The Contrarian – The Canuck Conundrum

by Demetri Fragopoulos on July 17, 2016

Why would the Canucks sign Loui Eriksson if it is clear to everyone else that they should rebuild?

Go for it, or retool/rebuild? That is the question we ask of our fantasy teams and also of our favourite NHL teams every summer.

With parity in the NHL, it can be a hard choice for some teams and in this particular time for the Vancouver Canucks.

They ended up 15th in the Western Conference last year, 12 points out of a playoff spot (or if you want to view it from the bottom up, five points better than the Edmonton Oilers), so it would seem to be a very easy decision to start rebuilding.

The Sedins are over 35 years old, and there is not much else on the roster worth saving. Maybe Jake Virtanen and Bo Horvat, but they are still raw.

What does Vancouver do? Go out and sign unrestricted free agent veteran Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal.

“The Canucks are going for it. The playoffs, that is” says Jason Botchford, but even he does not truly believe that they have put themselves in a winning situation yet.
 


Closer to the end of his article he writes “Deep down, the Canucks understand their current roster is probably not enough. It’s why, quietly, they’ve been trying to make deals which would lead to the acquisition of another impact player, one Benning indicated is a forward.”

Why would they sign Eriksson if it is clear to everyone else that they should rebuild?

Let us take a look at the last ten seasons to try and understand what the Canucks might be thinking.
 

Season

Points

Wins

Rank

Last Playoff Spot Team

Points

Wins

2015-16

75

31

15th

87

38

2014-15

101

48

2nd in Division

99

43

2013-14

83

36

14th

91

40

2012-13*

59

26

1st in Division

55

26

2011-12

111

51

1st in Conference

95

40

2010-11

117

54

1st in Conference

98

44

2009-10

103

49

1st in Division

95

43

2008-09

100

45

1st in Division

91

42

2007-08

88

39

11th

91

41

2006-07

105

49

1st in Division

96

43

* Shortened season

Though there is no guarantee, if a team wins half their games (41), they usually earn a playoff spot. If the Canucks won seven more games last year, they would have easily earned the points needed to make it to the post season. Win only seven more games… that cannot be so hard to do, could it?

That is the catch, the rub, the hook. Parity has made it seem like you are never far away from being relevant.

In Vancouver’s case, it appears that they would be playoff bound if only they tweaked their lineup.

Ben Kuzma gets some insight into the acquisition of Eriksson from coach Willie Desjardins.
 


“He had fun at practice, but was super-competitive and got a lot out of it. It’s a really good trait the way Hank, Danny and Loui go about things. It’s a great way to be. They’re great people and when it comes to the game, that’s where they come alive” said Desjardins.

Kuzma expounds, “If you subscribe to the theory that you play like you practise to meet lofty expectations in this marketplace, then the winger is wired the right way. Just ask Desjardins, the Canucks bench boss who coached Eriksson in Dallas.”

While some hoped hometowner Milan Lucic would become a Canuck they got Eriksson instead. But as Desjardins indicates “He’s a top forward. There weren’t many available and he not just an offensive guy because he’s good on the penalty kill. I think he’s going to be good for us.”

In another article, this by Yankee Canuck of SB Nation, Eriksson’s regular stats and fancy stats are graphically displayed. The signing like a good purchase by Vancouver GM Jim Benning, especially when Eriksson’s numbers are compared to former Canuck Radim Vrbata’s.

Then there is the playing relationship between Eriksson and his fellow Swedes Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin.

From Kuzma’s article, Eriksson comments “They’re such smart players. It was so easy for me when I first started playing with them to find chemistry. We kind of play the same way. We like to get the puck and give it back to each other.”

Well that seals it, right? This has to put them over the top and back into the post-season.

Unfortunately for Vancouver, they are not in so bad a condition that the majority of the fan base will be happy with a rebuild (think Buffalo or Edmonton) nor are they strong enough to force the situation (like Toronto).

Looking at the Vancouver’s attendance history (hockeydb.com) it has been very stable since the 2000-01 season, but before that it was not so assured.

What happened in 2000-01? Hope came into town in the form of the Sedins.

Now they were not the only players on the Canuck roster. Markus Naslund, Todd Bertuzzi, and Andrew Cassels were just some of the top forwards. These players were at the time still relatively young, Cassels was the oldest at 30 and Bertuzzi the youngest at 25.

The Sedins came in and augmented a lineup that was ready to move forward.

What will happen next year or the year after to the current roster of Canucks? Who is not only going to replace the Sedins but also augment the rest of the line up? If you would like to ask one more question, why isn’t there already a set of players ready to take over the mantle from the Sedins on their roster?

At one point in time Vancouver had two very attractive starting goalies (Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider). They could have traded one of them to help prepare for the transition but instead former GM Mike Gillis mucked things up. Both of those goalies now reside on other teams and Vancouver has very little in exchange to show for it.

Is Eriksson the best move that Vancouver can make? Let me put it to you in terms of fantasy ownership.

You have a keeper league team of players and you were in the prize money for a few years but lately you’ve found your roster is winning the lesser prizes or nothing at all. Do you perform a patch job or do you reconstruct your roster?

After analyzing things like your roster age and other team’s strengths you then conclude with a risk assessment of your chances to be profitable in the next season and future ones after that.

If you think your team has got it, you perform the patch job. If not, you start the demolition. It is that simple for fantasy owners because the only thing that matters is the prize money that is won.

It is not so simple for NHL teams because they rely and are influenced on the money earned by each game not just by any playoff results. They have got to keep their fans attracted, coming through those turnstiles, sitting in the stands, eating overpriced concessions, purchasing team memorabilia and merchandise. They have to be able to pay those bills and salaries.

I think it is safe to say that the Vancouver Canucks are ‘going for it’ because they have no other choice.

As Botchford sums the signing of Eriksson, “Whether that is wise, or a miscalculation, depends entirely on how you believe winners are built.”

That is the Canucks’ conundrum.

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