Vancouver Canucks 6 at Ottawa Senators 4 – 2022-11-08 recap

All wins count, even the ones where you’re out-shot and out-chanced.

When Vancouver Canucks management talks about not wanting to rebuild, the reason why is that most rebuilds never succeed. Teams that lose games purposefully may wind up with a nice player or two, but it takes more than that to turn a team from a bottom feeder to a playoff team to a contender. It takes ambition and vision, and a team looking to rebuild simply can’t do it without charting out a multi-year plan to improve.

What Vancouver Canucks management wants less than anything is to become like the Ottawa Senators, a team doing its hardest to recruit Ryan Reynolds as a minority owner, for Reynolds to become the most-famous hockey-adjacent graduate of Kitsilano Secondary (the current top spot is held by Joshua Jackson, who played Charlie Conway in the Mighty Ducks movies). The Senators played through the entry-level contract years of Thomas Chabot, Brady Tkachuk, Drake Batherson, and Joshua Norris without even sniffing the playoffs. They are in a real deep hole to prevent this from happening again with Tim Stutzle and Shane Pinto.

The Sens haven’t come close to the playoffs in years, not since Chris Kunitz ended their season in overtime of Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals, the year that Erik Karlsson made a case to be awarded the Conn Smythe despite not seeing the fourth round of the playoffs. Since then, the Sens have finished in the bottom two of the division in each subsequent season, with no change to management or coaching. The organizational philosophy was to collect players and hope they succeed. They have not drafted well, nor have they developed well.

A good forward core gives a hockey team a sturdy floor, but to have a high ceiling, a team needs a strong defensive group that can move the puck well. The Senators do not have this. Their plan in the offseason was to hope that Jake Sanderson could step in to an NHL top four role and, while their prayer may have been answered (Sanderson looked excellent Tuesday night), it simply isn’t enough. They should never have taken Nikita Zaitsev’s contract off Toronto’s hands. They should have developed Erik Brannstrom’s raw skills better. They should have never taken Travis Hamonic’s contract off Vancouver’s hands. A series of questionable moves around the defence have really limited this team’s ceiling, and now they have dropped 6 consecutive games when they cannot afford to drop games and fall out of the playoff race this early.

But not all rebuilds must be like this. A key thing organizations must do to turn the corner is to identify their stars and pay them, and then go about finding and developing players whose productive years will overlap with your stars’ primes. Financial flexibility must be wielded, not on overpaying brand name players like Claude Giroux, but seeking out undervalued commodities like John Marino or Oliver Bjorkstrand whose teams cannot pay them.

The Canucks are going to rebuild. First, they need to admit to themselves that they will. But if done properly, with the proper infrastructure in place to draft and develop correctly, a team can be turned around in two years rather than five or six.

And it’s important for the Canucks to rebuild, because this current roster, structured or not, needed a lot of good fortune to defeat this Senators team that has been bleeding points. This roster isn’t good enough as is.

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