The billionaire Aquilini family, which owns the Vancouver Canucks, built its construction and real estate business methodically over the past half century, eschewing short-term moves in favour of longer-term thinking.
With the hockey team, team chairman Francesco Aquilini has done much the same over eight seasons of ownership. His president and general manager Mike Gillis has been in the chair four years, coach Alain Vigneault for six. The stars on the ice, from the Sedins to Ryan Kesler, have remained the same for years.
Calls for changes from critics ricocheted on Monday, after the Canucks collapsed in the first round to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday night.
Everyone’s future, from Gillis, to Vigneault, to most players, was questioned.
But given the Aquilinis’ business history, a significant overhaul may be unlikely. Yet is the quest for consistency a mistake? As the Canucks gets older, is Vancouver in danger of becoming a northern version of the San Jose Sharks, talented yet just not good enough?
The biggest Canucks change will happen in goal, with speculation pointing to the departure of Roberto Luongo, replaced in net by understudy Cory Schneider.
A general picture should emerge Tuesday. Gillis addresses reporters in Vancouver, followed by the players cleaning out their lockers. Vigneault is to meet with his players on Tuesday but does not plan to speak with reporters.
The core of the Canucks, on the ice, believes the team remains very close to the right combination to crack a Stanley Cup victory.
“It’s a tweak here and there, but it’s not much,” team captain Henrik Sedin said after the crushing loss Sunday night.
The typical response of an NHL team would be change, according to Simon Fraser University business professor Peter Tingling, who studies decision making and has done extensive research on decisions and the NHL draft. Short-term thinking dominates hockey, he said.
Tingling said the Canucks’ response to their current situation – “Nobody envisioned this,” Vigneault said on Sunday night – will be telling.
“Crisis doesn’t build character, it displays the character you already have,” Tingling said. “Let’s see what the Canucks do now.”
Leadership on the ice appears to be a glaring hole. Kesler, assistant captain, didn’t score against Los Angeles and hadn’t notched a goal in more than a month. Sedin, who managed one point against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final last year, led the Canucks in scoring against the Kings but was unable to elevate teammates such as David Booth, who joined his line for the last two games.
The Sedins turn 32 in September. Others such as Kesler are younger – he turns 28 in August. Schneider is 26. The Canucks are the 11th oldest of 30 NHL teams in age, with an average of 28.1 years.
The window to win a Stanley Cup seems to be rapidly closing and commentators who believed last season was Vancouver’s best chance look more and more right.
Change is not the route taken by other Presidents’ Trophy winners who got booted in the first round, a fate met by four of seven regular-season champs since the 2004-05 lockout.
When the Detroit Red Wings won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2005-06, and lost in the first round, the club barely made any changes. Two years later, led by the same general manager and coach, 10 of the top dozen scorers on the Red Wings team that won the 2008 Stanley Cup were on the team that face-planted in 2005-06.
The Wings bet on the core, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in their late 20s, and the ageless Nicklas Lidstrom. The only real changes were in goal.
While resisting change worked in Detroit, it didn’t in San Jose, where the Sharks’ leadership duo of Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau just can’t breakthrough. The Sharks won the Presidents’ Trophy in 2008-09 and lost in the first round. Thornton and Marleau were 29 then. The Sharks then lost twice in the Western Conference final, and this year again are out in the first round, with their leaders now 32.
Of the top half-dozen scorers for San Jose this year, only one is new from the Presidents’ Trophy season. Like in Detroit, the only real change has come in net.
There has been more change for the Washington Capitals, which topped the league in 2009-10 and went down in the first round. They have a new coach this season and have changed goaltending, but the core, again, is mostly unchanged.
Many teams say they aim for the long-term stability of the Red Wings, an organization that has produced a playoff team each season for more than two decades. Yet one of the breakthrough teams this year is the Philadelphia Flyers, who last summer jettisoned two of their biggest stars and got a lot in return.
And, now, the Flyers have upended the favoured Pittsburgh Penguins – and could make a run to their second Cup final in three seasons.
“We have a good thing here,” said Daniel Sedin Sunday night, saluting Vancouver’s owners who have invested to win, and good management and coaching. “They bring in the players every year to give us the chance to win.”