Benning’s moves don’t match his declared direction, and that’s okay

Not everybody agrees with the general mindset of Canucks Army. I think that goes without saying. For example, look at Jake Virtanen; those who disagree with us are quick to point out that we dislike him. This isn’t actually true – we like him, believe he’ll be a good player, and hope that he’ll develop into what’s expected of him.

Our issue with a Virtanen isn’t the player himself, but what he represents: bad decision making and incomplete thought processes. When he was drafted, it appeared that the Canucks left safer bets with higher upside on the board due to secondary perception. As the great philosopher Batman once said, a symbol is incorruptible and everlasting.

We do our best on this site to be analytical in our thoughts, and we try to judge the processes rather than the result itself. So when Jim Benning states that he wants to “retool on the fly”, we’re going to take that at face value and assess his choices in that context. If he stated he was opting for a full-on, tank-centred rebuild, we’d probably be bigger fans of the process so far.

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In fact, let’s engage in a thought experiment. Let’s pretend that the on-the-fly talk is just for PR, and assess what the team has done from the perspective of an attempt at a “bottoming out” rebuild. This involves trading players with value as soon as possible, being bad for a few years, drafting high, and then developing your own core. How do Benning’s decisions look under that mindset?

Royal Benning Armoured Corps

Kesler Trade

Admittedly, Benning’s hand was forced on this move; Kesler was definitely done in Vancouver and he really wanted to go to Anaheim. It became a matter of return at this point; we’ve demonstrated that Nick Bonino is statistically similar, to the current Ryan Kesler, while being younger and cheaper. In addition Benning was able to grab a 1st round pick that was used to land Jarred McCann, who raised eyebrows at first, but is emerging to be a really strong pick.

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McCann and Bonino were the only pieces in the Kesler deal, right? 

Garrison Trade

Moving Jason Garrison was a first step in trying to remove older veterans, who have some remaining value, for picks for the future.  The execution of this trade also opened up options for defensive prospects to earn an NHL position as they do not have to fight a full corps of veteran players.

Vey Acquisition

The Garrison pick was then flipped for Linden Vey, a move that was trying to increase the percentages of future success.  While Vey struggled in his first full NHL season, initially it appeared to be a good bet.  Vey’s PCS% was 47.5% compared to the fact that only ~20% of 22-year-old AHL forwards become NHL regulars, around the same success rate of a 2nd round pick.

Baertschi acquisition

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The acquisition of Sven Baertschi for a 2nd round pick follows similar logic.  Improving future percentages by trading a second round pick for a young forward who has already played well in the NHL at such a young age. The future likelihood of Baertschi’s future success far outweighed the value of a 2nd round pick.

Clendening & Forsling / Andrey Pedan Acquisition

This train of thought continues into the Adam Clendening and Gustav Forsling swap.  The PCS% for Clendening in the past season showed a player twice as likely to be an NHL regular than Forsling, once again improving future percentages. This also applies to the Andrey Pedan trade, where a lower value draft pick and a non-prospect (Alex Mallet) were swapped for something that improved the chances of future success.

Dorsett acquisition

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Jim Benning is the type of old school mind to believe in a “winning environment” and “surrounding young players with character”. The acquisition of Derek Dorsett was in support of the future rebuild to help guide the young players along the way, something he has done with Bo Horvat.  The price may have been a 3rd round pick, but it would have been considered a small price to pay, in light of how infrequently 3rd rounders turn into NHLers.

Lain/Acton

While MoneyPuck may not care about Utica, Jim Benning sure does.  One of the first steps in a rebuild is to create a winning environment, both for and comprising of your current prospects as soon as possible. Swapping Kellan Lain for Will Acton gave the Comets a significant upgrade in their bottom six, which helps both the “surrounding with character” and improves the team’s chances of success.

McNally trade

As it became clear the Canucks did not intend to sign Patrick McNally, swapping him for any pick became the best option for the franchise.  A 210th overall pick may have only a 0.1% chance of success, but that chance of improving the future franchise is still higher than not signing McNally (using the pick to select a legitimately intriguing guy in Tate Olson makes this deal look even better).

