Is the Vancouver Canucks' Rebuild a Short-Term or Long-Term Project?

Jonathan WillisNHL National ColumnistMarch 18, 2014

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JUNE 25: Vancouver Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis (R) introduces head coach John Tortorella during a press conference, June 25, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Rich Lam/Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks are in a state of flux. Rumours that general manager and head coach alike are on thin ice have reached the point that the Vancouver Province is openly speculating about possible replacements for both, franchise goalie Roberto Luongo was dumped in the lead-up to the NHL trade deadline, and as The Hockey News' Rory Bolen wrote last month, a much-speculated upon Ryan Kesler deal was always more likely to take place in the off-season.

Canucks fans could be forgiven if flux isn’t the first four-letter word that springs to mind when considering the state of the team.

That things are presently very bad seems beyond dispute, but what is open to question is how long they have to stay that way. In a recent letter to season ticket holders (made available by Vancouver’s News 1130), Canucks general manager Mike Gillis expressed a desire to add “younger, faster and stronger” talent in a “retool” process:

Lest there be any confusion that the Canucks recent moves are all part of meticulous planning and not, say, a frenzied and frantic attempt to put out fires created by an abrasive head coach, the letter uses terms like “plan,” “vision,” “mission,” “goal” and “long-term success” 10 times in seven paragraphs.

What does Vancouver’s plan entail? Gillis points to the Anaheim Ducks (currently second in the NHL with 97 points) as a team that has successfully retooled recently, and in doing so he suggests both a timeline and a level of expectation for the interim:

Jonathan Willis

Anaheim was able to turn things around without any descent into the NHL cellar. It missed the playoffs twice in a three-season interregnum before returning to dominant season point totals. The obvious implication is that Vancouver is hoping to get back to the top of the NHL quickly and without getting too far away from the playoff bubble in any one season.

DENVER, CO - MARCH 14: Ryan Getzlaf #15 and Corey Perry #10 of the Anaheim Ducks talk during a break in the action against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on March 14, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Michael Martin/Getty Images

The obvious problem with this comparison is in the ages of the top-end talent. In the summer of 2010, coming off a year outside the postseason, Anaheim’s offence was anchored by a trio of extremely good young forwards: Ryan Getzlaf (25), Corey Perry (25) and Bobby Ryan (23). Vancouver’s equivalents are Daniel and Henrik Sedin (33), Ryan Kesler (29) and maybe Alex Burrows (32).

Shawn Matthias, cited in the letter as part of the youth movement, is 26 years of age, and the only current Canucks of any significance younger than him are Chris Tanev and Zack Kassian.

To be sure, the Canucks’ cupboard isn’t totally bare. They have good prospects. But the road from “good prospect” to “Perry/Getzlaf” is an awfully long one. Both Perry and Getzlaf had represented Team Canada at the Olympics when Anaheim’s retooling started; Perry would win the Hart Trophy the next season.

Is it possible for the Canucks to duplicate Anaheim’s success and timeline without imitating its roster construction?

Gillis’ letter says the team will surround “veteran stars with new, young talent.” It’s certainly conceivable that the current veterans will still be a well-above-average supporting cast three years from now; the Sedins will be over 35 at that point, and most of the Canucks’ current defensive core will be too. There’s a lot to work with there.

NEWARK, NJ - JUNE 30:  Bo Horvat poses for a portrait after being selected number nine overall in the first round by the Vancouver Canucks during the 2013 NHL Draft at the Prudential Center on June 30, 2013 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/G
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

But it seems unlikely that any of those players are going to be the ones who lead the way three years down the road. Who will? Aside from Matthias, none of the players mentioned by name in the letter is an established NHLer. Essentially, the hope seems to be either for a by-committee approach or for someone like Bo Horvat or Brendan Gaunce to emerge as an elite difference-maker.

Is it possible that will happen? Sure. But its hope, and having hope is not the same thing as having a plan.

Until Gillis presents Canucks fans with a workable, concrete plan for adding elite talent beyond “we believe in our talented group of prospects,” they should be skeptical. And unless he has such a plan, his short-term retool may turn into a very long rebuild.


Unless otherwise noted, statistics are courtesy of and current through March 18. For other pieces by Jonathan Willis, follow him on Twitter.