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Canucks' Linden: 'The fundamentals of the game haven't changed in 100 years'

Ben Nelms / REUTERS

During an appearance on Vancouver based news radio station CKNW on Saturday night, Trevor Linden - the Vancouver Canucks' first year president of hockey operations - blasted some of the more challenging aspects of the 'human performance plan' implemented by his predecessor Mike Gillis.

"I'm not really into the mind rooms, I'm more fundamental I think," Linden said of the much mocked "mind room" implemented during the Gillis era. "I believe that winning and losing is about the people and the quality of the people and that sort of thing. So I'm really focussed on that.

"I'm pretty sure we'll blow that up," Linden continued, probably joking, but also sighing deeply throughout, "I'll get on that Monday on morning, see if that room still exists."

The mind room was one of many initiatives introduced during the Gillis era as part of what he described as a 'human performance plan.' Little was or is known specifically about the plan and what it entailed, but some of it appears to have been a little bit out there. 

"I remember sounds all around me and watching myself scoring goals," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin recently told Jason Botchford of the Province about his first and only visit to the mind room. It should probably be noted, despite Sedin's gentle mockery, that he did put in far and away the best performances of his career while reluctantly subscribing to Gillis' 'performance plan'.

Another one of Gillis' more guffawed at innovations was the club's use of a sleep doctor and their experimentations with sleep science. That department appears to have been rebranded under Linden's guidance and certainly seems unlikely to hold the type of sway and influence that it was believed to carry during the Gillis-era.

"We are working with 'fatigue management'," said Linden of Vancouver's famed sleep doctors. "At this juncture I think we're pretty aware where our pitfalls lie... When I played the coaches knew which games are going to be tough, and you don't need a "sleep doctor" to tell you that, you pretty much figure it out. But we're going to do what we can to improve our chances."

Continued Linden on the subject of best practices, fundamentals and remaining focussed on the big picture:

We certainly want to look at the best practices from other organizations - whether that be in the NHL, or the NBA, or the NFL - we're certainly going to look at what people are doing and why. 

But like I said: I'm a big believer of the fundamentals of the game and they haven't changed in 100 years. 

Certainly you're always looking for better ways to do things, but I think you can get down a path where your focus isn't on what's important, but is on the extra 2-or-3%.  You have to be really careful with that. You don't want to lose your eye on the ball because you're looking for that extra piece, and sometimes those extra pieces, I'm not really convinced that they're effective anyway.

It's interesting to note that Linden's critique is a near echo of comments made by Edmonton Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish - who coached the Canucks' AHL affiliate during Gillis tenure as general manager - about the perhaps too innovative approach of the Canucks under their most recent former management team.

Though many players peaked performance wise during Gillis' tenure with the Canucks, it's not as if sleep science is a silver bullet. Actually some former Canucks are prone to telling pretty good stories about beating the system. 

As told by former Canucks defender Willie Mitchell to Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star:

In Vancouver, they had bracelets. They looked like watches, simple ones, all black except for a blue line along the wristband and the red numbers on the face. They monitored wrist movement, and therefore how much players slept, when they slept — on the bus? On the plane? — and how well. The Canucks all wore them. That helped, right?

"Yeah, I couldn’t go out for a beer after the game," says Willie Mitchell, the Los Angeles Kings defenceman who was in Vancouver when they experimented with sleep science. "They’re actually biofeedback devices on your wrist, so we sent one of the rookies back to the hotel and had his wear 25 of ’em."

Linden's concerns may be based on more than just Luddite impulses, but he sure seemed to enjoy talking about fundamentals and other things that couldn't be measured during his Saturday appearance. On new Canucks coach Willie Desjardins for example:

I'm really excited for Willie, I think he's going to do a great job with our group, he's always found a way to get his group to play hard for him, wherever he's been. That's beyond x's and o's. 

Those are things you don't measure with a 2-1-2 forecheck or a 1-3-1, these are the intangible things that coaches bring and I think Willie's going to be able to do that. 

On the subject of Vancouver's playoff chances:

You look at rosters, you look at depth charts, and you put them on the wall and you pick your teams. If we were all doing that you wouldn't bother playing the games. 

The reason we have the season and play the games is those intangibles, it's how your team comes together, it's how they gel, it's how they play, it's the trust they have in one another, it's the belief in the system they're playing. So that's what we're going to focus on now, my focus is that we're one of the top-16 teams because we want an opportunity at the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Whether Linden's more down home, holistic approach will pay dividends is an open question. Though the Gillis era in Vancouver imploded under the weight of dysfunction and unmet expectations, his team's managed the fifth best record in the NHL during his tenure, won two President's trophies and made the Stanley Cup Final. It's possible that he knew a thing or two.

Of course, even if Gillis' mysterious 'human performance plan' did help the Canucks from a readiness perspective, the success or failure of Vancouver's season isn't likely to hinge on the club's rejection of Clockwork Orange-style mental conditioning, or the use of biometric bracelets. 

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