’s Luke Fox in a wide-ranging interview from December 2016.
But after finishing as one of the NHL’s bottom three teams for the second year in a row, leading to the hiring of rookie NHL head coach Travis Green this week, Linden finally admitted this is, indeed, a rebuild.
“I think I was making an effort to appease the people,” Linden said on Sportsnet 590 the Fan’s Prime Time Sports Wednesday. “Obviously we’ve been forthright in saying we’ve been transitioning as a team to a younger group and that was becoming a bit of a sticking point with some people. So to get alignment with our fans and our media I used the rebuild word today, which everyone can get their head around.
“If that word makes everyone happier then I’m more than happy to use it.”
The Canucks hold a 12.124 per cent chance of winning this Saturday’s draft lottery, the second-best odds in the league. Last year they had the third-best chance of winning (11.5 per cent), but were unlucky in that they fell to fifth overall.
Still, Vancouver was able to get highly-touted prospect Olli Juolevi, the first defenceman taken in the draft.
What are the odds they fall back in the order again this season?
“It’s interesting,” Linden said. “I think you’re going to see more of what we saw last year. I think there’s this perception that if you finish in a certain spot that’s where you’re going to wind up and it’s actually the reverse.
“I think the norm is going to be seeing some movement in that top group because the odds are just set up that way.”
This year’s draft doesn’t seem to have a generational talent at the top — with Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews coming in succession, complemented by pretty great No. 2s Jack Eichel and Patrik Laine, we’ve been spoiled lately with a rare kind of player at the top of the class. Nolan Patrick is this year’s supposed No. 1, although Nico Hischier has been generating more buzz as the season has gone along. Neither of them have scored at McDavid levels in junior, or are coming out of a men’s league as Matthews did.
If the Canucks do fall back to pick fourth or fifth again, they still feel they’ll get an excellent prospect who will help the team recover.
“Those top two ranked guys might be more plug and play, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to be the best pros five, six, seven years down the road,” Linden said.
The Canucks aren’t completely devoid of high-end young talent. Bo Horvat, 22, was the ninth overall pick in 2013 and is coming off a break out 20-goal, 52-point performance this season. Troy Stecher, also 22, came out of left field for a good rookie season in which he led all Canucks blue-liners with 24 points. Jonathan Dahlen, 19, was acquired from Ottawa for Alex Burrows at the deadline and he comes to North America after a point-per-game season in Sweden. Nikolay Goldobin was brought in from San Jose for Jannik Hansen and he was just shy of a point-per-game in the AHL as a 21-year-old. Brock Boeser, drafted 23rd overall, had five points in nine games at the end of the season for the Canucks.
The buzzword for this team still remains “transition”. Don’t expect the Canucks to completely tear down everything, admitting defeat for the foreseeable future. Linden reiterated that he wants to surround his young players with veterans, who will be there for the wins and not for the lottery balls. For a team “rebuilding” up again, veteran players can help maintain a positive culture that a collection of inexperienced youth could become frustrated in and put development at risk.
“We want to have some veteran presence around those young players,” Linden said. “I think that’s vitally important that they have the support so that they come in and they’re supported by guys who are veterans and understand the habits and professionalism that go with that.”