On Vancouver radio on Wednesday morning, before Trevor Linden had officially been named the new president of the Vancouver Canucks, the revered former star hockey player was referred to as “God like.”
It is this deep vein of love for Linden in Vancouver that the Canucks owners, the Aquilini family, aim to tap as the work to rehabilitate the shaky hockey business begins. The announcement comes the day after the firing of former president and general manager Mike Gillis, which came the day after the Canucks missed the playoffs for the first time in six years.
The Linden announcement came in a press release on Wednesday, just ahead of a press conference at Rogers Arena with Aquilini and Linden that was set to be broadcast live on various radio and television stations. No new general manager has been named.
According to the release, Linden will be responsible for all hockey operations, including the coaching and scouting staffs, player procurement and development, and minor league affiliations and operations.
“Today is a real honour. I came to Vancouver 26 years ago and I have never left. I love this city. It is my home and the Canucks have always been part of my family,” Linden said in the release. “I’m passionate about the Canucks and I want to win – just like our fans. I believe in this team and share the organization’s committed to excellence on and off of the ice. I am looking forward to getting started – getting to know everyone in the organization, and working together to win the Stanley Cup for this great city and province.”
Linden’s life in Vancouver began when he was 18 with his 30-goal rookie season in 1988-89. Along the way, he led the team, almost, to its first Stanley Cup, losing in Game 7 in 1994, and finally retired two decades after he began, in 2008. He last left the ice at the building now called Rogers Arena on April 5, 2008 to a huge ovation, on an otherwise ugly night for the Canucks, when they lost 7-1 to the Calgary Flames in the last game of the season – the last time the team missed the playoffs.
It was then the Aquilinis turned to Gillis, who was a successful player agent with no NHL front-office experience. Gillis led to the team, again, to the verge of the Cup. On Wednesday, the Aquilinis turn again to a man with no NHL front office experience, Linden, who has run a small chain of fitness clubs under his name in the Vancouver region. During his career, he also was president of the NHL Players’ Association for nearly a decade, including through the 2004-05 lost season.
Linden’s hiring comes on the same day that Canucks season ticket holders face a deadline decision to renew their expensive investment in the team for the 2014-15 campaign. Through various packages, the Canucks have 17,000 seats sold every night at Rogers Arena, out of a total of 18,910. The arena has been sold out for more than a decade, the longest streak in hockey and second-longest in North American professional sports. The streak is in jeopardy and revenue from posh luxury boxes is also poised to fall.
In to this breach swoops Linden, whose winning personality and history carries so much good will that at least some fans will be buoyed enough to stick by the Canucks financially. But it is not realistic to believe Linden alone can revive the box office, or the hockey team. Unlike when Gillis arrived, there are no prospects for a swift resuscitation.
On the ice, the problems seems somewhat intractable, never mind the uncertain future of the coach, John Tortorella. Many of the players are in their 30s. The Sedins, coming off a terrible season, turn 34 in September and start a new four-year, $7-million per season deal. Ryan Kesler, who wants to be traded, turns 30 in August. Goal scoring – which began to slump in the winter of 2012 under Alain Vigneault – has crashed, the third lowest in the league, and in the third period this year the Canucks are the poorest scorers of all.