Tuesday marked the end of the Mike Gillis era, during which the Canucks made it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the third time in franchise history. Wednesday marked the beginning of a new Trevor Linden era, with the naming of Linden, who was on the Canucks team that went to the Finals the second time in franchise history, as president of hockey operations. GM and president Mike Gillis was fired on Tuesday; unlike Roberto Luongo’s recent departure, he left to the hateful chants of “fire Gillis” rather than supportive chants like those Luongo received of “we want Lou.”
It was no secret that people in Vancouver wanted Gillis gone, and now with the hiring of a man that has basically reached the status of a god in Vancouver, expectations and hopes are high. Linden, who played 16 of his 19 NHL seasons in Vancouver (seven of those as team captain), has his work cut out for him. This season, the Canucks have missed the playoffs for the first time in six seasons; this season is also the only season of Gillis’ tenure in Vancouver in which the Canucks have missed the playoffs.
“I fully recognize what I am getting into, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Linden told NHL.com. After retiring from the NHL Linden built his own fitness chain and got involved in several private business ventures. But, in Linden’s words, “You don’t play 20 years in the National Hockey League and spend your whole life in hockey and not have it in your DNA. I always kind of thought I would be back. I never wanted to work for another organization.”
As president Linden will be responsible for coaching and scouting staff, player development, and minor league affiliations and operations, and his first matter of business is to find the Canucks a new GM. Linden has stated that he will look at candidates from both inside and outside of the club and that he has laid out a profile for the type of GM he is looking for. He plans to have hired a new GM by the 2014 NHL Draft, which begins on June 27th.
The other seemingly pressing matter is the fate of head coach John Tortorella. Tortorella has had only one season as head coach in Vancouver, and even though it has been only one, it did not pan out the way people thought it would. Linden is now in the position of deciding whether or not Tortorella will be given a second chance. Linden has talked to Tortorella already briefly and will be talking with players after the season ends as well. He has stated that he will conduct evaluations and then he will make his decision. It sounds like Linden is considering the possibility of firing Tortorella, but nothing is certain for now. Tortorella still has four years remaining on his contract.
A new GM and possibly a new coach will be great, but obviously something needs to change with the Canucks roster as well; the staff certainly do not make the team, and the players have to take some (if not most) of the blame for the way this season panned out.
The multitude of injuries this season seriously hurt the Canucks and negatively impacted their offence; more depth in all positions is something this team needs. The core group of players will need to be evaluated as well. Ryan Kesler, who played with Linden when he still played, was nearly dealt away at the trade deadline this season – could we see him leave the Canucks this summer? Or will it be another one of the Canucks core players? The team has built themselves around players like the Sedins, whose point production has dropped and who have undergone a series of injuries, which has correlated with the Canucks’ struggle to win games.
Another question that still persists, despite the Luongo trade, is the fate of Vancouver’s goaltending. This season was Eddie Lack’s first in the NHL and Jacob Markstrom is doubtful to be a starter. Will Lack still be the number one in the fall? Or will the Canucks have found another goalie? Lack has the potential to be a great number one goaltender, but whether or not his time is now has yet to be seen.
There are other players who’s future with the Canucks is unknown. David Booth has not played up to expectations over the past few seasons and Alex Edler’s play seriously needs to be evaluated. Edler has a no-trade clause and quite a few more years to go on his contract, but has had his worst season as a Canuck; Edler has an abysmal -36 plus/minus and he has not contributed as offensively as he has in other seasons.
Trevor Linden brings a lot of promise and hope to a franchise that nearly won the Cup in 2011, but has since struggled. Change will be good, and whoever the new GM will be needs to be able to make the big difficult changes that will re-develop this team so that it has the depth, the strength, the goaltending, and the offensive capabilities needed to take another run at the Cup.