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Canucks going down same dark path as hapless Oilers of before

April 11, 2017 12:41 AM
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HC at Noon react to the news that the Vancouver Canucks have dismissed Willie Desjardins as head coach, with John Shannon saying this is sad, plain and simple.

But don’t kid yourself into thinking the Canucks became even a slightly better hockey club Tuesday morning than they were Monday before the axe fell on Desjardins and his two assistants, Perry Pearn and Doug Lidster (assistant coach Doug Jarvis was retained).

As a guy who had a front row seat to the Decade of Darkness that has finally lifted in Edmonton, here are the hard facts: The Canucks don’t have nearly enough legitimate NHL players, and forcing kids on to an NHL roster to “find out if they can play” is the worst possible solution.

At a news conference Monday, team president Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning took fans into the future at every opportunity, stressing that the pipeline is strong with plenty of talent on the way.

“We have a lot of young players coming these next two of three years,” Benning said. “Brock Boeser, (Nikolay) Goldobin. These guys are going to score goals.

“(Utica goalie) Thatcher Demko. The improvement of Jake Virtanen (in Utica),” continued Linden. “All of these players are going to be key.”

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Boeser looks good. So does Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund and a few others. But how good? Years will pass, and history tells us only a small percentage (maybe one-third) of the players you thought would be good actually turn out that way.

So the Canucks find themselves precisely where so many teams have gone, left without enough talent by long-gone, delinquent management teams while trying to sell a fan base on a bunch of young names that aren’t ready yet. It’s a hard place to be, and there are no quick solutions.

Today, the Canucks do not have a single top-three forward in their entire organization, but only a handful of names they can point to as potential first-liners. They also do not have a legit top-pairing defenceman on their roster, but Olli Juolevi is in London and if we can be patient for four more seasons while he learns the gig, he just might be one.

“We’ve walked the fine line between trying to develop players at the NHL level and winning.”

With consecutive 28th- and 29th-place finishes, they haven’t walked that “fine line” successfully however. Not a chance, Trevor.

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So the setting was familiar, two front-office suits explaining how a “new direction” was needed, so they both decided it was best to fire the guy underneath them. The Oilers management did it, like, five times, and frankly nothing took until the suits were changed out in Edmonton.

In Vancouver however, one senses the media and fans are trundling down that same precarious road, demanding that players like Jordan Subban see some NHL time to “develop,” when reality states that developing players in the NHL is a fool’s game.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin, for whom we hold immense respect, are no longer first-line players. They will be 37 on opening night next October, and the Canucks have done them a tragic disservice by failing to produce even a single forward who can legitimately play ahead of them, a full 18 years after they were drafted.

Horvat, 21, was thrust in the first-line centre role as this season went on and it ate him up, his production waning to the point where he finished on a 17-game goalless skein. That is not player development, but in fact, possible retardation of a key prospect by giving him more than he is ready to handle.

Part of that blame lands on Benning/Linden, but far, far more of the blame should fall on the shoulders of former GM Mike Gillis, whose abysmal draft record has buried this organization in a developmental hole so deep it will take several years of highly successful drafting to recover.

As GM from 2008-14 Gillis presided over six drafts, lotteries that have stocked the Canucks shelves with Horvat — and mere crumbs after that.

That’s why firing Desjardins is simply not impactful when it comes to wins and losses. No coach is any good without players, and one look at the home-and-home with Edmonton this past weekend shows us where Vancouver’s roster stacks up against a (finally) legitimate division contender.

The Canucks are small, timid and without enough top-end talent. They were 29th in the NHL standings, 29th on the power play, 28th on the PK, 29th in goals per game, 24th in goals against, and had some injuries that their lack of depth could not mask.

But you’d better find the next one some players who can play right now, or he’ll be gone after three seasons too.

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