A new Vancouver Canucks promotional video aims to rekindle a city's love for its beaten-down hockey team. Images from the team's earliest days unspool and roll through the unlikely run to the 1982 Stanley Cup final, again in 1994 and then 2011 – cutting away before that year's Cup final and ignoring everything that followed.
The voice-over makes major declarations: The team is the city's "binding spirit"; to be a Canuck is to have "the heart of a warrior"; the team provides citizens something to belong to; it is the "common language" of the region, a veritable lingua franca of British Columbia's Lower Mainland.
If people thought the Canucks – one of the worst teams in the NHL last year – had adjusted their outward ego after the firing of president Mike Gillis last spring, this new video suggests otherwise. Hubris, a hallmark of the Gillis era, remains at least somewhat intact.
The short film played on Tuesday at a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon, where the team's troika of rookie bosses – president Trevor Linden, general manager Jim Benning and coach Willie Desjardins – pitched the prospect of a Canucks revival to an audience of business people, the likes of whom buy luxury suites, sponsorships and advertising.
The Canucks have sold about 16,000 season tickets, below the team's usual 17,000; Rogers Arena's capacity is 18,910. Following a half-hour question-and-answer session with the business audience, Linden conceded there is still some ill feeling around the team after last year's face plant. "A lot of unhappy people," Linden said.
The true job of turning things around begins when training camp starts next week.
"The most important thing in this business is winning," said Linden, "and I don't blame any fan who says that 'I want to see it happen on the ice first.'"
Linden arrived in his job in April, his first executive gig in hockey, in a crisis situation.
He managed, in the span of three months, to hire a respected new GM and a promising coach and oversee a series of roster moves, including the jettisoning of the petulant Ryan Kesler, the signing of Ryan Miller, and the acquisition of the intriguing Linden Vey.
Forecasts for the Canucks in the once-again formidable Pacific Division are not positive. The Hockey News predicted a sixth-place finish in the division, worse than last year's fifth place. On the happier side, statistics analyst Rob Vollman has calculated, if things go well, the Canucks could actually finish as high as second, which would mean topping two of the three teams from California. That would mark an incredible turnaround.
Desjardins has "huge upside," said Vollman, though the analyst characterized Vancouver as a "bubble team," one that could ride good special teams and its top lines, but might suffer – like last year – from "potentially terrible depth."
On Tuesday, the betting service Bodog put the over-under on the Canucks's point total this year at 88.5, a figure that would not be enough to make the postseason.
But the Canucks's mission, a dictate from owner Francesco Aquilini, is to get back in the playoffs, rather than undertake a more gutting rebuild. It is, said Benning, similar to the situation he and former colleagues found themselves in in Boston in the mid-2000s, when they took over a struggling Bruins team.
Benning, speaking to the business audience and to reporters afterward, emphasized the importance of establishing a winning culture.
This was the driving factor behind the signing of Miller, the 34-year-old goalie who played for Benning in Buffalo. Miller, who got $6-million a season for three years from Vancouver, is, in one way, an insurance policy, to help prevent the Canucks from guttering, and possibly a propellant, if he plays well.
Missing the playoffs last season was the first misstep for the Canucks since a hiccup in 2007-08. The last time the team missed multiple postseasons was in the late 1990s, four seasons, 1996-97 through 1999-2000.
The business audience in Vancouver provided the Canucks bosses a fairly enthusiastic reception. The event was billed "change management."
Linden and the others greeted well-wishers afterward. Linden signed an old No. 16 jersey. The audience numbered about 400, a sold-out event, and about double the crowd for a recent event with federal Industry Minister James Moore, who is the top local Conservative MP, but half that of the 800 or so who paid to see Justin Trudeau last spring.