Bieksa Trade

Kevin Bieksa was this year’s version of the Garrison trade – trading an older defencemen with remaining value for future prospects. The timing of the trade post-draft and for a 2016 pick makes the deal somewhat less impressive and a bit riskier overall, but Benning was still able to capture value for an over-priced veteran asset.

The Kids

As a result of recent moves, it appears that the Canucks will be giving significant minutes to Sven Baertschi, Linden Vey, Ronalds Kenins, Frank Corrado, Bo Horvat, and potentially Jake Virtanen.

Prust Acquisition

The trade for Prust does two things in a rebuild. It removed a rumoured long-term character issue in the form of Zack Kassian, replacing him with a historically likable and hard-working player for the prospects to learn from. As much as we scoff about silly terms like culture carriers, in all likelihood the 2015-16 Canucks will lose more hockey games than in previous years, so it will be important for the more senior members of the leadership group help keep up the spirits of the young kids. This team could be frequent losers in 2015-16, but you don’t want them to be losers forever.

The Cap Block

The Canucks locked up 21% of their salary cap between the Ryan Miller, Derek Dorsett, Luca Sbisa signings/extensions, and the Prust trade. 

As a result, the club was precluded from competing for the services of top free agents like Justin Williams and Cody Franson, who would have helped them win more games in the 2015-16 season. In a vacuum, this makes the Canucks worse and other teams better, which should help them pick up a higher draft pick.

Not only does the team not upgrade, but the non-moves put added responsibility on Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa, who have recently made the team actively worse while on the ice, both in terms of scoring chances and high danger shots. Mix in a questionable goaltending situation, and there’s potential for a lot of goals against.

Markstrom, Lack and Miller

The decision to keep Ryan Miller and Jacob Markstrom as your main goalies would lend credence to the stealth rebuild theory, since in our view, they were the 2nd and 3rd best of Vancouver’s three goaltenders before the Eddie Lack trade. Keeping Miller and Markstrom, in my eyes, means that the Canucks are more likely to be scored on, which in turn improves their chances of losing and makes them more likely to be in a better drafting position when the NHL’s 30 teams converge on Buffalo for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft next June.

Sutter Trade

With that said, it’s hard to defend this move from any perspective. If I had to guess, Benning feels that Sutter is a key player moving forward and felt that an opportunity to acquire someone like him was rare enough to justify an overpayment. Sutter is a somewhat talented player and plays a style that would lead you to believe that he’ll take on a mentorship role as he progresses, which would be a good thing if it happens. Now it’s just a matter of justifying his five-year contract with his on-ice performance.

Conclusion

If you take the entirety of Jim Benning’s tenure and look at it from a “full rebuild” perspective, things begin to look more logical than they have before. He’s removed veterans stockpile draft picks, traded for prospects with a high likelihood of success, and made present decisions that will likely make the team worse in the short term.

As it stands, the biggest problem is that Benning has been willing to overpay to secure the assets that he wants, both in terms of trades and in terms of dollar figures. The latter isn’t the end of the world if the cap goes up when you’re ready to compete, but certainly involves a lot of risk. But at the end of the day, there’s a vision in place for the type of players and person that the Canucks would like to employ, and if you think it’s going to work out, then maybe the slight overpayments are worth it. 

You run the risk of setting back the timeline for a little while, but if it means a Stanley Cup in five years instead of peaking at a conference finals appearance in four, it’s definitely worth it. In the present, however, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this year’s team keeping up to prior performance.



  • My current issue with Benning is not talent evaluation or projection of players. Those are always going to be subjective calls. CA has one *opinion* of a player, Benning has another.

    It’s his business side that I’m having trouble with. Running a hockey club is a business, plain and simple. You’re trying to maximise your assets with what you have. His overpayments are simply atrocious. They don’t pass the smell test, and there are too many existing OBJECTVIE comparables that say he’s overpaid for certain players.

    Hopefully this will not continue, or we’ll really have lots to complain about down the road.

    P.S. Lucic can suck and egg! He better not land on the Canucks for Messier dollars. grrrr

  • Chase

    Will be a very interesting season, even more so than last with the addition and progression of young players. Excited to see if Miller, Markstrom, Sutter and basically the entire team can compete. Same goes for the Comets, time for the young guys to step up. Go Canucks Go!

