Time Is Now For Rebuild In Vancouver

Short Playoffs Could Spell End of an Era in Vancouver

The Vancouver Canucks entered the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs with the second oldest roster to only the Chicago Blackhawks. It took only six games before they were booted out by the Calgary Flames, who by no coincidence are the youngest team in these playoffs.

This Canucks group will be going on five years without a playoff round victory, and one thing that’s clear is they need to get younger.

Vancouver’s roster this year had nine players who are over 30 years old, and two more who are 29. Eight of these 11 players (who are all under no-trade clauses) were on Vancouver’s roster during their last playoff series victory in 2011. While the aging core of the Canucks has lead them to so much success, they no longer are the dominant force in this league that they once were. GM Jim Benning is going to have to take a long look at his roster this summer, and potentially make decisions to change the course of the franchise.

Horvat, Kenins Shows Youth Infusion Pays Off

The Canucks traded to get Bo Horvat but he still needs some AHL time.t (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)
Giving Bo Horvat a chance on the roster as a 19 year old paid huge dividends for the Canucks.  (Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports)

The Canucks have a number of prospects who will be knocking on the door for roster spots come training camp, and as Bo Horvat and Ronalds Kenins proved firsthand this season, the sooner they get the chance, the better.

After roughly his first couple months of settling into the lineup and transitioning to NHL hockey, Horvat’s development skyrocketed. He became the first teenager to earn a spot in the Canucks lineup since Ryan Kesler 11 years ago. Horvat not only solidified his worth in this league, he showed that he may  be a player the Canucks organization could one day build around, based on his character combined with his talent. Don’t be surprised to see Horvat have an increased role in the lineup next year.

Kenins, meanwhile, debuted with the Canucks in January after being called up due to injuries. After Benning and coach Willie Desjardins saw what a force he proved to be at the NHL level, Kenins made it impossible for the organization to send him back down.

And Horvat and Kenins collectively may have paved the way for the next round of prospects to get a chance to make the jump to the NHL.

Jake Virtanen, Vancouver’s 6th overall pick last spring, and Sven Baertschi, a former 13th overall pick by Calgary 4 years ago, head the list of young players who should compete for a roster spot. Nicklas Jensen, Jared McCann and Hunter Shinkaruk should all get looks next fall to push for a place in the lineup as well. Add the likes of Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado on defense, and a goalie who has been pretty darn good in the minors this year named Jakob Markstrom. Vancouver has the potential to be one of the league’s youngest teams at the start of next season, granted most of these players prove to be NHL ready. It would feel like take-your-kid-to-work day at Rogers Arena everyday for Canucks players like the Sedins, Vrbata and Edler.

The potential of prospects in the Vancouver Canucks system clearly is plentiful, and as shown by Horvat and Kenins this season, the kids simply need to be trusted and given a chance to play.

Have To Pick Between Winning Now And Getting Younger

(Icon SMI)
The Canucks core simply can’t match their success of the 2011 season, when they appeared in the Cup Final (Icon SMI).

Canucks President Trevor Linden, Benning and Desjardins have made it clear that they won’t compromise winning – younger players who are ready to come in and help the team win will ultimately be given a chance, granted they earn it. Benning summed their plans up pretty good in one sentence:

“You can have a lot of good, young players, but if they don’t learn and understand what it takes to win and we don’t have older players showing them the right way to play and how to win, you end up with a team full of real good players that never wins anything” – Jim Benning.

It’s true, stockpiling young talent with not enough veteran leadership isn’t how you build a winner in the NHL. But in order to be successful for a long time (think of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins in recent years, or the modern day New York Islanders), an organization needs to be willing to take a step backwards.

The Canucks organization clearly wants a team that can still be playoff contenders now, but amidst this mindset and Vancouver’s string of playoff failures in recent years, they aren’t aiming high enough.

Their core of players is simply not the powerhouse they once were. They may say the right things, and be encouraged they can still do big things, but the heart of the Canucks have passed their best years. Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, who are still world class players, are evidently past the Art Ross caliber they once produced at. Alex Burrows isn’t a 35 goal scorer anymore. Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa are not as effective as they were 5 years ago in this core.

Last spring, Jake Virtanen became the Canucks' highest draft pick (6th overall) since Daniel and Henrik Sedin went 2nd and 3rd overall in 1999. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Last spring, Jake Virtanen became the Canucks’ highest draft pick (6th overall) since Daniel and Henrik Sedin went 2nd and 3rd overall in 1999. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

The Canucks can be a playoff contender with the roster they have now, but in terms of being a Stanley Cup contender this core’s ship has sailed. If the organization isn’t taking steps to win a cup, then they aren’t aiming high enough.

The Canucks may have to compromise winning now, and Benning may have to break hearts this summer, but ultimately Vancouver can prepare for years of success if the kids get put in the picture now.

What’s key is that Vancouver, through the guidance of their top players, is able to instill trust and confidence in their next wave of core players.