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Canucks ownership not veering from plan to remain ‘competitive’

Francesco Aquilini

Vancouver Canucks’ owner Francesco Aquilini speaks on his mobile phone as general manager Mike Gillis, not pictured, speaks to reporters down the hallway in Vancouver, British Columbia on Monday April 25, 2011. Vancouver and the Chicago Blackhawks play game 7 of a Western Conference quarterfinal Stanley Cup playoff series Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck)


In Buffalo, they prepared the fans for “suffering.”

In Arizona, they used the same word: “suffering.”

In Toronto, the word was “pain.”

In Calgary, it took a while, but the Flames finally admitted, “We are rebuilding.”

And, of course, we all know the path the Edmonton Oilers have taken. It’s netted them four first overall draft picks.

The Vancouver Canucks, in contrast, have taken a different approach to building what they hope is one day a Stanley Cup contender.

“We want to draft and develop well, but we want our young kids to learn how to play in a winning environment, so they learn the right way to play.”

That’s how GM Jim Benning put it in April. And that’s how he continues to put it today, despite Vancouver’s modest 14-15-9 record and the consensus that they are nowhere close to Cup contenders.

It’s also -- and this is the important part -- what Canucks ownership wants.

“They understand where we’re at,” Benning told The Province yesterday. “They’ve been supportive but they want to be competitive. I understand that.”

You’ll recall back in May of 2014 when the newly hired Benning called the Canucks “a team we can turn around in a hurry.”

That belief no doubt helped get Benning the job.

(A similar pitch may have helped John Tortorella get his short-lived job with the Canucks, though the Aquilinis vehemently denied through their lawyers that they were the driving force behind that ill-fated hiring.)

The big question in Vancouver is whether ownership’s pursuit of playoff revenue every year is folly. Because while the Canucks do have some good, young players, they don’t have a Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel.

Or, to put it another way, they don’t have a future Daniel Sedin or Henrik Sedin, the twins having been drafted with the second and third overall picks in 1999.

All this is why the Canucks will be interesting to watch as the trade deadline approaches. Despite their modest record, they could still make the playoffs. Nobody’s out of it yet in the Pacific Division.

So, let’s say the Canucks are still in the race come Feb. 29. Will they keep pending unrestricted free agents like Radim Vrbata and Dan Hamhuis? If healthy, those two could be worth a second-round draft pick each, if not more.

Of course, if healthy, Vrbata and Hamhuis could also help the Canucks make the playoffs, which the club maintains is the objective.

“Going into it, I knew what the job entailed,” Benning told The Province. “We needed to inject some youth and build up our prospect pool but we’re trying to be competitive and bring these kids up in a winning environment. Sometimes that’s a tough job.”

Others might call it something else.

Trying to have your cake, and eat it too.