Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins, general manager Jim Benning and president Trevor Linden addressed the media Wednesday morning and while many of the questions they faced pertained to what went wrong this season, the trio was focused on next season and beyond.
The plan is clear: get younger, while also remaining competitive.
Easier said than done.
“We don’t plan on taking any steps backwards, we’re trying to win, trying to make the playoffs and we’re going to do everything we can to do that,” said Linden. “Having said that, we have a firm eye on our future and we need to develop players, but we can’t put players in the line-up that aren’t ready. They have to be ready to play.”
‘Core prospects’ was the term of the day, with Bo Horvat on a pedestal in regards to a young player who made the team and had an impact in his first season. Ronalds Kenins and Sven Baertschi were also examples of the Canucks youth movement currently taking place, but as Linden warned, it’s not about simply inserting youth into the line-up.
“Cole Cassels was talked about earlier and he’s had a great year, but to expect him to walk in here and make this team – and it would be great if he did – but by him working in Utica with Travis Green and learning their trade at that level is imperative to him making that next step. I’d rather have a player spend a year there and then spend 12-15 years here, than get here too early.”
Benning echoed that sentiment and embraced the responsibility that comes with balancing a line-up.
Like having too many aging veterans, too many young players doesn’t do a team any good either.
“We want to develop those players in a winning environment,” said Benning. “You can have a lot of good, young players, but if they don’t learn and understand what it takes to win and we don’t have older players showing them the right way to play and how to win, you end up with a team full of real good players that never wins anything.
“We’re getting a little bit older, we want to bring in younger players to supplement the energy and the skill level of our whole group,” he added, mentioning how important the playoff knowledge the young players got this year was.
“When we talked to Horvat and Kenins and Baertschi, the experience they got in those playoff games and seeing how intense it was, they now understand what it takes to play in those games.”
Moving veteran players can be difficult, especially those with no-trade clauses. Benning made it clear he’ll be approaching players about waving them, if need be.
First things first. Benning said the young guns have to earn it.
“They have to be ready to be able to come in and help us win. We’ll make room – if younger players are ready to come in and help us win, then that’ll be my job to decide who we move out and we’ll move those players out to make room for young players. But we’re not going to do that unless they deserve to be here.”
Coach Desjardins said having youth in the dressing room this year was refreshing and fans would agree; arguably the biggest takeaway from this season was how good Horvat is for being so young. Yes, difficult to see, always in motion is the future, but Horvat has the goods.
Expecting young players to come in and do what Horvat did this year would be unjust, however, warned Desjardins.
“What Bo did was really special, I don’t think you can expect that, it would be unfair to expect that young players come in and perform like that,” said Desjardins.
“I think it’s great when there’s excitement in the room with younger players, they really want to play and they can bring that. That adds to our group if you have the right players to put in that spot.”
Over the next five months, Linden, Benning and Desjardins won’t rest until the Canucks have the right players in the right spots.