Canucks brass dissects dismal season

Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden speaks to the media in Vancouver, B.C. Tuesday, April 12, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER – Trevor Linden leaned against a wall in the bowels of Rogers Arena on Tuesday morning, surrounded by a crush of cameras and microphones.

The president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks had just watched a press conference where his head coach and general manager spent nearly an hour explaining a season that saw the team finish 28th overall with its worst point total since the late 1990s.

Now it was Linden’s turn.

No, he said, there weren’t mixed messages to fans regarding the direction of the team.

Yes, he added, the Canucks are concerned about this season’s attendance drop.

And yes, Vancouver will continue infusing younger players into the lineup while trying to remain competitive for a playoff spot with its dwindling veteran core that still includes Henrik and Daniel Sedin.

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“We’ve had our eye firmly on the future. We’ve never traded young assets for older assets that set us back,” said Linden, dressed in a sharp suit. “We knew eventually we were going to get younger and this was the year it took shape. We’re going to continue to go down that path.”

Linden said stripping the franchise down to its studs the way the Toronto Maple Leafs did this season in their full rebuild wouldn’t work in Vancouver.

“The notion of just gutting our team is not the direction we can go. We need our young players to have some support,” said the former Canucks captain. “We just can’t bring in a bunch of young players and throw them to the wolves. That’s not a recipe for success.

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“The terminology … say whatever you want. We’re working hard at developing a young group of players here. I don’t think there’s been mixed messages at all.”

READ MORE: Canucks reflect on disappointing season

Linden, GM Jim Benning and head coach Willie Desjardins returned the Canucks to the playoffs in 2014-15 in their first years on the job. But the club slipped from 101 points to 75 this season, its lowest total since a 58-point campaign back in 1998-99.

“The pressure I feel is because I know our fans want to win,” said Linden. “It’s going to take some patience, but this is an exciting time for this organization.”

There were key injuries to many veterans in 2015-16, forcing some youngsters into bigger roles the team hopes will pay future dividends.

Those players included 19-year-old rookie forwards Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann, first-year defenceman Ben Hutton and sophomore centre Bo Horvat.

“The silver lining of this year is our young players got experience they wouldn’t normally get,” said Benning.

Meanwhile, Linden gave Desjardins a vote of confidence heading into next season, but the coach knows how quickly the landscape can shift.

“Our business is a tough business,” said Desjardins. “And it’s always changing.”

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Benning wouldn’t say if the Canucks plan to search out a big name in free agency this summer to complement the youth movement, but added any acquisition would have to be the right fit.

“We have meetings the next couple weeks with our pro scouts,” said Benning. “We’re going to go through all the different avenues where we think we can make our team better next year.”

With their dismal finish this season, the Canucks have the third-best odds —an 11.5 per cent chance — of winning the draft lottery April 30 for the right to select phenom Auston Matthews.

Management feels any one of Matthews, Patrik Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi — the consensus top-three players available — will step into the lineup next season. But Linden said he’s not getting too far ahead of himself with the chance Vancouver could also fall to No. 6.

“We’re No. 3 now,” said Linden. “There’s excitement (possibly) going to No. 1, but the fear of dropping is the bigger part of it.”

Notes: Linden said he can envision a scenario where both Alexandre Burrows and Dan Hamhuis return next season. Burrows, 35, is believed to be a candidate to have the final year of his contract bought out, while Hamhuis, 33, is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer. … Benning hopes to have Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko, who had an excellent season in the NCAA, signed in the next couple of weeks. The 20-year-old was a second-round pick of Vancouver back in 2014, but could choose to return to school for another season.


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