The Paper Feature is a weekly column and sidebars that appears in the print edition of the Vancouver Courier newspaper. Track it down!
Barring a miracle, the Canucks are about to miss the playoffs for the fourth season in a row. It will be only the third time in franchise history they’ve missed the postseason in four-straight years.
The first time was forgivable: it was their first four seasons in the league. Sure, the Vegas Golden Knights went straight to the Stanley Cup Final in their first NHL season, but most expansion teams have to go through a few more growing pains. When they finally made the playoffs in their fifth year by winning the newly-formed Smythe Division, it was a big moment.
The only other time the Canucks missed the playoffs in four straight seasons was during the late-90’s, in the dark days of Mark Messier and Mike Keenan. Nobody looks back fondly at that era of the Canucks, except, perhaps, to point out how underrated Alexander Mogilny was at the time.
Keenan oversaw the dismantling of the beloved team that went to the 1994 Stanley Cup Finals. He was essentially in charge of hockey operations between when Pat Quinn was fired as GM of the Canucks in November of 1997 and Brian Burke was hired in June of 1998. In those eight months, he traded Trevor Linden, Kirk McLean, Martin Gelinas, Gino Odjick, and Dave Babych, among others.
While Keenan wasn’t the GM when Pavel Bure was traded, he was still head coach. While Bure has said he had no issue with Iron Mike’s infamously confrontational coaching style, it’s hard to imagine that it helped placate his issues with Canucks management, particularly when Keenan traded away Odjick, his closest friend on the team.
While Keenan’s ruthless approach didn’t win him any fans in Vancouver, it did something else: set up the Canucks for future success.
The Linden and Bure trades, in particular, helped lay the foundation for the West Coast Express era of the Canucks and, indirectly, gave the Canucks the Sedin twins. The Linden trade returned a young Todd Bertuzzi, along with defenceman Bryan McCabe, and a third-round pick that turned out to be Jarkko Ruutu, a key agitator for the West Coast Express era Canucks.
Among other assets, Bure brought back Ed Jovanovski, who had three 40+ point seasons for the Canucks. The addition of Jovanovski likely made it easier for Brian Burke to move McCabe and a first-round pick in 2000 to the Chicago Blackhawks for the fourth-overall pick in 1999, one of a series of moves that gave the Canucks the second and third-overall picks in 1999 to select Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
Fans hated the Keenan era of the Canucks. Attendance plummeted as the team sunk to the NHL’s basement, while simultaneously shipping out fan-favourite players.
Most Canucks fans aren’t anywhere near as irate with Jim Benning, even as he’s presided over four-straight losing seasons. Benning is certainly a lot more likeable than Iron Mike and he allowed the Sedins to exit on their own terms, culminating in a fantastic final home game last season. The question is whether Benning has set up the Canucks for future success as much as Keenan did.
Keenan trading Linden was an unpopular move, but in the long term, it was the right move. Benning, on the other hand, has resisted moving veteran players for future assets for multiple reasons: to insulate young players, provide leadership, or simply because the team has no one to replace them.
Benning is already the first Canucks GM to miss the playoffs in three-straight seasons and keep his job, largely on the strength of his drafting, which has brought players like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser into the fold. Whether he keeps his job for much longer will depend on his ability to build around the players he drafted. Ultimately, he may regret hanging on to veteran players for too long.
Stick-taps and Glove-drops
I’m dropping the gloves with the subsection of Canucks fans that harassed former Canucks prospect Jonathan Dahlen with hateful messages online, leading to him deleting his social media accounts.
A tap of the stick to Alex Edler, who immediately stepped into big minutes after returning from his concussion. Against Edmonton on Thursday, he played 29:25 and scored his second goal in as many games.
9,925,000 - The salary cap hit of the Canucks’ current fourth line of Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, and Tyler Motte is $9.925 million. Eriksson and Beagle combine for $9 million of that total and are signed for three more years after this season.