There might not be a bigger early season disappointment in the NHL than the Vancouver Canucks.
After taking a massive step forward a year ago and reaching Game 7 of the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Canucks have started this season by winning just seven of their first 18 games after Saturday night, find themselves near the bottom of the North Division, and are already in serious danger of missing the playoffs entirely. They are not only three points back of the Winnipeg Jets for what would be the fourth playoff spot in the North, the Canucks have played more games than every team in the division including four more games than the Jets.
That start has prompted some recent rumblings that general manager Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green could be in danger of being fired. Or that some sort of change could happen within the organization.
On Saturday evening team owner Francesco Aquilini took to Twitter to give both men a vote of confidence, while also blaming the media for starting rumors and misinformation.
Over a series of Tweets Aquilini said the following on the team’s start:
This has been a unique year for everyone. Roster changes, very little training camp, no pre-season, and just a few practice days. It takes time for new players to fit in and a new group chemistry to take hold, both on and off the ice. Of course I’m disappointed by our poor start, but the last thing we’re going to do is panic. We’ve been better in recent games and I believe we’ll continue to improve. Our fans are passionate and knowledgeable.
They have every right to express themselves. But when the media starts pouring gas on the fire, dealing in rumours and misinformation as if it’s fact, it’s time for me to speak up. Contrary to what you may have read or heard, we’re sticking to the path we’re on: building on our core of young talent. Progression is not always a straight line. There is no easy fix, only patience, commitment, and hard work. Like Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, Hoglander was an excellent pick. It looks like he’ll be a great part of our future. Our hockey group believes Podkolzin will step right into the lineup as well. I have full confidence in Jim, Travis, and this group. I have no plans to make changes.
When the other has to publicly address the job security of his head coach and general manager and blame rumors and misinformation then you know things are not going well. It also does not really fill you with confidence that changes are not eventually coming.
The Canucks do have some reasons for optimism with the young players Aquilini mentioned. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Nils Hoglander are all outstanding young players, and Vasili Podkolzin is still lurking on the horizon. It is a good group to build around for sure.
But there are a lot of reasons to be critical of the job Benning and his staff have done building this roster, particularly the bottom half of it. The Canucks are loaded with very expensive, very questionable contracts throughout the roster that have just completely robbed them of their salary cap flexibility. The Canucks have one of the worst, tightest cap situations in the league even though no player on the roster makes more than $6 million per season and two of their three best players (Pettersson and Hughes) are still on entry-level contracts. That sort of cap situation is difficult to accomplish, but the Canucks somehow managed it.