Willes talks with Linden: Canucks have a new hope, new image (with video)
In four short months, Trevor Linden has established a new direction for a team floundering in its ineptitude
In the four months since Trevor Linden assumed control of the organization, the Vancouver Canucks have hired a new GM, a new head coach, a new coaching staff, traded away Ryan Kesler, selected twice in the first round of the NHL draft and added six new players who’ll change the look and feel of the NHL team.
Somewhere in all that activity, Linden has succeeded in changing the perception of the Canucks. Yes, they’re still the team which fired its general manager and head coach last season while finishing 25th in a 30-team league. But the Canucks can now sell hope and a new direction under a man who’s been synonymous with the franchise for the better part of 30 years.
This week, Linden sat down and talked with Province Sports columnist Ed Willes about what’s transpired and what lies ahead.
ED WILLES: It’s been an interesting four months. Have you had a chance to reflect on everything that’s happened?
TREVOR LINDEN: You know, I hear a lot of people saying, ‘You’ve accomplished a lot and you’ve changed things.’ I guess I’m happy with some of the things we’ve been able to do. But I know the rubber meets the road in October and that’s what really matters. I don’t really reflect too much. I’ve got my eye on when it counts.
EW: You’ve used the backup quarterback analogy a couple of times and congratulations, it’s a great analogy. But sooner or later the backup quarterback gets in the game. When do you stop being the backup quarterback?
TL: The backup quarterback is under centre now. I know there are going to be times throughout the season it’s going to be tough. Every move we’ve made will be analyzed and assessed. All I can do is work hard and develop a thicker skin because the last few years the backup quarterback hasn’t made a bad play.
EW: What will be different about the 2014-15 Canucks?
TL: We’ll assemble a group of players who are excited to be here. We want to be a team where every player has a significant part in success and that comes down to (new head coach Willie Desjardins). We’ve gotten younger and deeper. And we want to be a team that’s exciting to watch. I think, for whatever reason, there wasn’t a good feeling around the team last year and people pick up on that, whether it’s the fans or the media.
EW: That brings up the question of Ryan Kesler. Was it a body blow to the organization to have a player of that stature say he doesn’t want to be a part of the team anymore?
TL: Every player has different reasons for making different decisions and I don’t really know the history of Ryan’s decision. But we want people who want to be here. I can’t tell you how nice it is to talk to Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, Ryan Miller, Derek Dorsett, guys who are so excited to come to Vancouver. When you talk to those guys, you don’t think about the guys who don’t want to be here.
EW: There’s a perception out there that ownership was overly involved in the day-to-day operations of this team. Are you satisfied you have autonomy?
TL: I think I had to be comfortable with their expectations of me and how we’d work. I can only say I’ve had full control over what we do to this point. Our ownership wants to win, and they care. They’ve proven that with some of the cheques they’ve had to write this spring.
EW: You’ve been around Willie Desjardins for over a month now. What have you seen there?
TL: I didn’t know Willie that well except for meeting him at a couple of Memorial Cups. The thing that intrigued me about Willie is his teams played hard for him. He has the ability to get his guys to buy in. What I’ve seen in the last month is he’s a real down-to-earth guy. He connects to people on a real level. He’s not trying to sell you something. He’s authentic and he cares about guys. I think guys respond to that. We expect to be a playoff team. But there are few things we need to do. We have to recapture the guys who had off seasons (last year), whether that’s Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Alex Edler or Daniel or Henrik (Sedin). We need to get those guys back in the rink and having fun, and we need to integrate younger players into the lineup. Ultimately it’s how that 20-man group performs and executes and we want to do a better job of that than anyone else. That’s up to Willie and his staff to get this group playing better.
EW: You also have some long-range goals for this organization. The term “culture change” is thrown around a lot these days. Does it apply here?
TL: We want to share the same values and characteristics whether that’s through me, (general manager Jim Benning), Willie and the players. It’s the same consistent message. We want to be a group which is down-to-earth, hard-working, committed and connects with fans at every level. I’ve just been so impressed with Jim. He’s walked into a situation and it’s been all about the work. He said something to me early on about when he walks into a meeting, there are no titles. It’s not about what’s on your business card. He’s lived up to that and it’s been a real message to me.
EW: So no mind room next year?
TL (smiling, sort of): No.
EW: I want to ask you about Ryan Miller. Polarizing is a strong word, but I think that was the one move that sparked the strongest reaction.
TL: We can’t have Daniel and Henrik, Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins, all these veterans, and not give them every chance they need to win. As much as we felt (rookie goalie Eddie Lack) made great steps last year, Jim believes goaltending is the most important position in the game. He needed to know every night we had a chance to win and we’re going to be good in that position. That’s the foundation of your team. Nothing destroys confidence faster if you struggle at that position. We weren’t willing to risk that, and the three-year term (on Miller’s contract) gave us some flexibility.
EW: You’ve had some interesting things to say about the role of fighting in the game. Do you think things are changing there?
TL: Fighting is supposed to be there to protect our top players. I’m not sure it has that effect. I think that happened in the ’70s and ’80s, but I think that ended when the game progressed. I don’t speak for every fan, but I think there are a lot of fans out there who don’t understand the staged fight. Within the context of the game it isn’t relevant. Everyone loves playoff hockey and we saw incredible games in these playoffs. It was hard-hitting, fast and intense. And, generally speaking, fighting isn’t part of playoff hockey.
Some of the best parts of our game are the hitting and clean body contact. The reaction now is to go after that guy. I don’t know what the answer is but we have to look at it. I’m open to having the conversation but I think we have to look at being progressive. I think (Tampa Bay Lightning GM) Steve Yzerman shares the same views. I know it’s not popular with some people.
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