The front office is in transition in the wake of a miserable Canucks season. Columnist Gary Mason gives his take on some of the changes so far.
Was this a good move by the Aquilini family?
Only time will tell, of course, but my immediate impression is yes, I think it's a smart move, maybe even an inspired one. The fact is, the team is likely heading for a rough patch as it rebuilds and retools a stale and aging core. This may not be the only season the team misses the playoffs as it goes through the process of reimagining itself. If that is the case, does it want an unpopular GM (Mike Gillis) presiding over that reconstruction, or someone to whom people will give the benefit of the doubt? Someone who is the most popular player in team history? I think the Aquilinis did what any smart business person would do: identify the problem and figure the best way out of it. The fans were calling for Gillis's head. Many were refusing to renew their season tickets unless he was gone. Now he is and Linden has already sent out a letter to season-ticket holders urging them to hang in there; he has plans to turn things around.
What does he have to do first?
Well, he's got a pretty important to-do list, and it begins with finding a general manager to oversee player development and assess talent around the league. Most GMs in the league have total authority over shaping the team; that means designing trades, going after free agents, drafting players. The new GM will likely still have some of those responsibilities, but Linden made it clear that he is going to be calling the final shots on these fronts. That could compromise his search for a GM. He may not find as many candidates willing to play a subservient role to a team president, although this hierarchy does exist on some teams already. After finding a GM, or perhaps even before then, he is going to have to make a decision about coach John Tortorella. Many Canucks fans blame him for the team's troubles. Linden is likely to learn more in the coming days when he sits down with individual players – some former teammates – to get their feedback. That process may determine Tortorella's future more than anything.
Is Linden tough enough for the job?
Well, Linden was a tough enough hockey player, and has the scars and misshaped nose to prove it. But he is also one of the nicest persons you'll ever meet, which has some wondering if he'll be able to deliver bad news to people he knows and, down the road, hired. A team president often has to be ruthless when it comes to making swift decisions to deal with emerging problems. He has to make decisions that are unpopular and that will be met with criticism in the media. That is not something Linden has had a lot of experience dealing with as the most beloved player in franchise history. He is going to have to develop a thick skin and block out the inevitable barbs that he is going to face. Is he tough enough for the job? Yes. Will he enjoy some of the lousier aspects of it? Not one bit.
Did this move come as a surprise?
Totally. I don't think anyone saw this coming. There was nothing that suggested Linden was getting ready to return to the game, let alone in such a prominent position. And then there is the timing of it all. Few GMs are fired before the end of the season. But clearly the Aquilinis felt they needed to do something fast to arrest the fan rebellion that they were facing. Still, this one came out of the blue. That said, I think many fans are cheering the decision – for now, at least.
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