Open Letter: The Little Things

Dear Francesco,

Congratulations on an outstanding start to the year! Our $6M goalie is playing like a $6M goalie, the Sedins continue to drink from the fountain of youth, and the young guys are playing better than any of us ever could have hoped for. Make no mistake about it, the first four games of the year have been a lot of fun. Hopefully, the good times keep rolling; even us critical fans still want the Canucks to be successful by just about any means necessary. 

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However, as a co-owner of the team, I’m not without concern, and I’d like to have a chat. 

Of course, I suppose myself and the millions of other Canucks fans aren’t legal co-owners of the team, but it’s a mutually dependent relationship. You may call me a fan, a shortened form of fanatic (definitely an apt term for many of us in this market, am I right?), but the team only has value because us fans choose to fork over some of the highest ticket prices in the league for the privilege of watching our team play. In fact most of us can’t afford to get in the doors of Rogers Arena anymore, so we support the team by watching on Sportsnet, buying our Bo Horvat shirshey’s and whatever other collateral we can get our hands on. At the end of the day, a team’s value without its fans is sort of like a balloon without air. Maybe co-owners isn’t the right term for our relationship. Let’s go with business partner.

It’s not like I’ve hated every move this management group has made. They were right to get what they could for a rapidly deteriorating Kevin Bieksa. The Tanev, Weber, Baertschi, and Bartkowski signings all look pretty good, and they’ve picked up some nice players in the past couple drafts. Speaking of the draft, as a draft nerd I understand how rare it is for second round picks turn into NHLers, so I appreciate the process behind the Vey, Baertschi and Clendening trades, even though the end results are a bit of a mixed bag.

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However, as your business partner, I feel obligated to share some concerns with the way our team is being run. It seems to me that the new guys are playing a bit fast and loose with the company’s assets.

The first real eye opener for me was when they signed Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa to rich extensions last spring. It wasn’t so much that I dislike those players. The fact is that every team has a few guys that the analytics types aren’t fond of. The issue is that the team seemed to completely misread their market value in the backdrop of a dropping Canadian dollar, which was destined to lead to a flat salary cap. I mean, if a basement-dwelling blogger can see the writing on the wall as far back as last November, why can’t this highly paid executive team? I know what you’re going to say, an extra couple years and couple million dollars spent above the curve on our hard earned dollars isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It’s a little thing.

I could spend far too long discussing the Eddie Lack situation. Here is a guy who was so desperate for a chance at a starting spot he signed a 2 year, $2.75M AAV deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. In no world should Robin Lehner, Martin Jones, and Cam Talbot all command higher returns that what the Canucks received for Lack. Let’s not exaggerate, though. It is just the difference between draft a pick in the 20s and one in the 60s. It’s a little thing.

Then we had the Brandon Sutter trade and extension. I’m not going to argue the details of the trade itself. Obviously the Penguins thought the package they received was better than the package they gave up, and the Canucks believe the reverse to be true. What irks me is that management chose to sign him to a long-term deal, without playing a single game, on the basis that he would be a “foundational” center. I thought Henrik was our foundational center, for now anyway, and isn’t Horvat our foundation center of the future? With the stunning development of Jared McCann, Sutter is now playing out of position on the wing with the twins.  Maybe Sutter as a converted winger is exactly what the team needs, or maybe he’ll return to center after McCann plays his 9 games. However, from where we sit today it looks like he’s been outplayed by a couple of kids, and his long-term role with the Canucks may be in the bottom six. There’s nothing wrong with being a strong third line center, but if so we’re overpaying him for his services in both years and salary. Is it a huge deal? No. It’s just another little thing.

Then the Frank Corrado thing happened. Hey, I get it. Corrado got outplayed by Ben Hutton, and Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann earned roster spots too. When your team has three rookies play their way onto the roster, forcing management to make tough decisions, that’s a champagne problem, right Francesco? Plus, it’s not like Corrado is going to win the Norris anytime soon. But the thing is, we know what happens to the Canucks blue line over the course of a season. They get decimated. Over the past few season, the Canucks top 6 defensemen have averaged close to 80 missed games between them. Last year the team iced 10 different defensemen. The year before that? 11. With that fact pattern, it is critical you not only have defensive depth, but preferably cheap depth. Especially if you’ve made a few salary cap mistake.

So if you have the opportunity to protect an affordable player like Corrado, who Utica coach Travis Green chose to lead his team to the Calder Cup finals only a few months ago, while Hutton barely made the pre-game skate, you protect him. Even if he doesn’t turn out to reach his second pair ceiling that many, including myself, think he will, he’s cheap depth you’ll need sooner rather than later (side note: Welcome back Edler). Even the basement bloggers knew there was a way to keep Frank:

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Either they didn’t understand the intricacies of the waiver wire as well as a blogger, or they didn’t think anyone would claim him, or they didn’t care. Honestly, I’m not sure which scenario is more concerning. But hey, it’s just Frank Corrado, who has not won a Norris trophy. It’s just another little thing.

As a successful business leader, you’d know better than most, so maybe I should ask you. Do the people who help you run one of the most successful real estate development companies in North America make little mistake after little mistake?

I don’t know much about business, what with still living in my mom’s basement and all, but I would think that the most successful companies focus on getting it right every time, even if it is just the little things. Their likely position would be that if you can’t do the little things right, how can you be expected to do the big things right?

