Why Canuck Fans Need to Take Media-Generated Storylines With a Grain of Salt

The last couple of weeks have convinced me to quickly sum up my thoughts on the Vancouver media. Since Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have taken over in Vancouver, the fanbase has been whipped into a frenzy by continuous “scandalous” storylines about the supposed incompetence of the new regime. With the 2016/17 edition of the Canucks bringing such a low quality of play to the ice, the intensity of this discontent has been ratcheted up even further. This write-up is meant to be a reminder as to where these storylines are coming from, the Vancouver sports media, and why they maybe shouldn’t be taken quite so seriously. After all, the media is only going to keep printing these stories if fans continue to get so worked up about them.


The Media Has Been Confrontational With the Canucks Since Gillis Era

Fans need to remember that even the local media isn’t exactly “friendly” when it comes to the Vancouver Canucks. The Mike Gillis era featured a cantankerous General Manager who went out of his way to frustrate and ignore the media. This led to a contentious relationship between the club and its media coverage, and the results of that have yet to fade. The new Linden-Benning regime have made efforts to strengthen the relationship between the team and reporters once again, but the current batch of pundits, like Jason Botchford and Matt Sekeres, have made their names on controversy and conflict. The new management may want to move on from the adversarial relationship, but the media definitely doesn’t because it’s been thriving on it for so long.


The Media is Usually Misinformed, as Benning Has Kept Cards Close to the Vest

While Benning and Linden have been more open with the media in several ways, they have also been relatively selective with what information they discuss. When it comes to player and roster management, the most-talked about subject when it comes to rebuilding teams, Benning has played his cards pretty close to the vest. Aside from inevitable trades like the Ryan Kesler ordeal, few Benning moves have been reported or rumoured before their completion. The media has tried to project Benning’s moves and extrapolate his plans from his statements, but they’ve rarely if ever actually predicted anything.


Media Opinion is Informed by Fan Reaction, Which is Usually Wrong

The media and the fanbase take their cues from each other in almost equal measure. When it comes to reacting to moves from the Canucks, the media almost always reports on it using the fanbase’s immediate reaction as their basis. Unfortunately, that gut reaction from fans has almost always been proven to be wrong when it comes to the long term. After all, there’s a reason we’re not all NHL employees.

Fans have decried almost every Benning roster move, and they have been wrong more often than not. The Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund trade was heavily denounced by fans, yet Shinkaruk still can’t crack the NHL and Granlund is outscoring his highly-touted brother. Fans hated the Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino deal, and now Sutter is on pace for almost 50 points while Bonino has just five on the year. It’s almost as if qualified NHL management know more than the average fan. Remember, when the media reports that a move is bad or one-sided, that’s almost always based on the fan’s reaction to it.


What We Do Hear is Often False

Let’s not forget that the media can also be plain wrong. We’ve seen countless rumours never come to fruition despite seemingly concrete certainly from media sources. Who could forget Marian Gaborik’s infamous real estate shenanigans? Rumours have abound for the past couple of years that Benning was willing to deal young assets for immediate help, which sent fans into a furor, and yet none of these supposed trades have ever materialized. Somehow, Benning is still reviled as if the trades had actually happened.


Or Blown Out of Proportion

 The media’s job is to convince their audience that something interesting is always happening, even when it isn’t. This often leads to small and insignificant things being blown way out of proportion. The Canucks have seen two very recent examples of this in their own local media.

First, comments from Erik Gudbranson in response to specific questions about the poor play of partner Ben Hutton were misconstrued as Gudbranson choosing to throw his teammate under the bus without prompting. Secondly, the fact that the Canucks were “keeping tabs” on Evander Kane, as you’d hope most NHL management teams are doing with an available and talented asset, was turned into a week-long storyline full of thinkpieces about how Canucks management had lost their way by even considering a hypothetical deal of which no one had details. Bob McKenzie quickly noted that the Canucks actually had little interest in Kane after hearing that he still commanded a high price, but the anger that fans had already felt will probably not fully fade by the time the next manufactured controversy occurs.


