If you’re a diehard Canucks fan, the past couple years have been quite painful to say the least. It seems like eons ago when our beloved team went on that magical 2010-11 Stanley Cup run, coming within one game of winning the game’s ultimate prize. And after a riot that left a black mark on our city and made headlines around the world, while we were still nursing our wounds, the 2011-12 team went on to win the President’s Trophy, and posted the best regular season record in the league for the second straight year. However that celebration was short-lived, as we saw the team get crushed in 5 games in the first round of the playoffs by an unbeatable Los Angeles Kings team that went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. It was during this playoff series that backup and bluechip protégé Cory Schneider supplanted Roberto Luongo as the team’s #1 goalie. That off-season and throughout much of the following season, General Manager Mike Gillis would try to trade Luongo with no success, as his asking price was too high for the all-star goalie with a lengthy and expensive contract. The 2012-13 season saw the Canucks capture their 6th Northwest Division title in 7 years, however they ended up getting embarrassed by the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the playoffs, who disposed of them in 4 games. With two back-to-back first round exits, you knew something had to give, and that something was Alain Vigneault (the most winningest head coach in Canucks history), who ended up losing his job. Many felt the wrong person got axed, and that GM Mike Gillis should have been fired instead. The goaltending drama took another twist on draft day, a day when Canucks fans were anxiously awaiting an inevitable Luongo trade. Instead, Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world by trading their “goalie of the future” Schneider to the New Jersey Devils in exchange for Bo Horvat, a first-round draft pick and promising prospect. Many felt the Canucks could have gotten more in return for Schneider. This trade instantly thrusted a frustrated Luongo once again back into the spotlight as the team’s undisputed #1 goalie.
Things got really interesting the following 2013-14 season, as the NHL realigned their divisions, and the Canucks found themselves in the Pacific Division, arguably the strongest division in the league. Gillis then brought in John Tortorella as the new head coach, a decision questioned by many critics. His defensive style of coaching proved ineffective down the stretch, as the Canucks would win just 12 of 29 divisional games. In a decision widely criticized by just about everybody in the city and in the hockey world, Luongo was benched by Tortorella for the Heritage Classic, in favour of rookie goaltender Eddie Lack. Towards the end of the season, Gillis finally pulled the trigger on Luongo, sending him packing back to his home state Florida in exchange for prospect goalie Jacob Markstrom and centre Shawn Matthias. This lopsided trade put an end to a 2-year goaltender soap opera. The lacklustre and forgettable season ended with the Canucks missing the playoffs for the first time in 6 years. This time, in a decision that surprised nobody, ownership had little choice but to relieve Mike Gillis of his duties as the team’s President and GM, and while they were at it they also canned John Tortorella as well. In a cruel act by the hockey gods, to further rub salt in our wounds, during this same year, Alain Vigneault took his new team the New York Rangers to a game 7 appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. It was safe to say that any window the Canucks had to win a Stanley Cup was now officially cemented shut, with no hope in sight. The reluctant fan base accepted that it was time to rebuild, and heading into the off-season, there was a lot of uncertainty about the future of the team, and many long-time fans even chose not to renew their season tickets.
de·ba·cle noun \dē-ˈbä-kəl, di-, -ˈba-; ÷ˈde-bə-kəl\
: a great disaster or complete failure
I’m beginning to sound like Tony Gallagher, but how’s that for a depressing story? You might ask yourself, where does a team go from here? How do you rebuild this team and how do you win back your fans?