  • RandomScrub

    Benning has to pay up as the Canucks are not in the upper echelon of talented NHL teams.

    With that said Benning has and is securing a pipeline of real prospects that he can deal with. This is not the days of Rahimi,Schroeder,Rai or White and Gillis picks that will never go anywhere.

    Benning has revamped the scouting and development team and trading off a Forsling to eventually secure a Sutter means Benning is improving this team with his talents right now before your eyes.

    This team can roll four legitimate lines instead of the two lines Gillis rolled out for years. I see the team as able to play deeper playoff hockey but they have to make it in what is now a tough division.

    • andyg

      We may all be surprised about what this team is capable of doing this year. The best of our old core is still here and players like Beartschi,Sutter,Horvat,Vey,Prust ,Virtanen,Corrado and Barkowski may more than replace what has left.

      The Canucks have out standing goalie coaches who would have had a lot to say in the Lack trade.

      Put that together with the talent coming down the pipe line and the future looks bright.

      All people see is what has been removed and have no vision to what the youth could bring. It is hard for the stat guys because there is no way to run the numbers on unproven talent. Time will tell.It will be a fun year and maybe we will be looking at a high draft pick.

  • bigdaddykane

    “Benning has been willing to overpay for assets that he wants”. Quality has its price.
    He knows what he wants and goes for it.

    Wish it was Monday 7:30 pm.

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    I thought we would be done with these kind of articles now that training camp has started. Must we rehash the life of Benning again?

    Whose to say without even one single professional game under his belt, that drafting Virtanen represents “bad decision making”, way to early to make that kind of statement.

    Also, in case you missed it Clendenning will not be given significant minutes this year as he is no longer with the team. C’mon – know your team!

  • Dirty30

    I am not sure Clendening will see significant time with the Canucks this year. ;). (I was amazed at a lot of the NHL guides in the shelves that still had Clendening/Kassian/Bonino and their projections w Canucks)

  • Not Dressed For Tonight's Game

    So if we assess Benning’s actions from the viewpoint of a strategy that Benning says he isn’t using, then his actions appear inconsistent.

    Oooookay.

    • Dirty30

      That isn’t what the article is saying.

      The article says the moves are pretty much consistent with the strategy Benning says says he isn’t using, that is, tanking. The only exception the writer had to try to explain a motivation for was the Sutter trade.

      It’s an interesting article. I don’t believe Benning is trying a rebuild by stealth, but the article makes a good argument that his moves can be viewed as making sense from that perspective.

      Whether it really turns out that way we’ll have a better idea when we see Sutter, Sbisa and the goaltending as the season (or perhaps seasons) roll(s) on.

  • sh1t4brains

    Just wondering….

    Oilers’ Hall, Eberle, etc…I’m sure they got pretty darn good stats leading to the draft right?

    How are they working out? It has been what…2008 for Eberle…and 2011 for Hall?

      • andyg

        Eberle is the Oilers best all round player and I think he would be compared to Kane if he was on a teem like the Blackhawks. Taylor Hall is a highly skilled player who has never learned to play the pro game. This is the case with many of their prospects.

        Hopefully the new management will be able to get the players to buy in. If not,then you may see some of the youth get shipped down the road.

        Even as a Canucks fan I still would like the cup to come back to Canada no mater who wins it.

  • Dirty30

    There seems to be more of a scorched earth policy than blitzkrieg in Bennings actions. It smacks of a guy who has had a plan and when given the chance to execute does so without taking into consideration the factors that have changed around him.

    The same thing happened with Coack Willy-good who simply could not stop playing Vey long after even the blind shoe-shine guy down the street from the arena could see Vey was out of his element.

    The worst part is that last years success has only entrenched the belief that the plan trumps reality.

    I hope I’m wrong … Really, really wrong … But I think the Canucks are gonna be like the French at the Maginot Line watching the Germans drive to Paris without having to fire a shot.

  • “As it stands, the biggest problem is that Benning has been willing to overpay to secure the assets that he wants, both in terms of trades and in terms of dollar figures”

    As it stands, the biggest problem is that Josh W, for some reason, assumes he knows the trade market and what was being offered for Canucks players. Being a smartass does not an NHL GM make.

