— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) March 2, 2015
After Monday’s trade deadline passed and news broke that the Canucks had acquired Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames, Jim Benning met the Vancouver media to take questions on the busy-but-uneventful day that was.
Join us on the other side of the jump to go over what Benning said, what it all means to us, and some final reflections as we enter the stretch drive.
On acquiring Sven Baertschi:
We listened to teams on their (rental) players, we didn’t feel the prices were right for us to do that right now. Then kind of at the end of the day- and we’d talked to Calgary earlier – they phoned us on Sven Baertschi,
I don’t like giving up draft picks, but in this case we think Sven Baertschi is – we feel – going to be a top-six NHL player for our team someday. So we weighed getting Sven against what we could get in the second round with our pick and we made the decisions that “let’s go ahead and do this.
He’s a guy that fits our profile, he’s fast, he’s skilled, and I don’t know what happened in his development in Calgary but we’re very excited to have him and he’s going to be a big part of our skilled group going forward.
First off, we have a more in depth look at the Sven Baertschi trade here, including our evaluation if Baertschi can really still be a top-6 NHL F after his development stalled in Calgary. It was the only significant move that the Canucks made on deadline day.
It’s interesting to hear Jim Benning mention Sven Baertschi as a player that fits their “profile,” especially considering that “meat and potatoes” and “Boston model” were buzzwords that marked the very beginning of the Benning era. The 5’11 and skilled Baertschi certainly doesn’t fit that profile, so either Benning has altered or tweaked his perceptions of what successful NHL teams need, or hasn’t been entirely clear with his vision of how to build the team going forward. He makes another “profile” allusion later in his presser:
We have now a group of good young, fast, skilled players that are going to be the foundation of our teams going forward. Like what’s happened around here is that they’ve had such good teams over the years and they’ve been so close to winning the Stanley Cup that sometimes you sacrifice draft picks to buy players at the deadline that you think can make the difference in you winning the Cup. So we’ve had to regroup a little bit that way. So we’re acquiring players that fit a profile that we like in terms of the way we play. From that 20-year-old to 26-year-old hockey player to set the foundation for our group going forward.
If anything, last year’s entry draft showed an inclination to shy away from speed and skill in lieu of titanic size, not so much in the first round (though there was some of that with the Virtanen over Ehlers and McCann over Pastrnak decisions), but very obviously in later rounds. The decisions to draft coke machines like Nikita Tryamkin, Mackenze Stewart, and Kyle Pettit were really the ones that drove me crazy and led us to question how reliable we could expect this “profile” to be at finding good players, so it’s pleasantly surprising that Vancouver isn’t putting a Milo on guys perceived as skill-focused (or, in less friendly words, soft).
This eases my mind somewhat about the Canucks falling for the Brandon Carlo trap at the upcoming entry draft. Hopefully they decide to go with someone like undersized but super skilled playmaking centre Mathew Barzal instead. It helps that Barzal is a local kid too, since that appeared to factor in to the Virtanen decision.
One more parting thought from Benning on Baertschi:
Yeah I was surprised, but for whatever reason sometimes players need a change of scenery, I think Sven is sort of at that point. A couple years ago scouting all through North America, I thought Sven was the best junior in the country. He was a dynamic player and he played on some real good teams, he played for Mike Johnston who likes to play a fast style of game, and he was excellent. I can’t comment on his development the last couple of years, but we’re very excited to have him, we think he fits our profile of being a fast, talented, skilled player so I think he’s going to fit in good with our young players going forward.
On keeping Zack Kassian:
Jim Benning let it be known that the Canucks had indeed been shopping Kassian around:
Teams called us and inquired about a lot of our players. They inquired about Zack, y’know, we maybe called some teams on Zack to see if there’s interest – because we identified players of a similar ilk that we’d consider doing. But at the end of the day Zack’s played really well for us the last couple of weeks. We’ve bee happy with his play. He’s stepped up and he’s doing the things that we want him to do, and he’s been a part of our team winning the past couple of weeks. At the end of the day nothing made sense to move him so we’re happy he’s still part of our group.
He’s a young player and with any young player there’s going to be inconsistencies in his game. He’s got special tools that a lot of other young players don’t have because he’s got the size and hands to do things that other players don’t have. So with his size and his skill and his whole package he’s got more responsibility on him because add more is expected of him. But like I said, the last two weeks he’s been excellent for us, he’s done all the things we’ve asked of him, he’s showing up every night, he’s going the net, he’s playing physical, he’s scored some big goals for us. He’s on the right path so let’s just see if he can continue down that road.
It’s… interesting to hear Benning openly admit to shopping a player that’s still a part of the organization, but let’s be honest, Zack Kassian absolutely knew already that he was being shopped so this admission is neither shocking nor controversial. Still, it’s good to hear that our fears that Kassian was simply going to be shipped out for the purpose of being shipped out were largely unfounded. We knew that, should Benning intend to pursue a Kassian trade to better the Canucks, it was going to be difficult, and that appears to have held true.
I look forward to not talking about Kassian until he’s scratched this Thursday and then dealt at the draft for a 3rd rounder and two 5ths or something. Until then:
Lets go win a cup !
