Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini and GM Mike Gillis.
Source: Getty Images via NHL
This week could be the most important week for the Vancouver Canucks organization in a long, long time.
First, let’s set the background.
The Canucks can’t win. They’ve lost 9 of their last 10 games, and have only won 6 games (6-14-4) since Christmas.
They can’t score. They’ve managed to score 3 goals in a game just 4 times since the calendar turned to 2014, and their 2.33 goals per game average this season is their lowest since 1999, when their roster included illustrious players like Peter Zezel, Harry York, Bill Muckalt and Darby Hendrickson.
The Sedins are having their worst seasons, well, ever. As so are Alex Burrows and Alex Edler.
Off the ice, it’s not much better. Ryan Kesler wants out. GM Mike Gillis is on the hot seat, if not with the owners, then certainly with the fans. Interest in the team is down. Tickets sales are down. Corporate sales are down.
But perhaps the cherry on top?
The Canucks somehow managed to bungle what should have been a great celebration of hockey – the Heritage Classic at BC Place – and instead turn the focus once again to the obviously strained relationship between the team and Roberto Luongo.
When word got out on Saturday night that the Canucks were starting rookie goaltender Eddie Lack at the Heritage Classic, reaction from Canucks fans was swift. And it was mostly negative. In fact, while goaltending controversies usually tend to divide Canucks fans, the decision to sit Luongo for this unique event instead united them. Perhaps it’s the existence of social media, but even in the dark years of the Mike Keenan/Mark Messier era, I don’t remember so much anger directed at the team – and management – as was directed at them yesterday.
The scene at BC Place this afternoon was surreal. Lack, who had played his guts out all year, was getting booed, not for his play, but rather because he wasn’t Luongo. Luongo, who most had written off last year, sat on the bench, unhappy, angry and refusing to speak with the media after the game.
If there was ever a perfect prelude to the week the Canucks are supposed to start sending season ticket renewals (and selling playoff ticket packages), everything that’s transpired in the last week – together with the lack of on-ice success the last couple of months – were definitely not it.
These should be interesting times for this organization. It’s no secret that Canucks fans are fickle, and in fact, the appetite for all things Canucks has dwindled in the last couple of seasons. All you have to do is look around the arena and see the empty seats, or see the suites which no longer have corporate sponsors attached to them (for example, the Best Buy Club is now just Club 500 and the River Rock Club is now just The Club), or view the frequent ads for ticket promotions not seen in several seasons.
Certainly, the Canucks will have their work cut out for them as they start reaching out to season ticket holders. In 2011, at the peak of their success with this current core, the season ticket renewal rate was at close to 99%. They even managed to build a long wait list for new season ticket holders. But in the last couple of seasons, that renewal rate has decreased. At the season ticket renewal event in 2012, a Canucks account rep stated the renewal rate was around 97%; this season after the lockout, the same rep stated it was at around 95%. Already for next season, the organization is expecting an even lower renewal rate – I’ve heard rumors it could be as low as 85%. The wait list has helped in the meantime; however, they’ve already exhausted most of it.
Which brings us back to this week.
The NHL’s trade deadline is this Wednesday, March 5th, and with core players such as Kesler, Luongo, and perhaps even Edler in play, the Canucks have a prime opportunity to reshape their roster and re-inject some hope for the people who invest big dollars in them.
The question is how GM Mike Gillis goes about accomplishing that.
Ideally, any trades for Kesler, Luongo and Edler – all still very good players, regardless of what Twitter says – should net the Canucks some good, young players, which should speed up the rebuilding process. Kesler alone is attracting a lot of interest, and if Gillis plays his cards right, he could net the Canucks at least one, maybe two, young, top-6 forwards and some high draft picks. Imagine adding the likes of Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, Scott Laughton, Brandon Sutter, Derrick Pouliot and/or Beau Bennett to a youth core that already includes Eddie Lack, Zack Kassian, Chris Tanev, Bo Horvat, Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Frankie Corrado.
That’s not a bad group to start a rebuild. But do they inspire enough confidence in their season ticket holders and corporate sponsors? I mean, nothing says “give me your money now” than we’ll be good in a couple of years.
The other side of the coin is the need for this organization to make the playoffs. A couple of years ago, it was estimated that each playoff home game brings in roughly $2-$3 million in revenue. Even assuming the team makes it and flames out in the first round, that’s still a lot of money – almost enough to buy out David Booth in the off-season – especially for an owner who already has a lot of money tied up in developing his office towers around the arena.
So do they start the rebuild now – and start selling hope now? Or do they make another push, with this most of this current core intact, and hope to catch lightning in a bottle? For those who do invest thousands of their hard-earned dollars on the team, what would they rather see?
It’s obvious the Canucks, not too long removed from the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy wins, have gone stale. It’s obvious fans are mad – a lot of them already speaking with their wallets – and want change.
This week, the team has an opportunity to respond. It will be interesting to see how they do.