  • Dirty30

    All of Benning’s moves for veterans have taken the form of either stop-gap solutions who will bridge us to kids who aren’t ready yet (Millar, Vrbata), necessary depth pieces (Bartkowski), or complimentary players who will play a strong and reliable supporting role for a future young team (Sutter, Prust, Dorsett).

    Short of actively trying to lose Sabres-style, which is not a strategy I agree with, there’s not much more Benning could be doing to rebuild.

    Some people choose an all-or-nothing approach, and assume that any move that makes the team older is a move away from a rebuild, but I strongly disagree. Even a young team that’s moving into prime years needs a strong leadership group of veteran players.

    Balance is important. Not allowing a losing culture to take hold is important, because it can be difficult to break free from that once it does. The last thing I want is to end up with a team a few years from now that has a bunch of young talent but no cohesion as a group.

    That’s not the way you build a winner. That’s the way you build a team with lots of cap room, youngsters who never develop a complete game and are thrust into prominent positions before the time is right, therefore scoring more than their talent level, demanding huge contracts that fill up the available cap space, and leaving the team hard-pressed to fill the voids that still exist.

    In that situation, nobody accepts a home discount during RFA years, no UFA comes to the team without overpayment, and every GM in the league asks for one of your highly paid kids the second you try to address your needs through trade. It’s not a good place to be, and averaging 5-10 spots or so higher in drafts is nowhere near worth the trade-off.

    • bigdaddykane

      Lloyd Braun, all I can say is: awesome! You have made the same points I’ve thrown out here over the last bit. I don’t know if CA hire kids under 20 only or what. You have captured it all right here. Bravo.

      All I can say to a lot of the CA writers and Whiner Nation is: SERENITY NOW!

  • Spiel

    ” we’ve demonstrated that Nick Bonino is statistically similar, to the current Ryan Kesler, while being younger and cheaper.”

    I’m not sure you want to use that conclusion as a ringing endorsement of your statistics. Anyone who watched those two players in the playoffs last year knows there is very little that is actually similar about these two players on the ice.

  • Chase

    I’ve been wondering the same thing as the author. I’d go further and say that Sbisa looks like a tank move in disguise, especially if he’s going to be our #3 (best paid) dman after the trade deadline.

    In this reality they’re deliberately overpaying players Sbisa/Dorsett/Miller/Sutter so as to appear trying cap-wise, while bottoming out. I’ll drink that Kool-aid, cause I wish it was true. Good article.

  • Dirty30

    I thought we were promised a more balanced approach on this site. I see we are not getting it, we have a series of “experts” who think they know better than true professionals because they study analytics. Hey as someone who has taught statistical analysis, I can tell you that numbers are meaningless unless one combines them with experience and wisdom. Canucks are not a contender, but they are far better than at least 6 teams in the West. Edmonton (no d), San Jose (an aging mess), Chicago (crippled by the cap), Colorado (totally dependent on a goalie), Minnesota (totally dependent on a goalie). Winnipeg, (still teething). The West has two dominant teams, Anaheim, and St. Louis. Nashville, Calgary, LA and Dallas have questions but potential, although I think LA is about to fade as they lost Williams. Then there is Vancouver a team in transition, but with some true assets in the Sedins, Edler/Tanev and Miller.

    • RandomScrub

      You honestly think the Canucks are in a better position than the Blackhawks? Aside from the Kane off-ice issues, the core of that team (Toews/Kane/Keith/Seabrook) can seemingly take any supporting cast to a cup, as they’ve done several times now with very different groups. Hell, Toews alone probably could, and he’s still only 27…

      People were saying they were crippled by the cap after their first cup with the loss of Byfuglien, Ladd, etc., and look what happened.

      Can’t say I particularly like the Hawks, but to say the Canucks are in a better position and a better team is pure fantasy.

    • Dirty30

      I think you’re crazy if you think we are somehow better than most of those teams — Chicago has a way better young core than us, Colorado has better young players and goaltending, Edmonton has made an excellent set of additions and we have nothing close to their prospects, Minnesota has much more than a goalie (have you forgotten about Parise and Suter?), Winnipeg has far better young players, and LA’s farm team that just killed ours will graduate a bunch of excellent players to the bigs.

