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