— zack kassian (@zkassian9) March 2, 2015
On the future, both short and long term:
My two favourite days of the year are deadline day and the draft. Because that’s an opportunity where you can add guys to your group that make an impact on the team going forward. As far as a hockey stand point – not my personal life, but a hockey stand point – those are the two favourite days of my life.
I love draft picks. So we’re going to try to recover some of these picks, but you know what, sometimes when you make trades it’s got to hurt a little bit for the trade to be worth it. So giving up a second round pick on our part that hurts, but I believe that we’re getting a top-six forward back and a player that’s going to be really good for us for a long time.
I love draft picks too, Jim. Pretty thrilled to hear this. Now what matters is that this traditionally poor drafting franchise starts nailing picks again, as they appear to have begun to, especially in middle and later rounds.
Benning also mentioned how he thought that the 2016 draft was going to be strong, and I certainly have to agree. There’s no McDavid at the top of the list, but Auston Matthews may be as good or better than Jack Eichel at the same age, and high scoring forwards like Val-d’Or’s Julien Gauthier, Vancouver’s Tyler Benson, Regina’s Sam Steel, and Erie’s Alex DeBrincat all look very promising. Defenders Jakob Chychrun and Sean Day are also poised to go high, and there are a number of other 16-year olds making waves through the CHL, such as Calgary’s Jake Bean.
Our goal each and every year is to make the playoffs. First, that’s our goal.
And we made some tough decisions this summer to trade some players, to try and readjust where the money was being spent, and to use it on signing Ryan Miller, on Vrbata, and making some trades to get Dorsett and to change the culture. And we did those in sight of, we want to make the playoffs, that’s our goal each and every year.
We’re going to bring new players, young players into our lineup every year, but we want them to develop in a winning environment; so they get a taste of what it takes to win, to learn to play the right way… So at some point we’re going to have playoff success with this young group, and we have excellent leaders with our older guys on the team teaching these guys the right way to play.
‘We’re going to do what we think is right to build our team now and in the future. So we just kind of worry about our own business, we don’t worry about what other teams are doing. Like I said, I’m really happy with our team, I’m proud of this group, I wanted to give them an opportunity to show us and management and our fans what they could do as a group and that’s why we didn’t want to sell any of our UFAs today, because we want to give these guys every opportunity to be successful.
This is the part that concerns me, because Oilers aside (they’re laughably bad at this team building thing), the best way to get really good is to start off really bad:
Projecting NHL teams over 4 years based on their points in the standings pic.twitter.com/BePv2UQFyy
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) February 23, 2015
Building a consistently mediocre team is the cardinal sin in sports management, and unless the Canucks make a concerted, persistent, and determined effort to continually acquire elite or otherwise premium talent through whatever means available to them, they’ll stagnate and keep losing the last game of the season until they either bite the bullet and be really bad for a couple of years, or get ridiculously lucky in the entry draft.
While a “winning and positive environment” seems like it should be important, the best teams seem to repeatedly have their kids develop on pretty big losers. If the Canucks are truly focused on winning the Stanley Cup, they will see out this season, try their damnedest to go on a playoff run, and then blow up this core by the time the 2016 entry draft rolls around. Aiming for the playoffs every year with a group of players this old is a waste of time, and severely inhibits your chances of building a great team around Bo Horvat and company.
Yeah that’s the message from our standpoint that we’re trying to send to our team and our fans. This group has worked hard, they’ve competed hard, on any given night even against the best teams in the league. When they show up and they work and they compete, we can beat anybody in the league. You look at all the top teams and we’ve beaten them at some point this year. They seem to be getting better and better as we go, they’re a resilient group – like, we’ve had eight or nine of our regulars out of the lineup and these guys haven’t missed a beat. We’ve called up players from the minors and they’ve stepped in and they’ve helped us win, so this is our way of saying to the group that let’s continue on and let’s see what we can get to.
At this point in the season, Vancouver is a very strong bet to make the playoffs, despite deteriorating underlying metrics relative to years past. In that sense, their reluctance to trade impending UFAs Shawn Matthias, Brad Richardson, and Derek Dorsett is understandable. Benning also never considered trading Chris Higgins, which is something that may come as a shock to some Canucks fans:
Chris Higgins is a glue guy in our room, he’s a guy that shows up and works and competes every night. We never received any calls and he has a limited no-trade, and we never asked Chris to give us a list of teams to go too.
In all, I’d say that Jim Benning had a very successful afternoon. We didn’t expect the Canucks to do much, and the one significant move they made was a rather pleasant surprise. Sven Baertschi is a very nice addition to this organization, even if there is legitimate concern about how his development has gone.
As a general manager, Benning will now turn his eyes to the NHL entry draft in an effort to further fortify the future of the Vancouver Canucks while the team he has assembled makes a final push to the NHL playoffs. Adding Cory Conacher and Sven Baertschi to the farm also makes Utica more dangerous for a Calder Cup bid, and Jared McCann, Jake Virtanen, and Cole Cassels are all key players on CHL teams with a legitimate shot at the Memorial Cup. No matter what happens with the big club, it’ll be a fun ride the rest of the way.