5 Things to Get Excited About (On Ice)
5. New Leadership & Management
With the President and General Manager positions vacant, it was clear the team needed new leadership, so what better man for the job than the beloved former team captain and Vancouver icon Trevor Linden? While he has no prior experience running a hockey club, he has unquestionably proven himself to be a good leader, both on and off the ice. In addition to serving as the President of the NHL Players Association, he is also a savvy businessman, who built a successful franchise of Club 16 gyms across the Lower Mainland. You just can’t help but love the guy. But he has his work cut out for him, as he inherits the huge mess left behind by Mike Gillis. A day after Gillis was fired, Linden was named President of Hockey Operations. One of his first tasks was a big one, and that was to appoint a new General Manager. He hired Jim Benning, long-time assistant GM of the Boston Bruins. Benning is of course no stranger to winning, as he played a big role in building the 2010-11 championship team. He preaches a philosophy that revolves around getting bigger and getting younger. He has a reputation of being able to identify draft talent, a piece of the puzzle that the Canucks have been missing for quite some time.
4. New Bench Boss
One of the major first tasks for Benning was to appoint a new head coach. With the rumour mill in full swing with names like Dan Bylsma, John Stevens, and Barry Trotz being tossed around, it was a bit of a surprise when Benning hired Willie Desjardins as the 18th head coach of the franchise. Desjardins served briefly as an assistant head coach with the Dallas Stars a few years ago, but he has enjoyed success at just about every level that he’s coached at, from winning the Calder Cup in the AHL and winning a Memorial Cup in the WHL, to winning on the international level at the World Junior Championships and the World Championships. This season will be his first year as the head bench boss of an NHL team. Can he bring the same level of success to the NHL? We’ll just have to wait and see.
3. Ryan Miller
Jim Benning was obviously not prepared to tank the season when he decided to ink free agent all-star goalie Ryan Miller to a 3-year deal worth $18 million. Miller’s 294 career wins places him 4th among active goaltenders, and ties him for 31st all-time. Do you remember who was in net for Team USA in the 2010 Olympics men’s hockey final against Canada? That’s right, Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal on Ryan Miller. Will Miller regain his Vezina Trophy winning form? Or is the 33-year old goaltender past his best before date and on the decline? Either way, he’s definitely more experienced than the sophomore goalie Eddie Lack, who will start the season as Miller’s backup.
2. Promising Prospects
To win championships in the salary cap era, teams must build their cores from the draft. Let’s overlook the teams that draft well but still suck (*coughOilerscough*). Look at any of the elite teams in the league like the Chicago Blackhawks and LA Kings and they all have something in common. Talented youth. Let’s face it, with the exception of the past couple years, the Canucks have notoriously been known for drafting poorly. Yes, we drafted Kesler (2003) and Schneider (2004), but the Sedins were the best players this team has drafted over the past 15 years. The Sedins probably have only a few good years left in the tank before they hang up the skates, so this team will need a succession plan for when that time comes. This year alone, we had 2 first-round picks, as a result of our lacklustre season and a Kesler trade. And for once, we have a supply of talented prospects in our system that include the likes of Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Jake Virtanen, and quite a few more. The future of the team is definitely looking brighter these days with all this talent in our system.
1. New Blood
How do you change the culture of a hockey team? Besides shuffling up your management, you can also inject new players into your dressing room. Benning was probably one of the busiest GM’s this off-season, shipping off Ryan Kesler (who apparently wasn’t very popular in the dressing room) to Anaheim, David Booth (who fell out of favour with many fans with his bear-hunting antics and was bought out by the team), and overpriced defenseman Jason Garrison (who signed a 6-year, $27.6 million contract in 2012). New players expected to join the team on opening night include Radim Vrbata (free agent winger who will get a chance to play with the Sedins), Nick Bonino (likely our new 2nd line centre who came as part of the Kesler trade), and Lucas Sbisa (underrated defenseman who was another part of the Kesler trade). Rookie centre Bo Horvat will also be given every opportunity at training camp to snag the third line centre position. And centre Linden Vey, who saw limited ice time with the Kings because they were so deep down the middle, was traded from LA to the Canucks in exchange for a 2nd round pick. Vey is expected to slot in as the 4th line centre. Benning also signed pesky winger Derek Dorsett, who will likely join Brad Richardson on the 4th line. They won’t be the biggest and most intimidating fourth line, but they will certainly be a skilled checking line that might be difficult to play against. With so many roster changes, it’ll be interesting to see what the Canucks put out on the ice on opening night.
