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Is #freetheskate banner flying over Vancouver a Canucks op?

A plane flew over Vancouver on Thursday with a banner reading "#freetheskate" trailing behind it.
A banner saying "#freetheskate" flew over Vancouver on Thursday.

A year-and-a-half ago, Vancouver Canucks fans raised money to fly a banner over the city with the hashtag #FIREBENNING, advocating the Canucks fire general manager Jim Benning. 

On Thursday, another banner from seemingly the same banner-flying company flew over Vancouver with a different hashtag: #FREETHESKATE. But was this another grassroots movement from Canucks fans?

The skate jersey is a popular one among Canucks fans. When the team held a vote several years ago for which jersey should be brought back for their 50th anniversary season, the skate jersey won in a landslide.

It's a jersey associated with nostalgic feelings for the 90's and fan-favourite players like Trevor Linden, Pavel Bure, and Kirk McLean. Fan reaction was so overwhelmingly positive for the few games they wore the jersey during the 50th anniversary season that they kept bringing it back, a few games at a time.

The jersey spawned the hashtag #freetheskate, championed by CanucksArmy's Wyatt Arndt. Fans have used the hashtag to call for the Canucks to bring the jersey back into the team's regular rotation, with some fans want the skate jersey to be the team's third jersey, while others want it to replace the team's regular home and away orca jerseys.

While the hashtag is definitely a grassroots movement, the banner flying over the city on Thursday might not be.

For starters, it seems strange that no Canucks fan has taken responsibility for the banner. There was no mention of the possibility of a banner on social media prior to Thursday and the money it would take to fly a banner over Vancouver isn't chump change for most Canucks fans — the cost to fly the Benning banner was reportedly $1465, which is money that might be better saved for paying rent.

The banner also follows a series of other events that already suggested the Canucks might be bringing back the skate jersey.

At practice on Monday, the Canucks wore black gear with their practice jerseys, while goaltender Spencer Martin was decked out in full skate-themed goalie gear. The gear was new, as Martin wasn't wearing it for last season's games with the skate jersey, and goalie gear typically takes time to customize that way, particularly a mask.

The official story is that the black gear will be auctioned off at the Canucks' Dice & Ice Gala fundraiser, but that explanation seems suspect.

At Tuesday's game against the New York Islanders, the Canucks didn't wear the skate jersey despite it being 90's Night at Rogers Arena. But the in-arena entertainment crew did find a fan with a "#FREETHESKATE" sign, focusing on him and zooming in slowly as fans cheered. 

The Canucks haven't been shy about planting fans in the crowd for some of their in-game bits, whether that fan turns out to be a professional dancer who jumps out into the aisle to bust a move or a supposed fan of the opposing team who gets a pie to the face from Canucks mascot Fin.

Was this fan with the sign similarly a plant? Even if he wasn't, it seems clear that there was some tacit approval for the sign from the Canucks, considering how the camera lingered on the sign.

So, is the banner yet another way for the Canucks to build up hype for the return of the skate jersey in the near future? Or is there an anonymous Canucks fan out there with money to burn who wants the #FREETHESKATE message to get out without receiving any credit?

If the Canucks are responsible for the banner, you have to give them credit for poking a bit of fun at themselves and the #FIREBENNING banner that came before it. It's a marvelous piece of guerrilla marketing.