Or Fails to Report on Actual Stories

For all the inside information that the Canuck-related media faction claims to have, they often miss some really important stories. To wit, the media lambasted the Canucks for their supposed mismanagement and subsequent trading of Zack Kassian, but somehow failed to miss the real story of his off-ice issues. Much was made of Cody Hodgson’s conflicts with management, but the truth of his father’s strange interference never came out until after he was traded. The media seems to frequently report on issues that never go anywhere, and miss out on actually important drama happening behind the scenes.


We Will Never Know What Goes On Behind Closed Doors

NHL clubs are ultimately private organizations, and fans need to realize that they will never be fully privy to what goes on behind closed doors. A great example of this are trade demands. For every noisy public trade request, there are almost certainly dozens of polite and quiet requests made privately between club and player. Every time a trade demand goes public, there is always mention that the player had already asked privately and was rebuffed. The fans and media never get to hear about most of these incidences, because they are either quietly taken care of or forgotten about. Yet the few occasions a trade demand does go public manage to give fans a false sense of security that they know the inner workings of their favourite club.
The recent Jake Virtanen saga is a prime example of this. We only know of the vague comments made by the team to the media, and have tried to create our own storyline out of that. The media, and the fanbase, have no idea what was communicated between Virtanen and the club, but that hasn’t stopped either from wildly speculating.


There is No Reason to Believe Someone Trying to Create a Complete Storyline With Incomplete Information

Overall, NHL clubs usually keep a fairly tight control over information coming from their club. There are occasional leaks but, for the most part, teams carefully monitor how much the media and fans find out. If you need evidence of this, look at how injuries are handled come playoff time.

Despite this, it is still the media’s job to turn the incomplete they have into something that resembles a complete story. It’s not their fault, it’s what the public expects. Nobody wants to read media that only claims to have part of an idea of what’s going on. However, in knowing this, fans should really re-evaluate how much trust they place in the media. The media has no problem interspersing facts with speculation and not differentiating between the two, and people should always keep this in mind.


The Media is Biased Towards Simplicity

When it comes to creating storylines, the media is always going to be biased towards simplicity. After all, in our information-blasting world, each media outlet has increasingly less time to influence their audience. They need to get stories through to people in as little time as possible, and thus simplicity rules. But, as always, the real world is more complex than can be expressed in a single newspaper column or blog.

A good example of this from recent Canuck banter is the apparent disconnect between the Canucks’ ownership, management, and coaching staff. The media likes to portray this as if it’s a group of children fighting over toys in a nursery, but anyone who has worked in a large company before knows that collaboration is a much more complex thing. It is possible for groups to work together despite not agreeing on everything, and it’s likely that the relationship between Linden, Benning, and the Acquilini’s is complicated and full of differing opinions. However, the simplicity-biased media instead portrays it as immature bickering and one side getting their way over another in an endless soap opera.


The Media is Biased Towards Controversy

Most of all, the media is biased towards controversy. Any fan who has been following the Canucks for the past decade must be able to see this. The team has been in the midst of one potentially franchise-shattering crisis after another for more than ten years running, during which the club saw their greatest run of success. One might assume that the team gets less heat from the media now than it did during their recent peak, but there’s not that much of a disparity. There were just as many articles written about the potential firing of Alain Vigneault as are now being written about Willie Desjardins, and Vigneault might be the greatest coach in franchise history.

Ultimately, it is the media’s job to sell more of itself. Fans are only human, and humans love storylines. If the media can convince us that there’s always some dire and controversial story surrounding the team that we care about, it will. The atmosphere surrounding the Vancouver Canucks since the advent of social media has proven this, with negativity and anger constantly being the overarching themes of discussion. It is up to fans to start thinking about the way they consume Canuck-related media in order to force any change they want to see. The media can and will rise to whatever quality Canuck fans demand of it.


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