Report: Jim Benning warning Canucks vets that ‘he’s prepared to go young’

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Photo Credit: Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports

As a variety of Vancouver Canucks veterans struggle through the preseason, young players like Ben Hutton, Jared McCann, Brendan Gaunce and Jake Virtanen have excelled. These young men have stolen the spotlight in Vancouver over the past two weeks, and may be gearing up to steal NHL jobs from the club’s veterans this weekend.

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While it was somewhat revelatory this week when we realized that, yeah, McCann had a legitimate shot at actually making the club, it seems to be becoming increasingly likely that a variety of players whom we considered to be ‘prospects’ will be wearing Canucks silks on opening night. The latest report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman only further cements that perception.

Here’s a curious note from Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts column on the subject:

Christine Simpson and I taped a commercial with the Sedins, and while we were waiting, Henrik said a few of Vancouver’s young players would surprise in the preseason. Hopefully he wagers on sporting events for extra spending money, because this prediction was right on. Vancouver has some interesting decisions to make as Ben Hutton, Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen press for a roster spot. When asked if anyone specifically impressed him during their summer skates, Henrik picked Brendan Gaunce, also pushing for time. As the salary cap flattens, a few GMs indicated they believe that makes it even more important to be patient with your young players, but GM Jim Benning is warning his vets he’s prepared to go young.

That the Canucks are serious about giving a young player, or two, or three, or maybe even four, some serious run once the regular season gets underway isn’t a huge surprise, really. There’s a reason the club allowed Brad Richardson and Shawn Matthias to walk in free agency, and didn’t bring in any veterans on professional tryout deals this preseason, after all.

“This summer we made some hard decisions to maybe not re-sign some guys and trade some guys to try and make room for our younger players,” Benning said during an appearance on TSN 1040 on Thursday. “Now that it’s upon us, and these kids have played well, we’re going to have to make more tough decisions to get them up and on the team and on our roster. We have to make the decisions that are right for our team and give our team the best chance to win this year.”

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Benning demurred, however, when he was asked about whether or not the club has considered moving an additional veteran piece (or two) to free up spots for some of the players who are exceeding expectations at training camp.

“We haven’t talked about (trading a veteran) yet,” Benning said, offering up an answer that we should note was definitely not a “no”. 

“We’ve got this game tonight we’re going to go and see how our young kids play tonight and tomorrow is a day off and we’re going to meet and talk about which direction we’re going to go in.”

The Canucks have 12 forwards signed to one-way contracts, but we might consider the number to be at 10 in practice – since Chris Higgins is injured and Ronalds Kenins doesn’t require waivers to be re-assigned to the American League. You might even consider it at nine, considering the way Linden Vey has disappointed in training camp and during the preseason. 

Bo Horvat is on an entry-level contract though he’s a shoe-in to make the team, but it would seem likely that there’s two remaining forward spots up for grabs and six forwards still in competition for those spots (Adam Cracknell, Gaunce, McCann, Virtanen, Vey, Kenins). Of those five players only Vey would require waivers to be re-assigned to the American League, although neither McCann nor Virtanen are eligible to play in the AHL since they’re still 19-years-old.

On the back-end the club is still carrying 10 defenseman, although Taylor Fedun was placed on waivers on Thursday and would seem a likely cut on Friday. If we assume that the club will carry 13 forwards and eight defensemen on their opening night 23-man roster, then there’s possibly only one more blue line cut to go. 

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Hutton, Frank Corrado and Alex Biega would appear to be the players most likely to be on the bubble. Of those three players only Hutton can be assigned to the American League without requiring waivers, although Biega seems unlikely to be claimed based on his high AHL salary.

It’ll be very interesting to see how the club opts to proceed. We suspect that the organization is willing to start the year with a variety of very young and very green players on the roster, but how willing is the organization  to expose the likes of Corrado and Vey to the waiver wire, or to the trade market? 

One thing is for sure, this isn’t an issue the Canucks have dealt with in a very long time.

“It’s going to be tough,” Benning said on Thursday of cutting the roster down to 23-men, “but I think that’s a good problem to have. The fact that these kids have come in and played so well bodes well for the organization moving forward.”

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This post has been edited. The original version of this post failed to identify Adam Cracknell as a sixth Canucks forward in competition for one of two available forward spots. 



  • TrueBlue

    Here’s what I see are the two rational routes.