      I will be happy if we make the playoffs but honestly surprised. I see it as a good transitional learning year where we are competitive and the young players begin to cut their teeth with added responsibilities and roles, rather than throwing them to the wolves and letting them sink into despair. That worked so well for Edmonton, the Isles, Florida and the rest who’ve tanked the last decade.

      CA really needs to get off these tired soapboxes. There are very few clear cut disasters that Benning’s participated in — the biggest iffy moves in my view were the signings of Dorsett, Sbisa, Miller and Sutter and even then it’s not like they are Clarkson-bad. Transitional moves for a team that’s in transition. You want to be evidence-based? Be evidence based. You clearly have a bias in your view that Nylander and Ehlers would have been a better pick than Virtanen. But you really can’t make statements about this being bad decision-making because there’s nothing to show – as yet – that this was an objective mistake by the Canucks. Same with the Kesler or Sutter trades or hell even the Prust trade. I don’t love any of them but they also aren’t the disaster I see them being described as sometimes. If results are what matter what would you say about a first year GM and coach that engineer a return to the playoffs while rebuilding a sorely neglected prospect pipeline? How do you know that tanking won’t lead to a death spiral? There seems to be an underlying belief that your writers espouse that it’s proven that there’s a dichotomy between tanking or rebuilding on the fly — but there is absolutely no evidence that tanking as a strategy actually works (except in very very few cases like Pittsburgh and that was at the cost of almost losing their franchise twice).

  • Dirty30

    “We do our best on this site to be analytical in our thoughts, and we try to judge the processes rather than the result itself.”…… Wrong wrong wrong….

    The end of the day its the final results that matter, the interim we try to “speculate” whether they are on the path to success.

    In life there are short term trade offs for future gain, and vica versa, same as hockey. We dont know how they will turn out, until the very end.

    We cannot look at individual slices and isolated situations, judge them in isolation, and similarly we cannot add them up to make an overall assesment.

    Because it is imposible to model “all the elements of success”, analytics is reducing the complexity, so our primitive brain can try to decipher. In the end analytics is by definition incomplete…

    So yes analytics are useful “tools” but they are not true assesments, they cant be, this is the same for all sectors of society, commerce, science, and sorry also for hockey fanatics….

    At the end of the day unfortunatly your assesments (from canucksarmy) can never be objective, they are subjective, because they are incomplete….

    All you can do is use your analytical projctions now, then at the end of the year reflect back on their true performance against their predicted performance (which will never be the same) find the deviances, then go back and alter improve your model, then repeat for next year, etc etc….

    Any verbiage from you such as

    “Our issue with a Virtanen isn’t the player himself, but what he represents: bad decision making and incomplete thought processes…”

    “however, I wouldn’t hold my breath on this year’s team keeping up to prior performance.”

    Is nothing more than subjective personalized fandom…

    • Dirty30

      In any field of endeavour even the experts can get it wrong.

      The only thing predictable about human behaviour is that in the aggregate, it is so damn predictable.

      And therein lies the problem — we assume ecological fallacies when we assume that what happens at one level can be applied at another.

      We also assume that the experts have some kind of knowledge that is not available to us and therefore they will make better decisions than we would in the same situation.

      The problem with hockey players in any decision-making enterprise is the assumption that ‘because he played, he has knowledge’ when the only knowledge we can be certain of is that he knows how to play a game, not evaluate another player, or train that player or coach, develop or motivate that player, and certainly not evaluate the future of any individual player.

      The Great One (as a player) was anything but as a Coach.

      There is no objectivity in any evaluation, ever. The concept of objectivity developed out of the reasoning that human beings did not necessarily influence of the outcome of events in nature — this being 500 years prior to Heisenberg.

      Its impossible to reach a conclusion based on one decision by Jim Benning … but the accretion of decisions doesn’t necessarily inspire a lot of confidence that he is as smart as he thinks he is. For me its frustrating because I haven’t cheered for a winning team since Gump Worsley was in net! I can suspect that I will likely drop dead before Benning and his ‘vision’ of the Canucks brings home an SC.

      And yet, even when all the great minds tell you that the odds of winning the lottery are astronomically against you, someone will still win the lottery.

      So I’ll take lucky over good any day.