Canucks’ Aquilini: Focus Is on “Our Long-Term Plan”

Vancouver Canucks fans doing any sort of scoreboard watching on Wednesday night were pleased to find out that the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes and Colorado Avalanche all lost in regulation.

As such, the Canucks’ own 5-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes — their last game before the All-Star break — didn’t set them back, at least not as far as the playoff race goes, with their 52 points still tied with the Avalanche and Dallas Stars.

It wasn’t just fans, however, who were chiming in with their thoughts on the playoff race during the Canucks’ home game on Wednesday. Owner Francesco Aquilini tweeted 12 times from his personal account over the course of the game, addressing that “P’ word everyone seems to be throwing around lately.

After tweeting his reaction to the two Canuck goals (“Love the bounce back!” and “How sweet is that!!!”), it was this next tweet that got an even larger reaction.

I can see why Aquilini felt the need the take to Twitter to address the fans, but I’m an advocate of owners staying away from the spotlight. You’re not running the team, so it’s best to keep your thoughts to yourself and just let the hockey operations staff do their job. That being said, he did make some good points, as well as miss the mark on others.

Don’t Stray From the Long-Term Plan

Aquilini is not wrong: long-term success is more important than one playoff run, something I wrote about the other day. While I feel the path they should be on includes selling off certain assets (Alex Edler, Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson etc.) for picks and prospects at the deadline, he did not say his team would be doing that. All he said was that the Canucks are going to stay the course, so that the club can be consistently competitive somewhere down the line (how soon is unclear).

I think this hints at inactivity at the deadline. If we’re to take him at face value, you may as well put those Micheal Ferland rumours to rest, at least as far as the Canucks are concerned. It appears Aquilini and general manager Jim Benning are in sync on this philosophy, with Benning saying Wednesday he’s not going to mortgage the future just to try to make the playoffs. Of course, that’s not a bad thing, considering Ferland’s likely asking price, and the fact that he has two more goals than Jake Virtanen this season.

Micheal Ferland Carolina Hurricanes
If we’re to take owner Francesco Aquilini at his word, the Canucks won’t trade for Michael Ferland at the deadline (James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports)

Back to that “long-term plan”: I wonder if the Canucks signing 33-year-old Jay Beagle and 29-year-old Antoine Roussel to four-year contracts this past summer was part of the initial plan. If it was, I’m not sure Aquilini’s path is the right one.

Players Don’t Tank

Let’s get to Aquilini’s second tweet. Clearly, the term “tanking” in sports can ruffle people’s feathers. What he refers to in his tweet, however, is not what I consider tanking.

The Canucks owner rightly points out that players (and coaches) hate to lose. They don’t just throw in the towel. It’s not in their DNA. As one reader aptly pointed out in the comments section of my last article, “Tanking is a fallacy. Everyone of the guys on the roster is busting their ass every night.” Yes, players tanking is indeed a fallacy. It’s nonsense. But here’s where Aquilini misses the point.

The term “#LoseForHughes” does not refer to players giving up. It refers to the team bottoming out, which allows them to get a high draft pick, therefore acquiring elite talent. For every Jamie Benn picked late in the fifth round, there are dozens of others who never have an impact at the NHL level. Let’s look at the top-50 scorers in the NHL since 2014-15 and see where they were selected in the NHL entry draft.

Draft Selection Number of Top-50 Scorers
Top-5 Pick 24
Top-10 Pick 5
11th-20th Overall 6
21st-30th Overall 4
2nd round 3
3rd round or later 7
Undrafted 1

Nearly half of the top-50 scorers over the last four and a half seasons were top-five picks. Not top-10, top-five. So while eight percent of the top-50 scorers were selected in Brock Boeser’s range (21st-30th) and 14 percent of them were picked in the third round or beyond, 48 percent of them were taken in the top-five, which is why I think the Canucks need, at the very least, another top-10 selection this June (Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Bo Horvat were all top-10 picks).

General manager Peter Chiarelli
Former Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli did not fail because of all the Oilers top picks (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

On that same note, Scott Cullen from TSN wrote a piece examining the likelihood of NHL draft picks succeeding, which covered drafts from 1990-2014. He found that while a top-three selection has an 80 percent chance or higher of becoming a top-six forward, top-four defenseman or number one goalie, a selection in the 13-15 range (overall) only has a 24-40 percent chance of having that same kind of impact.

Of course, the philosophy behind “tanking” assumes you have a competent scouting staff and general manager who can build around the elite talent, which some teams have been unable to do (hello, Edmonton Oilers!). Based on the Canucks’ track record, they should not have that same issue.

So in contrast to what Mr. Aquilini believes, tanking for draft reasons does not refer to the players giving up and it does serve a purpose. It actually goes quite well with him sticking to his “long-term plan.”