Iain MacIntyre: Trevor Linden's back to finish business


Trevor Linden, the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, through the years as a player.

Trevor Linden, the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, through the years as a player.

Photograph by: Maggie Wong, Vancouver Sun Graphic

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VANCOUVER — It's hard to say whom we missed more, Trevor Linden or his dad.

Asked about his son's new job as president of hockey operations with the Vancouver Canucks, Lane Linden said Wednesday on the phone from Medicine Hat, Alta: “I'm just glad he got another job. I was afraid he was never going to work again. The people at the unemployment office must have got tired of seeing him the last six years.”

As usual, Lane and Edna Linden were the last to know what their son was up to. When Trevor informed them Tuesday that not only was he rejoining the Canucks but he would be running the National Hockey League team, his mom asked what he was getting himself into.

Good question.

What is this beloved Canuck icon, member of the Order of Canada, doing putting his hockey legacy at risk?

“Part of the reason you love the game as a player is you love the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” Linden said Wednesday upon his return to the Canucks, six years and three days after his final game. “It becomes addictive. Part of the reason about being back in this chair today is the opportunity to win, the chance to win, a chance to do something special here in Vancouver.”

The hiring of Linden, easily the most loved figure in franchise history, is so wildly popular the Canucks immediately pushed back to next Thursday the deadline for season-ticket renewals. This gives the many ticket subscribers waffling at renewing after this dreadful season, eight more days to digest the change from fired general manager Mike Gillis to Linden.

The Canucks have scheduled a noon webcast Friday to allow Linden to answer questions from concerned ticket-holders. Already, there has been a surge in renewals.

But there is irony amid the euphoria surrounding Linden's repatriation.

The happy environment contrasts starkly with the ominous mood around town in 2008 when owner Francesco Aquilini announced Gillis as Dave Nonis' successor.

The former player agent was a contentious hire.

But beyond the initial debate about Gillis' worthiness, the Canuck landscape was incredibly favorable for the new GM. Nonis and previous manager Brian Burke had left him a treasure of core players in their mid-20s ready to become stars in the NHL. With an excellent coach in Alain Vigneault already in place, the Canucks were a rocket poised for takeoff. And with Gillis' fine-tuning, the team soon won back-to-back Presidents' Trophies and made it to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup final.

Six years later, get beyond the warm, fuzzy story of Linden's return, and the team landscape is perilous. The core is stale and in its early 30s, and the Canucks are teetering at a precipice. Without swift and substantive personnel changes, impeded by all the no-trade clauses players possess, the Canucks could burrow to the bottom of the standings and stay there.

“There are many moving parts,” Linden said of the roster challenges he faces. “I've got some ideas, but I'm not willing to share them today. I like this core because there are good people there and they're character players and they deserve the right to be where they are. Having said that, at this juncture, there needs to be a full evaluation of how we get better and what that looks like.”

Linden will hire a general manager. But understand clearly: Linden is in charge of all hockey operations. The Canuck management model, when finished, will look a lot like the Colorado Avalanche's. Vice-president of hockey operations Joe Sakic runs the Denver team, with a lot of input on personnel from coach Patrick Roy. Technically, Greg Sherman is the general manager.

Linden's general manager, likely to be an experienced, draft-accomplished manager/administrator, will work for him. Linden will make the big personnel decisions. He has a GM “profile” in mind, but wouldn't divulge it. He said he will look internally, as well as outside the organization, so current assistant general manager Laurence Gilman should be a candidate.

“Obviously, there will be some changes,” Linden said. “But I intend to surround myself with good, thoughtful, independent thinkers. That's how this organization will make the right decisions.

“(The Aquilinis) have given me full control to make the right decisions, and full autonomy. Obviously, in any sports organization, a good working relationship with ownership is important. But ultimately, I'm very comfortable with the autonomy that I have.”

Autonomy is a significant issue because Aquilini has been battling perceptions that his family interfered in hockey operations when Gillis was supposed to be in charge.

“Trevor will make all the decisions on hockey-related personnel – coaches, players, free agents,” Aquilini told reporters.

Later, in explaining his decision to replace Gillis with Linden, the Canucks' chairman said: “It's about a change in direction and a new voice. Am I disappointed with this season, just like all our fans? I'm disappointed. Everyone is saying: 'What's going on here?' Now, it's up to me to make the change. Our season-ticket holders are all waiting there to see what's going to happen. We want to get their confidence back and Trevor's going to do that. Trevor is the guy that we feel will put the best possible product on the ice. We have full trust in him.”

Linden played in the NHL for 20 years, led the Players' Association out of the worst labour war in league history and helped broker a Collective Bargaining Agreement worth billions. But he has never made a trade nor drafted a player. Of course, neither had Gillis.

“He went through that bloody NHLPA situation – some of the worst times – and it wore him down but it didn't break him,” Lane Linden said. “That experience will bode well for him with this position.

“He may have the effect of selling tickets, but from Trev's part, he's there to do a job. He didn't finish it with a Stanley Cup ring with the Canucks in 1994, but that objective is still front and centre. He may not get it in a year. It may take a long time. But by the end, he'll get that job done, too.”


Trevor Linden, the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, through the years as a player.

Trevor Linden, the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, through the years as a player.

Photograph by: Maggie Wong, Vancouver Sun Graphic

Trevor Linden, the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, through the years as a player.
Trevor Linden and Kirk McLean hug after the Vancouver Canucks defeated New York Rangers in the sixth game of the 1994 Stanley Cup final. Trevor Linden may be the best man to take the reins of the Vancouver Canucks.
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