It’s easy to play the blame game when things go off the rails, as they have with the Vancouver Canucks.
Head coach Travis Green had to know he’d be catching the first bullet. The look on his face Saturday was that of a wounded dog in the aftermath of the Canucks losing their 15th game just 25 games into this NHL season.
By supper-hour Sunday, word leaked from Sportsnet and TSN in Toronto that Green had been fired. No official word from the Canucks. Only speculation in small doses that eventually included reports that general manager Jim Benning had taken the second bullet.
Vancouver’s sports media was left to play catchup, so typical of Canucks’ ownership, i.e., Francesco Aquilini.
At 10:30 p.m. Sunday an official statement on the Vancouver Canucks website finally confirmed the previous four-plus hours of speculation. In 45 words, signed by Aquilini, the statement read:
“I want to sincerely thank Jim, John, Travis and Nolan for their passion and dedication to the organization and our community. We are grateful for everything they have done for the Canucks during their tenure, and we wish them nothing but success in the future.”
Jim was Benning, John was assistant GM John Weisbrod, Travis was Green and Nolan was assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner.
All that was lacking was Merry Christmas to All, and to all a Good Night.
In an accompanying release prepared by “Canucks Communications”, Aquilini went on to say how disappointed he was with the team’s performance and he was making these changes because “we want to build a team that competes for championships and it’s time for new leadership to help take us there”.
The words sounded remarkably similar to the Aquilini tweet in July 2018 when he announced the firing of Trevor Linden as Canucks president of hockey operations. At that time, Aquilini said Benning would lead all hockey operations until a new president was named, which never happened.
Back then, Benning, who’d been hired by Linden as general manager, was criticized in various media circles for not showing much, if any, compassion about Linden’s dismissal. His only comment was: “I don’t know what happened between Trevor and ownership and it’s not my place to ask.”
Once again, Aquilini was quoted on Sunday saying “our search for new leadership is underway”.
In the interim, the Canucks will be managed by committee, including Stan Smyl, Ryan Johnson, Chris Gear, Daniel and Henrik Sedin and Doug Jarvis … all currently on the payroll at no added expense to ownership.
Green has been replaced by Bruce Boudreau, who becomes the 20th head coach in the team’s 51-year history.
One question: Aquilini and Benning allowed contract negotiations for Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes to drag into October making them unavailable for the start of training camp. Why?
Pettersson himself said both he and Quinn “felt wrong” being in Michigan skating on their own while their teammates were at training camp preparing for pre-season games.
Greg Douglas ‘Dr. Sport’ contributes to The Orca on a biweekly basis. His five decades of covering sports in British Columbia included 19 years as a weekly columnist with The Vancouver Sun.