Take a good look, Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks. The Vancouver Canucks today are what you get seven years after taking a run at a Stanley Cup.
This is the fallout, a team with aging superstars and the daunting task of restocking the cupboard of draft picks that were traded away or spent having to pick in the late first round year after year.
Former Canucks general manager Mike Gillis sold the farm for that chance at a Stanley Cup and was let go for Jim Benning in 2014. Now seven years after those 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, GM Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden are faced with the monumental task of rebuilding a team with two aging superstars, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and what was an empty cupboard of prospects left by the last regime.
Ask any GM around the NHL and they will tell you that they are building their teams based on what the last GM left them with, good or bad.
Times in Vancouver right now couldn’t be any tougher. At the time of this article, the Canucks are in a tailspin having won only three of their last 15 games and are 3-11-2 in those games.
I, however, am optimistic and feel good about the direction this team is going in, and the reason is Benning and Linden.
They have done a terrific job restocking this team with prospects and character free-agent signings that have given hope for the future.
The list of positives for prospects is long.
Twenty-year-old Brock Boeser is turning into a superstar right before our very eyes. The comparisons to what other superstar NHL players have done in their first 50 NHL games and what Boeser has done is right on par with Alex Ovechkin, Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews in their rookie seasons. He will represent the Canucks at this year’s all-star game and will be a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the top rookie.
Nineteen-year-old phenom, Elias Pettersson, is fifth in scoring in the Swedish Hockey League, only five points behind the leader. He is playing against men in the top league in the SHL having played eight less games than some of the leaders above him.
Forward Jonathan Dahlen, who just turned 20, is tied for fourth in scoring in the Swedish second league. Dahlen has also played in eight less games than the leaders above him, and is only four points behind the leader. Benning stole Dahlen in a trade with Ottawa for Alexander Burrows.
Twenty-one-year-old fifth-round draft pick Adam Gaudette is tied for first in overall NCAA scoring and may win the Hobey Baker Award.
Nineteen-year-old Olli Juolevi is currently tied for first in rookie-defencemen scoring in the top professional men’s league in Finland with 14 points.
Nineteen-year-old Jonah Gadjovich just won a gold medal with Canada at the world juniors.
Waiting for these prospects to develop can be a long, painful process for the big club, but until they are ready, Benning and Linden believe in acquiring character people to help bring your rookies along and teach them how to be pros.
Have all their signings been perfect?
No, but character is something that can be passed on.
Free-agent signing Sam Gagner is seen almost every other week on social media doing something remarkably kind for a fan or a kid. Whether it’s giving away a stick, puck, or a dressing-room tour for a special-needs person, his kindness and character have not gone unnoticed to his teammates.
Michael Del Zotto, another 2017 free-agent signing, is seen spending a lot of his off-time playing video games with sick kids at the Ronald McDonald House. Erik Gudbranson can be seen there as well.
There is no crystal ball, and a rebuild is not an overnight process. Realistically, Benning’s and Linden’s thumbprint on this team won’t be known for five to seven years. The NHL is a results-oriented business and one can only hope Benning and Linden are not building today for the next Canucks GM and president.
I know times are tough, but the future is bright and they both deserve to see it.