For many weeks, president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin have been taking the measure of the team they inherited this winter, watching the Canucks and assessing strengths and weaknesses, while plotting a future. And for most of this time of observation, the Canucks they saw were surprisingly good.
Vancouver went 21-8-5 after general manager Jim Benning and coach Travis Green were fired Dec. 5. But in the last week, just in time for Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the Canucks reverted to the slow and sloppy team whose awful autumn led to the most sweeping regime change in franchise history.
Sunday, the Canucks lost 3-2 in overtime to the Buffalo Sabres. The night before, they embarrassed themselves in the first period against the Calgary Flames, surrendering three early goals and losing 5-2.
After working relentlessly for three months to play themselves back into the Stanley Cup playoff race, and then survive the race until they hit this seven-game homestand in mid-March, the Canucks finished their critical stint at Rogers Arena at 2-3-2, losing five of the final six games.
Coach Bruce Boudreau said before the homestand that it was a chance to make hay in the standings. But the Canucks covered themselves in chaff by taking just four of the last 12 points available.
“It was less than successful, I would think,” Boudreau said Sunday. “It's a little bit of a wound.”
It would be reckless and shortsighted to make personnel decisions that could impact the Canucks for years on the basis of a disappointing homestand or a dismal weekend. But it’s as obvious to Rutherford and Allvin as it was to everyone who watched the Canucks in November that they’re not good enough.
They need more speed, a better defence, a more efficient payroll and whatever is required to generate consistency and a professional readiness for each workday in the NHL.
“As I said from the start here, we want to take the time to evaluate the roster and the players,” Allvin told reporters during a pre-game press conference. “I don't make emotional decisions after wins and losses, and this is just part of the process of getting younger and also creating some cap space here.”
He was speaking both generally and, specifically, about his first trades earlier on Sunday.
In his first deal as an NHL GM, Allvin convinced the Ottawa Senators to surrender a third-round draft pick -- originally owned by the Canucks before it was traded to Winnipeg, then Ottawa -- for enigmatic right-side defenceman Travis Hamonic.
Allvin essentially made it a three-way deal when a couple of hours later he sent a different third-rounder to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenceman Dermott.
Time will tell if Dermott is as good as Hamonic, but we know he’s younger, cheaper and more reliable.
Hamonic’s brief stay in Vancouver was encumbered by injury and vaccination issues that limited the 31-year-old to 24 games this season. The club was assured Hamonic would be vaccinated before the regular season. He wasn’t. When he finally showed up at the end of October, Hamonic was initially unable to cross the border due to his late vaccination. Hamonic didn’t play minor-league games as expected, and took longer than initially anticipated to return from a December injury.
Dermott, by contrast, can’t wait to play for the Canucks. He sounded ecstatic Sunday to get another opportunity after his development stalled in Toronto, where he was once viewed as significant piece of the Leafs’ future.
“Things happened in Toronto (in) a way that maybe I wasn't planning for it to happen,” he said. “But I think a new start for me right now is perfect. I'm super happy to be staying in Canada, that's for sure. And I also have some family out in B.C., so it seems like a perfect time and perfect place for me to be to get a little reset here.”
Dermott is six years younger than Hamonic and, with a salary of $1.5 million through next season, half as expensive. The salary-cap advantage alone of shedding Hamonic’s $3-million hit would have been worth a draft pick. But instead of paying one for some cap relief, Allvin is receiving a third from Senators GM Pierre Dorion.
Big picture, this was a Travis upgrade for the Canucks.
Little picture, Dermott is probably powerless to stop the Canucks’ sudden slide.
The team looks spent -- as tired mentally as physically after sprinting for three months to catch up in the playoff race and treating each game like a must-win.
Sunday against Buffalo, as in their homestand, the Canucks needed sharper focus and intensity.
Repeatedly implored by Boudreau to be better at the start, Vancouver instead trailed 1-0 1:50 after the opening faceoff when Casey Mittelstadt was given an unguarded runway to use on a breakaway after a neutral-zone turnover and bad line change.
The Canucks managed to come back twice against the chronically weak Sabres on goals by J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat, but still lost in OT when Rasmus Dahlin cut past Horvat and shot from the slot under goalie Thatcher Demko at the 48-second mark -- before the Canucks even touched the puck three-on-three.
The team now trudges back to the road for what could be a four-game funeral procession that starts Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche, whose 7-1 win against the Canucks in Denver on Nov. 11 started the final chapter of the Benning era.
“We know it's a gauntlet of games, the next seven,” Boudreau said. “We know for sure that by the end of that, we'll know whether we've got a chance or we don't have a chance. You either embrace the challenge, and say: 'Bring it on, let's do it.' Or you fear it. I choose to embrace it because if you do get through it and you have success on it, then you've played the best teams in the West already and nothing should scare you.”
The Canucks need help. And we don’t just mean on the road trip.