    1) Trade under-performing players now, eat some of the salary cap if you have to. You can still afford to pay the young guys, save money over what you had before, AND have a better team. This is what you do if you’re “rebuilding on the fly”. Hutton (presuming he continues to perform) for Sbisa seems like a no-brainer here. There’s some risk of burn out in the long calendar, but I don’t actually see how it makes a difference whether he’s thrown in the deep end here, or in Utica. Eventually that’s something he’s going to have to adapt to (and here we have better trainers and staff to help him adapt).

    2) Wait and trade away keystone/aging pieces for good draft picks or young players at the deadline. This makes some sense if you’re going full rebuild, but even then, I wonder. Does it make sense to keep dead weight around and get rid of guys like Hamhuis? What sort of message does that send to the young guys (don’t play too well, or you’re trade bait!).

    Most fans seem to be clamoring for the latter, and I just don’t get it. I suspect Benning is headed for option #1 which would be fantastic in my books. I’ve never seen evidence of players being “ruined” by rusing into the NHL. People say it happens, but honestly, look at Kassian. Guy’s irresponsible on the street and on the ice. Would time in the AHL have fundamentally altered his personality? I don’t think so. I think he simply wasn’t the brightest bulb (sorry Kass, I love your play, but it’s true (P.S. please don’t hurt me)) and that’s simply not something you can teach at any level.

    • birdie boy

      I disagree with the idea that players can’t be ruined by rushing them into the NHL. A perfect example of Markstrom. The “best goalie outside of the NHL” a few years ago. Plays on a lousy team with deficiencies in his goaltending technique. No one would even take him off waivers for free last year. Spends a year in the AHL with a good goalie coaching and now he’s looking “real good”.

  • Buula

    Addendum:

    I think there are three clear improvements to be made (only one is debatable).

    Hutton for Sbisa

    McCann for Vey

    Virtanen for Kenins (the last is debatable, but Kenins really hasn’t been a great player for the Canucks, he has the occasional good game, then disappears for weeks, judging from pre-season he hasn’t stepped up his game at all from last year)

  • TrueBlue

    1) Keep them all now and make some immediate moves/dumps.

    2) Demote them all and stealth tank for a strong draft pick.

    3) Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!

    4) Keep as many of the top-performing prospects on the roster as you can without exposing assets to waivers, and then pray that you can take a little bit of time to trade those assets for something (anything) in return

    First option will make me happy… I’ll cheer for the Canucks to win while they probably fall just into or just out of the playoffs on youthful adrenaline. Or off a cliff if the younglings run out of gas by spring. High draft pick and fun season! Sign me up!

    Second option will make me happy… I’ll cheer for the Canucks to lose while they probably fall fairly short of the playoffs and get a high draft pick. Or use up their final fumes and True Grit to make a push into the playoffs and get knocked out by _______ in the 2nd round AT BEST. That part makes me less happy, but also seems pretty unlikely.

    Third option is a push, and only if Bob Dole is body-snatched by aliens and runs for president again.

    Fourth option is probably the wisest route, but I just hope they don’t disenchant anyone in the process. I know it’s easy to say “these people need to learn how to be professionals, they gotta handle being sent down”, but I just don’t think that’s the reality when you’re talking about top athletes playing a game that encompasses their entire life. Different people react to situations different ways, and I hope it doesn’t hurt anyone’s development.

  • birdie boy

    From the article: ” … waivers, although Biega seems unlikely to be claimed based on his high AHL salary.”

    A team claiming him couldn’t send him to the minors without offering him back to the Canucks, so how does Biega’s AHL salary affect the chances of him being claimed if put on waivers? It seems not to be a relevant consideration.

  • acg5151

    Even if you were going to dump Sbisa for Ben Hutton no one is going to want him because he’s absolute garbage and then you’re stuck with burning cap space with a Sbisa in the AHL

    . If he was on a cheap deal he would be easy to dump but we are paying him ridiculous money right now to be a terrible dman.

    I would rather have Ben Hutton in the minors continuing to develop anyways. No need to rush players.

  • acg5151

    Totally agree with Benning’s assessment, this is a good problem to have.

    Also agree TrueBlue is onto something with the first option. Keep Gaunce, Hutton, McCann and Virtanen and put them to work in the big show.

    I think the team can develop these prosepcts and protect them when necessary by starting the season with 7 defensemen and 14 forwards. In the event some stumble in the short term, send them to the AHL or back to Junior after 9 games.

  • acg5151

    In an era of advanced pro scouting, I wouldn’t worry too much about exposing Vey to waivers. I can’t imagine anyone has seen how his year ended last season and this pre-season and views him as the solution to their own roster problems. Even if he’s claimed, while it might be embarrassing to have given up a second round pick that turned into nothing in 16 months, meh…