In an open letter to season ticket holders published a couple weeks ago, Aquilini wrote: “Of course we will do a careful evaluation of the team and the whole franchise (this off-season).” That’s the first step and, presumably, it’s underway. But it’s the next step that will be more interesting.
In the aftermath of last July’s news that Trevor Linden had a.) amicably left the Vancouver Canucks or b.) unamicably been fired, Canucks’ co-owner Francesco Aquilini posted a 12-part Twitter thread on the state of the franchise.
It’s believed the movie rights are still available to that thread.
For the most part, the content of Aquilini’s tweets was fairly predictable: the team is headed in the right direction, patience is required, a plan is in place.
But the fifth tweet contained this nugget which, given Aquilini’s track record and the current state of the Canucks, merits further investigation: “A new president will be named in due course.”
This post was widely interpreted as meaning, well, a new president will be named in due course. As it turns out, that was the wrong interpretation.
A couple days later general manager Jim Benning informed the masses Aquilini had called him and said: “Despite all the talk out there, he’s not looking to hire somebody as a president of hockey operations.”
That, at least, is what Aquilini said last July. It remains to be seen if he’s saying the same thing a year later.
Admittedly, the intelligence behind this story isn’t exactly bulletproof but the word in hockey circles is the Canucks are still looking for a president of hockey ops. The scope of that search is unclear as is the priority it’s been assigned by ownership.
But, given the events of the last season, if not the last four seasons, there is much about this development that passes the credibility test.
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The model, for starters, was already in place for the Canucks with Linden as the president and Benning as the GM, just as it’s in place for any number of NHL teams.
Compared to virtually every other NHL franchise, the Canucks’ front office is understaffed and Aquilini has said ownership will supply the necessary resources to return the team to relevancy.
That’s also consistent with the family. You can accuse the Aquilinis of a number of things. You can’t accuse them of cheaping out on the Canucks.
It’s further suggested Aquilini recognizes that Benning’s draft record is at the core of the Canucks’ rebuild but he’s less convinced about the GM’s ability to create a vision for the franchise, to exploit all the available avenues to build a winner.
Benning has been on the job for five seasons. His record in free agency and trading is a matter of public record. Throw in questions about the operation in Utica and it’s reasonable to ask if Benning has the necessary skills for the big job that lies ahead.
Now, the purpose here isn’t to critique Benning’s performance. Rather, it’s to assume Aquilini sees what virtually every member of the faithful sees and is trying to determine the next step.
If the Canucks are going to hire a senior executive for the hockey department, who might that person be? More to the point, who would take the job?
Asking those questions is the easy part. It’s the answers that are hard to come by.
For starters, it’s accepted Aquilini offered the job to former Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi a couple of times last off-season and was rejected. That fits. Lombardi offered the name recognition that is important to ownership. He built Stanley Cup champions in Los Angeles.
But it seems Lombardi also looked at the bodies piled outside Rogers Arena — Dave Nonis, Mike Gillis, Eric Crawford, Laurence Gilman, Lorne Henning, Linden, Chris Zimmerman, Jeff Stipec would be added this season — and concluded the Canucks’ job wasn’t for him.
A year later, we’re left to wonder who would take it?
News broke Friday that Steve Yzerman will be returning to Detroit as the Red Wings’ GM and Ken Holland will move into an advisory role. Holland, a B.C. guy, has long been at the top of the wish list for Canucks’ fans but he’s also been connected to the new Seattle franchise down the road.
Again, we come back to this issue of who will come to Vancouver to work for the Aquilinis, especially when something approaching a dream job is available in Seattle?
There are other names out there. Ralph Krueger, the former Oilers’ coach most recently of Southampton in the Premiership, is an intriguing candidate. The Gillis regime tried to hire him a few years back and he represents the kind of analytical, outside-the-box thinker Gillis represented to the Aquilinis a decade ago.
Mark Hunter has a ton of experience in every facet of the game, including a stint as the assistant GM in Toronto. Then there’s Gillis. The Canucks’ former GM and president is a candidate for the vacant job in Edmonton, how serious depends on who you talk to.
It’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Aquilini circles back and considers rehiring Gillis. That one is highly improbable. But it’s not impossible.
All of this, of course, is suspended until the Stanley Cup is awarded sometime in June but those first few weeks after the parade figure to be newsworthy.
In an open letter to season ticket holders published a couple weeks ago, Aquilini wrote: “Of course we will do a careful evaluation of the team and the whole franchise (this off-season).”
That’s the first step and, presumably, it’s underway. But it’s the next step that will be more interesting.
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