In addition to all the changes to the team, Rogers Arena also made some pretty significant changes this off-season in an effort to improve the overall fan and customer experience. The Canucks Hospitality team hosted us for a tour of their new facilities (most of which is currently under construction) and sampled some of their new food and beverage options this past week. The Aquilini ownership group has invested approximately $10-million to upgrade the arena’s food and beverage services, which will now include new dining venues, a new bar, several new concession stands, and more. Executive Chef Robert Bartley and the entire hospitality team is committed to sourcing the finest local ingredients and flavours, to deliver a world-class culinary experience unlike any other hockey arena.
5 Things to Get Excited About (Off Ice)
5. Lobster Rolls
Inside the expanded concourse, you’ll find 2 food venues (Carve and Catch). At Carve, you can expect to find meaty creations like prime rib burgers, while at Catch you can find fresh seafood at this unique East meets West Coast dining venue. Left: Hot smoked West Coast salmon roll with Wild BC Salmon, Old Bay Seasoning, and butter on a toasted bun; Right: Lobster Roll with East Coast lobster, Old Bay Seasoning, and butter on a toasted bun.
4. Jay Jones
Local star bartender and mixologist Jay Jones landed his dream job this summer with the Canucks as the new Director of Wine and Beverage. He brings a wealth of experience and creative flair, and will add a new element to the Rogers Arena customer experience. At his new bar located inside the new concourse expansion, you can expect to find margaritas, classic cocktails like negronis, and even some drinks with a unique Canucks twist.
— Rebecca Bollwitt (@Miss604) September 3, 2014
3. Craft Beers & Wines on Tap
Jeff Stipec (below), VP of Hospitality, leads us into the expanded concourse area, which sits at the bottom of a new 26-storey residential tower attached to the arena. The extra 7,000 square feet of space is home to Jay Jones’ new bar with 70″ high definition televisions, 2 food venues (Carve and Catch), the biggest keg room in BC that will house 300 kegs, and more.
Fans can expect to find 14 BC and Californian wines on tap using Fresh Tap‘s state-of-the-art wine system, as well as a selection of 20 craft beers. The beer and wine lists haven’t been finalized yet, but you can expect a good selection of brews to feed thirsty beer-drinking hockey fans who were previously only accustomed to drinking Budweiser (*cringe*) at the games. On average, the Canucks sell around 20,000 cups of beer per game. I expect this number to increase with the new changes.
There’s nothing more Canadian than poutines. You can now find Smoke’s Poutinerie‘s poutines at Rogers Arena. You can choose from a few varieties including the good ol’ classic (cheese curds and gravy), pulled pork, or bacon. I have no doubt that these poutines will be popular with the fans.
1. Gourmet Hot Dogs
Steamer’s, named after former Canucks captain Stan Smyl, is the name of the new hot dog concession stands. They will be serving up 12 different varieties of dressed up gourmet hot dogs. There will be a Glendon Perogy Dog (topped with perogies), Flora Dog (a veggie dog), Maui Firedog (spicy with Hawaiian flavours), Bartley’s Signature (bacon-wrapped with onions, cheese, and mustard), a Croque Monsieur (with ham and cheese), and more. I tried the Bartley’s Signature and it was amazing. The sausage was delicious and I have a feeling I’ll be putting back a lot of these this season.
I am already looking forward to attending way more games this season. A Stanley Cup might be out of reach for the time being, but I can get behind the direction this organization has taken. Not a lot of people would have been able to say that at the end of last season, so kudos to the Canucks for what they’ve done so far. Change is coming. It’s the new Canucks slogan, and it feels like the owners and management are standing strongly behind it. Believe in blue, our time will come.