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Sports Willes’ Musings: Canucks can’t sell another season of playing old, slow guys

09:06  13 february  2018
09:06  13 february  2018 Source:   theprovince.com

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We’ll know soon enough if Sunday’s win over Dallas was meaningful or simply a momentary respite from the drumbeat of losing, but there was one aspect of that Canucks’ team that merits further investigation.

All season long the faithful have been imploring the Canucks to get younger, faster and more skilled, while adding an element of grit to their lineup. As it happened, the team that hammered the Stars 6-0 included Reid Boucher, Darren Archibald and an impactful Jake Virtanen.

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Now, we’re not going to tell you that’s a playoff team in the making. We will tell you it’s a start. For most of this season the Canucks have iced a team that includes four forwards aged 32 or more — the Sedins, Thomas Vanek, Loui Eriksson — and two more who’ll be 29 by the start of next season — Sam Gagner and Brandon Sutter.

For a rebuilding franchise, that’s ludicrous. Next year, the Canucks could be looking at a forward group with Virtanen, Boucher, Archibald, Adam Gaudette and, possibly, Elias Pettersson. That’s a team they can sell. That’s a team that will get the attention of this marketplace.

What they can’t sell is another season of playing old, slow guys. That means some hard decisions are going to have to be made on some of the vets, but this organization has to send a clear signal that it’s moving in a new direction.

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The move that would send that message most forcefully is buying out Eriksson. We’re aware that’s easy to say when it’s not your money, but the Swedish winger has been a crushing disappointment in his two seasons here and there is nothing to suggest things will get better. He’s also taking playing time away from younger players. The same can be said of Gagner.

Vanek, meanwhile, is the ultimate no-brainer. The Canucks can’t bring him back and expect their fan base to take the rebuild seriously.

To remind everyone, we’re talking about a team that finished 28th two seasons ago, 29th last season and is currently sitting 28th. There is no downside here. The greater risk is subjecting their fan base to another dreadful season with a similar cast of characters.

If you’re wondering how bad the last three seasons have been, consider the following. It’s the worst stretch the Canucks have endured, relative to the rest of the NHL, since they entered the league as an expansion team in 1970.

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In their first four seasons, the locals finished 12th in a 14-team league, 14th out of 14, 14th out of 16 and 14th out of 16.

That’s bad enough. What follows is almost incomprehensible. In their first 22 seasons, the Canucks finished in the top half of the NHL exactly once — in 1974-75, when goalie Suitcase Smith carried them to a ninth-place finish in an 18-team league.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the towering incompetence that reflects. You have to go to 1991-92 to find the next Canucks’ entry to finish in the top half of the league.

Pat Quinn’s teams, in fact, were the first in Canucks’ history to finish in the top half in back-to-back seasons. A decade later, the West Coast Express teams finished in the top half three straight seasons. And the Gillis-Vigneault teams enjoyed five straight seasons from 2008-13 in the upper half of the league.

Other than that, there’s been one other top-half season, Willie Desjardins’ first year with the Canucks.

So here’s the tally. The Canucks are currently in their 45th NHL season and they’ve finished in the top-half of the league 12 times. If you’re wondering why patience sometimes wears thin in this province, there’s your answer.

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— There are times I feel guilty about keeping all the wisdom I receive via email to myself, so let’s rectify that situation.

Last week I received a missive from someone who advised that they’re a hockey expert and took a contrary view my positive rating of the Canucks’ prospect list.

“Elias Pettersson is not a player,” was his first salvo.

Olli Juolevi, you ask?: “LOL.” Gaudette, “Ya (I think he meant yeah), Hutton, Stecher yada, yada, yada.”

In a moment of introspection, he then asked, “What am I missing?” before answering his own question.

Kole Lind: “Too small, too slow, not even close.”

Jonah Gadjovich: “Injured again. Shoulder problems. Remember Stojanovich.”

His conclusion? “The 2017 draft I see it as 95-per-cent bust.”

As for his solution, simple. Hire former Arizona head coach Dave Tippett as the general manager and Darryl Sutter as coach.

There, see how easy it is.

— One final thought on the Canucks. If they were at a different place in their evolution you could see them re-signing defenceman Erik Gudbranson.

Gudbranson isn’t a top-four blue-liner, but he offers some things — size, toughness, penalty-killing — you want on your team. As such, you might pay a premium to keep him, providing the rest of your team is solid.

The problem, as you may have noticed, is the Canucks aren’t very solid these days and reaching to pay for a third-pairing blue-liner makes little sense for them. Gudbranson is a better player than he’s shown in his time here. On the right team, he can be a solid contributor, especially in the playoffs.

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But, as they’re currently constructed, that team isn’t the Canucks.

— And finally, it didn’t receive a lot of fanfare, but, in an off-season that brought about seismic changes, one of the B.C. Lions’ biggest moves was bringing in Torey Hunter as the new director of player personnel.

Hunter’s story is interesting. His relationship with GM Ed Hervey stretches back to their college days in the mid-’90s when Hervey was a receiver at USC and Hunter was a DB at Washington State. They next met in Edmonton in the late ’90s, where they discovered a shared view of the game and a mutual fascination with player assessment. The thought then was Hervey would coach and Hunter would scout after their playing days.

But Hervey’s career path took him into the GM’s office in Edmonton, where he hired Hunter, who had been coaching in college, as a scout. Three years later Hervey was let go in Edmonton before landing in Vancouver. One of his first moves was hiring Hunter.

“He’s not here because he’s my friend,” said Hervey. “He’s here because he’s damn good at his job.”

“Once you’re aligned with someone who thinks like you, sees the game like you, it’s easy,” says Hunter.

Over the years Hunter played a role in sending linebacker J.C. Sherritt, quarterback Matt Nichols and defensive back Aaron Grymes to Edmonton. Grymes is also a free agent this year.

The CFL world is mostly about finding players and Hervey has a lot invested in Hunter’s hiring. It might not be as sexy as, say, a new running back or wide receiver, but, in the end, he’s filling a more important position.

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Canucks ink defenceman Erik Gudbranson to 3-year extension .
The Vancouver Canucks signed defenceman Erik Gudbranson to a three-year contract extension Tuesday. The Canucks announced the deal will carry an average annual value of US$4 million."Erik is an important part of our team and provides a physical element to our blueline," GM Jim Benning said in a statement. ""His leadership qualities help us as we continue to integrate younger players in our lineup."He is a quality person, a great teammate, outstanding in the community and we are excited to have him as part of our team moving forward."Gudbranson, 26, has two goals and two assists in 41 games this season.

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