The Vancouver Canucks are in crisis. They’re off to a 5-9-2 start to a season in which they absolutely have to make the playoffs. That start was capped off by a horrific three-game road trip where they gave up 7 goals against in back-to-back games.
Reports indicate that Canucks ownership have been completely blindsided by the team’s dreadful start and the subsequent negative coverage of said start. The Canucks even apparently complained privately to Don Taylor and Rick Dhaliwal — the Donnie and Dhali show on Chek TV — about their negativity.
“For crying out loud, don’t bitch about the negativity when you’ve lost 8 years in a row,” responded Dhaliwal on the air.
According to Elliotte Friedman, Canucks general manager Jim Benning will meet with owner Francesco Aquilini and be asked why, in his eighth year as GM, the Canucks are still so bad.
“From what I understand, this is a meeting to understand why the team is losing and address it, not to make a change at the position,” said Friedman.
If it feels a little like asking the guy in the hot dog costume why there’s a car shaped like a hot dog crashed into the front of your clothing store.
It can’t possibly be Benning’s fault, of course, because all of his decisions have passed the judgment of Aquilini himself, who has acted as a de facto President of Hockey Operations since Trevor Linden “amicably” parted ways with the Canucks.
If there’s one thing Benning has been consistently good at in his years as GM, it’s coming up with excuses for why the team has failed. But, just in case he needs some help, I’ve compiled this list of ready-made excuses to help him get off the hook with his boss.
1 | Pettersson and Hughes missed training camp
A big reason why the team is struggling is the performance of their star players, particularly Elias Pettersson, who has just 9 points in 16 games and has yet to score a 5-on-5 goal. Maybe his slow start can be pinned on him and Quinn Hughes missing training camp and the preseason.
Never mind that they only missed that time because Benning’s contract negotiations with them dragged on so long: we’re looking to deflect blame here.
2 | COVID-19 is to blame
Last season, the Canucks went through a massive COVID-19 outbreak that wasn’t the cause of team's struggles but certainly didn’t help.
This season, the Canucks haven’t dealt with any outbreaks but have still been affected by COVID-19. Notably, Brandon Sutter has missed the entire season so far with what has been described as long-haul COVID-19 symptoms.
That’s a key penalty killer out of the lineup and the team’s lone right-handed centre, which has played a role in the team’s struggles in the faceoff circle.
On top of that, the Canucks were without Travis Hamonic to start the season with what the Canucks called a “personal matter,” but almost certainly connected to his unvaccinated status. He was sent down to the AHL for the Canucks’ three-game road trip to the U.S. likely because he’s still not considered fully vaccinated.
Hamonic is another penalty killer and was expected to play on the Canucks’ top pairing with Hughes, so that’s another significant absence.
Those are two players out of the lineup for reasons completely out of Benning’s control. Not his fault!
Sure, it’s troubling that the team’s penalty killing fell apart without Sutter, a player who has missed 115 games due to injury in his four seasons with the Canucks, and that the Canucks were relying on Hamonic, a player who was objectively bad last season, to play top pairing minutes, but we’re looking for excuses here, not blame!
3 | Good ol’ injuries. Nothing beats injuries.
When it comes to excuses, it’s nice to have that standby, injuries, to rely on, even if it gets predictable.
Unfortunately, the Canucks have been pretty healthy to start the season. Hughes missed one game and Brock Boeser missed three but they’ve otherwise been pretty healthy.
There are, however, two injuries that have made an impact. Tyler Motte just returned from offseason neck surgery and Matthew Highmore hasn’t played since October 28.
While those are both bottom-six forwards, they’re also penalty killers. Is it a coincidence that the Canucks have given up two power play goals in 7 of their 8 games since Highmore was injured?
Probably, yes. But it’s still a handy excuse!
In addition, Motte and Highmore are both high-energy players, who work hard every shift. Energy and hard work have been hard to come by for the Canucks of late.
4 | It’s the coaches’ fault
Benning has to be careful with this one because he’s the guy who hired the current coaching staff and re-signed all but power play coach Newell Brown during the offseason. Considering the Canucks’ power play is near the bottom of the NHL at 15.3% and Brown’s new team, the Anaheim Ducks, is 4th in the NHL at 28.3%, that’s not a great look.
Still, a coaching change is a tried and true method of waking up a struggling team and has worked for other teams.
Blaming the coaching staff could work as an excuse, but it might result in some blame rebounding upstairs. Proceed with caution.
5 | The locker room is divided
This has been floated out there as an issue but locker rooms tend to get along a lot better when the team is winning, so there's a question of cause and effect here.
This is also a risky excuse because Benning has gone out of his way throughout his tenure as GM to overpay "character" veterans to help the team's culture. He even added another strong leader, the captain of the Arizona Coyotes, this past offseason. Of course, acquiring Ekman-Larsson meant trading away veteran, character guys like Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle.
If the locker room couldn't survive losing Roussel and Beagle, then it was incredibly fragile to begin with, which doesn't reflect well on Benning either. This isn't working.
6 | The players are bad
No, this excuse won’t do either. Who acquired the current roster? Think, Benning, think!
7 | It’s the negative media
Ah, there we go. The real problem isn’t that the team is bad, it’s the media pointing out that the team is bad.
Sure, the team has less contact with the media than ever because of COVID-19 protocols, making it incredibly easy for a player to avoid talking to the media if they don’t want to. And sure, most of the players will say that they never read or listen to anything the media writes or says anyway, but I’m sure the negative coverage of the team affects them somehow, like on a quantum level of something.
8 | What about the fans?
Or maybe the real impact of the media is that it makes the fans more cynical.
Fans have returned to Rogers Arena this season only to see the Canucks win just 2 of 7 games on their first homestand. But perhaps the Canucks’ troubling homestand was actually the fault of the fans, who maybe didn’t cheer enthusiastically enough or didn’t yell, “Shoot!” at the right time on the power play, or did the wave at the wrong time during the game.
Also, there’s the psychological impact of seeing empty seats in the arena, particularly when those seats are such a garish maroon colour that clashes with the Canucks’ royal blue and kelly green colour scheme.
Really, the fans ought to be ashamed of themselves for not being more enthusiastic about a team that has missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons.
9 | Put other teams on blast
A big reason why the Canucks have lost 11 of their first 16 games is that the teams they’ve been playing against have been too good.
It’s not fair, really. Benning worked so hard this offseason to improve the team by adding Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Conor Garland, Tucker Poolman, Jason Dickinson, and Alex Chiasson, only to discover that other teams had also improved.
The Anaheim Ducks were dead last in the West Division last season and 30th in the NHL. Now they’re second in the Pacific Division? What’s the deal? Not cool, Anaheim.
10 | It’s Scorpio season
The real trouble is that the sun is currently moving through the eighth sign of the zodiac, Scorpio. This sign is all about intense energy, mystery, and transformation.
“We are going to get a huge invitation to look at some of our deepest fears and if any of them are getting in the way of personal transformation,” said Madi Murphy of this year’s Scorpio season.
And what is a deeper fear for the Canucks than missing the playoffs yet again while the team’s star player, signed to a new $7.35 million contract, looks completely ineffective?
Clearly, this is a test and, if the Canucks persevere through it, they will be transformed into the elite team that Benning has promised for years when Scorpio season ends on November 21, which happens to be when the Chicago Blackhawks are in Vancouver. Just watch, the Canucks will be reborn like a Phoenix.