In a lengthy Q & A session with Luke Fox of Sportsnet, Trevor Linden, president of the Vancouver Canucks, offered his thoughts on the direction of the team, among many other topics. The entire interview is well worth the read but here are a few of the highlights:
- When asked about the biggest positive so far this season, Linden spoke of the team’s youthful defense: “Tonight we’ll have the youngest defence core in the National Hockey League. Our oldest defenceman will be 26-year-old [Luca] Sbisa and [Philip] Larsen. Gudbranson’s 24. [Ben] Hutton’s 23. [Troy] Stecher and [Nikita] Tryamkin are 22. That’s a new group. We’ve rebuilt that defence.” Not only is Sbisa the gray beard of the crew, he is also the longest-tenured member of the blue line, now in his third season with the team. From that perspective Linden is spot on in his assessment that Vancouver has essentially rebuilt the team’s defense. But it remains to be seen whether this young group can develop into one of the league’s top blue line units.
- Interestingly enough, when discussing the defense, Linden also touched on the Sedins, Henrik and Daniel. The executive admitted there is no chance the team will trade their longtime stars, unless requested by the twins to do so: “Two guys that, quite simply, were just never going to be moved. That’s 33 (Henrik) and 22 (Daniel). They’re going to be here until they decide to not be here.” The Sedins are no longer in their prime but are still capable of producing solid offensive numbers commensurate with top-six forwards – Daniel has 14 points and Henrik 15 through 24 games this season. Dealing the twins would fast-forward the Vancouver rebuild tremendously given the quality assets they would be able to get in exchange. Of course finding a trade scenario that works for Vancouver would be difficult. With NMC’s in hand, it’s certain the duo would insist on continuing to play together. Not many teams will have enough room, even at the trade deadline, to accommodate the Sedin’s combined cap charge. Still, it’s a scenario Linden should not-so-easily dismiss.
- Entering the season, there was thought the Canucks would give Jacob Markstrom a larger share of starts between the pipes in 2016-17. After all, Ryan Miller will be a free agent at the end of the season and while the team has quality young talent in the pipeline, Markstrom appeared to be the likeliest candidate to assume the starting role once Miller left. But since the young Swede had never started more than 30 games in any single NHL season, it seemed prudent to give Markstrom more of the load this season to ensure he was ready to take over in 2017-18. To this point Miller has 13 starts and Markstrom 11 suggesting it may end up as close to an even split by year’s end. For his part, Linden told Fox that the Canucks indeed believe Markstrom can be the team’s #1: “We definitely feel he has a chance. The succession plan: Ryan [Miller] may be back next year. We’re not sure. He’s a free agent. Jacob, we feel can be a No. 1 goalie, and we got Demko in Utica. It depends on his development. Goaltenders take a little more time.” Oddly, Linden states that Miller could return to the team in free agency. While a return for Miller is at least conceivable, it’s doubtful the team will want to invest heavily on goaltending. Markstrom’s three-year, $11MM extension kicks in next season and presumably Miller would have to be willing to take a significant pay cut from the $6MM AAV he currently brings in.
- Lastly, Linden discussed Bo Horvat and the team’s approach to his upcoming restricted free agency: “You look at the kid, the maturity level. What’s his approach? What are his day-to-day work habits? Definitely, Bo is an important guy for us. We see him as a leader of this group as he continues to develop. He’s an impressive kid. You gotta make sure the internals are right before [you sign a long-term deal]. Certain guys can handle it; certain guys have trouble.” Fox followed up by asking whether Horvat was one who might have trouble handling a long-term contract. Linden’s response was notable: “I’m not going to say.” It would seem to suggest there is perhaps some doubt and could indicate the team would prefer a short-term approach with Horvat when it comes to his next contract.