As a captain and player in the 1980s on some of the worst teams in Vancouver Canucks history, which is saying something, Stan Smyl stood out for the ferocity with which he battled to win when there was frequently little chance of doing so.
Smyl never gave up, never turned away from the fight. He bled Canucks colours, which is why it killed him a little at Rogers Arena on Saturday when he saw those colours trashed by a fan whose act of protest against Vancouver’s atrocious start to the season was to heave their jersey to the ice near the end of a dismal 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
That turned out to be the final Canucks game for general manager Jim Benning, head coach Travis Green and their top assistants.
It was clear from Monday’s press conference, headlined by owner Francesco Aquilini and Smyl, whose lifetime spent with the Canucks has culminated with a posting as interim general manager, that the temporary boss of hockey operations wants the current players to bleed as he did, to fight to win.
For all his mistakes as GM, Benning left behind an impressive handful of young core players. Captain Bo Horvat is still only 26. Goalie Thatcher Demko and winger Conor Garland are 25. Brock Boeser is 24, Elias Pettersson, 23, Quinn Hughes, 22. And they could be joined as core players by Vasily Podkolzin and Nils Hoglander, both on the National Hockey League team at age 20.
That’s a lot to work with, and it’s why the Canucks won’t be embarking on a rebuild and auctioning off assets, despite Aquilini’s assertion that the next general manager, whenever one is hired, will decide if a rebuild is necessary.