Cam Cole: Patience, Canucks fans — draft-and-develop will take a lot of time

 

No ‘middle-class’ of role players in their prime on team’s roster

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks rookie centre Jared McCann has been thrust into a role for which he is not yet ready, and his confidence is shot.
 

Vancouver Canucks rookie centre Jared McCann has been thrust into a role for which he is not yet ready, and his confidence is shot.

Photograph by: Claus Andersen, Getty Images

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VANCOUVER — It’s a mood-swingy business, hockey.

Too many games mean too many opportunities to go from paroxysms of joy after a win to the depths of despair (yes, quoting Anne of Green Gables here) after an unsightly loss.

The good news, if you call it that, about the Vancouver Canucks’ pattern of these more than occasional pratfalls of late is that it allows a bigger picture to emerge.

Alas, it’s kind of a black velvet painting, with more than a few dogs.

After a decade of riding fairly high (by Canadian team standards), the Canucks are in the dumper, but good.

This is not a giant mystery, not too complex to unravel.

It is a team trying to rebuild on the fly, handicapped by eight consecutive entry drafts (2004 to 2012) in which the Canucks selected 47 bodies without finding a single impact player, even by accident.

The result, in an age when draft-and-develop is the only proven path to prolonged success, is that there is no “middle class” on the Vancouver roster now — no mid-20s to early-30s role players who ideally would be holding the fort while the kids mature at a reasonable pace.

There’s nothing wrong with Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann that a couple of years in the minors wouldn’t cure. But instead, Virtanen got hurt trying to play a man’s game with a still-developing body, and McCann has been thrust into a role for which he is not yet ready, and his confidence is shot.

Ditto Bo Horvat, who’s going to be a good pro for a long time, but is crumbling under the weight of expectations after a great rookie season.

Yes, the Canucks are missing their big off-season acquisition, Brandon Sutter, whose absence has caused a ripple effect down through the lines.

Yes, they are missing Dan Hamhuis and Luca Sbisa from the blue line, which puts increased pressure not only on the goaltending to keep them in games but on the only two experienced, big-time defencemen coach Willie Desjardins sees when he looks down the bench: Alex Edler and Chris Tanev.

And don’t forget, Hamhuis was going through his worst stretch of play as a pro when he ate that puck a little over a week ago and Sbisa is a human roulette wheel at the best of times, so the idea that things are going to stabilize when they get back may be wishful thinking.

Patience is the only card the Canucks’ management team has in its hand that’s worth playing.

The critics may wonder whether president Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning are in over their heads — let alone poor Desjardins, who (in the words of an old Dutch soccer coach) is trying to make rabbits give milk — but the reality is that it’s going to be a long while before Benning’s work can be judged fairly.

His draft picks, the ones who are here and the ones still to come, will need time to develop. Time, as in two-three-four years. And as each year passes, Henrik and Daniel Sedin are just that little bit older (though heaven knows where the Canucks would be without the twins this season), which means the pressure is building to draft and develop offensive impact players, like yesterday.

There is no magic bullet forthcoming from outside. A front-line defenceman, a big, fast, faceoff-winning offensive centre … those aren’t available for what the Canucks have in the cupboard to offer in exchange.

But with dipping attendance and a discernible sag in the team’s “brand” dominance of the market, the biggest test of patience may be that of the owners: Do the Aquilinis have it in them to stay the course? Should they?

Draft-and-develop isn’t sexy. It won’t sell tickets in the here and now.

Mike Babcock bought himself some time in Toronto, where the faithful never tire of their Leafs anyway, by saying in his first day on the job: “If you think there’s no pain coming, there’s pain coming.”

But he’s Mike Babcock. Who else has that luxury?

It’s not as though there is no object lesson here for the Canucks. Just on the other side of the mountains, they can view the results of two teams that chose separate paths: the Edmonton Oilers, who happily bottomed out to hit the high draft picks, and the Calgary Flames, who tried to remain competitive and fill in the blanks on the run while moving on from Kiprusoff-Iginla et al.

It hasn’t worked out very well for either team, give or take the Flames’ out-of-nowhere surge last season, but the Canucks can take something out of both those scenarios.

One, that it’s never good to hang massive expectations on kids before they’re ready (see Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Schultz, Yakupov, et al), and two, that sometimes all it takes is a couple of players jumping out of a pack of plumbers — a Johnny Gaudreau, a Sean Monahan — to allow fans to see a glimpse of a brighter future.

But first you have to draft them. And then, you have to wait.

No one likes that second part.

ccole@vancouversun.com

Twitter.com/rcamcole

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks rookie centre Jared McCann has been thrust into a role for which he is not yet ready, and his confidence is shot.
 

Vancouver Canucks rookie centre Jared McCann has been thrust into a role for which he is not yet ready, and his confidence is shot.

Photograph by: Claus Andersen, Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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