Opinion

Vancouver needs Linden to be his own president, not Steve Yzerman

Vancouver
Vancouver's Trevor Linden wins a face-off against San Jose's Joe Thornton, while the former was still playing for the Canucks.
— image credit: Wikimedia Commons

The more you watch Trevor Linden – talking, playing, or talking about playing – the more you respect the man.

But you also realize how little the person in the suit really matters, especially in regards to NHL general managers or the positions above them, and certainly when it comes to Linden right now – the guy serving as Vancouver's President of Hockey Operations, who needs to find his general manager, and will apparently be responsible for deciding the style of play his team will be defined by, regardless of whether those players had already figured out a pretty damn successful style of play at one point, a style that had them atop the league and gave their general manager at the time, Mike Gillis, not only the award for the NHL's executive of the year in 2011, but the even greater position of being the guy everyone else was chasing.

We now have to trust Lindein to do in the front office what he couldn't do on the ice... win. And to do it with a team that has, in three summers, tumbled from the peak to the poor house.

So, what happened? Whatever it was – Boston's big boys, Chicago's sniping, or the Luongo and Schneider fiasco – we're now supposed to trust that Trevor Linden knows the answer.

Why? Because you love him, that's why.

"You have to be sound fundamentally in all areas," he told Sportsnet's Luke Fox, outlining what the team he wants the Canucks to become, or return to. "Being a team that makes the proper decisions – when to hold the puck, when to put the puck in areas that make it effective to forecheck. It’s about tailoring your game to the personality you have."

Forgive me for sounding cruel, because I – like anyone in Vancouver – love Trevor Linden. I know Torontonians feel the same way about Mats Sundin, and Ottawa-ans (?) used to feel the same about Daniel Alfredsson.

But forgive me for now realizing what a crock, what a mirage, what a bureaucratic system this all is. And I'm not cynical about Linden being selected as Vancouver's President of Hockey Ops. Quite the contrary. I just feel hopeless about the conclusion I finally came to – the fact that Trevor is loved, he's an icon, and that's actually a better qualification for the job than anything else he could have done in hockey. Seriously, so what if there's some other executive out there who's won a Cup before? There's a good chance he won't win one again. But Trevor could, right? It's all gravy at this point, so you may as well eat your last meal with your favourite prison guard.

The Gillis experiment was working for a while, before he broke down. And now we're just going to toss it to Trevor for no other reason than, "Why not?"

Linden was a terrific player and still is a terrific person. But Trev's greatest on-ice accomplishment was finishing second. Once. And now he's the sherpa we're supposed to huddle around, follow with ice picks, and ask for wisdom?

I don't swell with confidence when I hear Linden say his team needs to be "sound" and fundamental and good "in all areas".

I mean, of course it does.

Oh, wait… Genius thought coming…

"The Vancouver Canucks need a strong youth base. They need to be good defensively, and offensively. They need to score more. They need good goaltending."

Boy, that was great, wasn't it? Why not just give me whatever award the NHL gave Gillis? I hear they're just handing it out.

Clearly, Trevor is being tight-lipped about his strategy, or he's figuring it all out. And that's okay. He's probably also trying to sound "sound" in the wake of Gillis's waterskis, because that guy was all about advanced stats and sleep doctors and thinking outside the box. God forbid.

So what's Linden looking for in a general manager?

"Someone who has a strong ability to evaluate talent combined with someone who has experience with an organization in a general manager’s role for several years is important," Linden told Fox. "And someone who is a really strong communicator."

Wow. Profound. That same description could pass for Save-On's career page.

NHL legend Cam Neely's done well in Boston – where he played and became a Linden-esque icon for a decade – but he's no doubt aided by that well-established core of brains they have assembling the Bruins, including general manager Peter Chiarelli.

(What's a general manager, you ask? We used to know.)

But take Steve Yzerman, for example.

Great player, a Hall of Famer. Better than Linden, of course, if we have to compare them. Three Stanley Cups. One of the NHL's all-time greatest leaders, centres, and point-nabbers. Ditto for Joe Sakic, who only had two Stanley Cups but was the best all-around player in the world – in my opinion – in the years left dry between Gretzky/Lemieux and Ovechkin/Crosby.

But, as a GM, what has Yzerman won?

Or Sakic for that matter? Are we really chasing the example set by a guy whose team has had a decent regular season? Didn't we already have that ourselves?

I'll lay off Sakic. But Yzerman's had the Lightning for a few years now, reaching the playoffs only twice, including an emphatic sweep this year at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens.

He's made some worthwhile trades, but they've only served as posturing for what we assume will be a long, championship-filled tenure. Because, everybody wins a Stanley Cup at some point, right?

(And as far as Stevie Y's involvement with Team Canada, that position certainly requires someone who can handle egos, someone who knows when he has to make the decision and not defer, but anyone could have picked that national team and gotten away with it.)

The uncomfortable truth is, Mike Gillis accomplished more as the general manager of the Canucks than Yzerman has as GM of the Lightning. And don't give me that crap about how Gillis doesn't deserve credit for Vancouver's 2011 team because he wasn't the one who drafted the Sedins or Kesler.

If that's true, then maybe we should rip that '2011 Eastern Conference finalist' badge off Stevie Y's lapel, too, because he didn't draft Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, or even Steven Stamkos.

This is not to say that Mike Gillis was a great executive, or that he deserves to have his job. It's just to say, this whole thing is a little more random than we'd like to admit. So we may as well pick a guy like Linden, a guy who we trust and feel comfortable with, who can make us feel like it's up to us in any way, that somebody is looking out and is about to cut the right wire.

(Isn't that why so many of us believe in God, when all evidence points to a series of collisions, not a series of magical decisions?)

Yzerman is a beloved figure. Nobody can take that away from him. And he may very well lead Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup, like Neely has done in Boston. And if that happens, I'll be the first to lavish praise and some sort of genius-ish necklace onto the guy.

But as the departed Mike Gillis and this crew of Canucks know very well, you've only got it while you've got it. And once you don't, it's gone.

Suddenly, you're scratching and crawling like Katherine Heigl, desperate to return to when she mattered in 2006.

Ditto goes for the clock ticking behind the St. Louis Blues, the apple franchise of a lot of the hockey world's eye which just got eliminated in six games in the first round – after holding a 2-0 series lead – for the second straight year.

We can't consider Yzerman's rule in Florida anything less than a work in progress.

So forgive me if I'm not completely sold on Vancouver following another team's model yet again, especially when the last four Stanley Cup-winning general managers never played a shift in the National Hockey League.

Trevor, all the best.

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