An excellent executive team would have prided themselves on accurately predicting the consequences of a sliding Canadian dollar on the free agent market. They would have ensured the value they received for assets like Eddie Lack was market value, not below. They’d at least watch Brandon Sutter practice with his new teammates before backing up the money truck. And they damn well wouldn’t watch a 22-year-old defensemen with second pairing upside walk out the door for nothing when it could have been easily avoided.

Some may think what I’m asking for is unreasonable, but is it really unreasonable to expect excellence from the people who manage our team, Francesco? I would expect a successful guy like you would expect nothing less.

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Your Friend,

Money Puck

  • Dear Money Puck,

    Benning’s job is to build a winning hockey team, and not to accumulate assets (i.e. collect high first round picks and miss the playoffs). The Canucks are undefeated this season. So far so good.

    I’d suggest you spend your time more wisely and get a real job because you are not very good at this blogging business.

    Not your friend,

  • TrueBlue

    Intent on giving the horse carcass another whack are we? It’s bad enough we’re here again but it’s worse you’re making stuff up to support your Benning hate.

    You state, “. In no world should Robin Lehner, Martin Jones, and Cam Talbot all command higher returns that what the Canucks received for Lack. Let’s not exaggerate, though. It is just the difference between draft a pick in the 20s and one in the 60s. It’s a little thing.”

    So in your narrative, are you saying Benning was offered what Ottawa was for Lerner and turned it down? Or did Buffalo’s GM who helped draft him originally target Lerner and not Lack. Jones was part of a package for Lucic, God, imagine the histrionics around here had we traded Lack and a 1st and a prospect for Lucic. Or was it San Jose who WANTED MILLER that was gonna give us next years 1st for Lack?

    Or should we have trade him to Edmonton for a draft pick a few spots higher where we would have drafted the same guy.

    The Lack trade was what it was, it looks like Benning got what he could. Thinking we coulda gotten a high 20’s pick for him is pure fantasy.

  • birdie boy

    It’s hard to imagine a more pathetic display of bitter, whining negativism. There was no original thought or insight displayed in this post at all. We are all stupider for having read it.

    Canuck’s Army should simply stop publishing Moneypuck’s monotonous rants until he picks up his game.

    If Moneypuck wants to put on airs that he’s some sort of NHL co-owner, fine. He should go earn enough coin to buy a stake in a franchise and then hire a team that will win him a Cup. Until then, he should stop pretending that he has any pearls of wisdom to share that would benefit an NHL franchise. It’s just sad. Sort of like a homeless bum lecturing Bill Gates about why he hates Windows.

    Bill Gates doesn’t need advice from a hobo and and NHL owners don’t need the advice of journalistic hobos like Moneypuck.

    If Moneypuck is so set on ownership as a concept, maybe he should nut up and take some ownership of the brain-numbingly insipid moronism of some of his past griping. Like maybe an article apologizing to Benning for ripping him over the Kassian trade and admitting that Canucks Army had no clue as to the whole picture of what was going on in the club.

  • birdie boy

    I think a lot of the negativity in the comments is a response to the overall tone, not just of this article, but of many previous articles on this site.

    There have been so many articles filled with ‘the sky is falling’ language, that I have lost count. Yes, statistics are occasionally (although one could argue, selectively) used to prove the point, but the authors almost always commit horrible errors in their interpretation of these statistics. For example, past statistics are used to extrapolate to the future without adequate caution. This is bad practice – if we lived in such a world, the Sedin twins would still be the mediocre second liners they started off as. Players improve in unpredictable ways, so let’s not over-emphasize our statistical conclusions. That is not a criticism of the statistics, but of the writing – and that, to an extent, is a problem that the editor and writers must work to correct.

    Another thing that is obvious in the comments is that people are tired of the repetitiveness of the articles. I agree. We are entering the golden age of data in hockey – there is SO much data available these days, that one could look at practically any topic, no matter how esoteric, and write a legitimately interesting and novel blog post about it. When CA writers have ventured into this great unknown, they have generally done so successfully, in some cases so successfully that they have been hired by NHL teams. That is the type of article that people like – something that shows originality and creativity in looking at a question… Not a re-hash of the same tired old stories that we have heard all summer. My two cents.

    • Vintage

      True, but at the same time summer just ended, and it’s been a long offseason. Crosby, Getzlaf, Perry, Kopitar don’t even have a point. Arizona looks like a monster, while LA is hot garbage and the Penguins have scoring issues. We’re one week into the season as of today… the storylines haven’t even started yet. I saw this article as getting the last of it out of your system before being able to write something meaningful about the 2015-16 season.

      And I don’t believe that it’s a move away from stats. I’m not even that much of a stats guy and I know that there hasn’t been enough games to establish any meaningful stats. So what do you do? You draw from the stats you do have, and that’s the transactions over the summer combined with the roster decisions that have led to opening week.

      All stats do is to provide a quantitative story of past behaviour people can use to predict future outcomes. If money puck is wrong, then he’s put it in writing and will have to eat crow accordingly. He’s either willing to do that because he believes strongly in what the data is telling him, or he’s being a dick. I don’t think he’s being a dick. He might have an off-putting way of expressing his opinion.

      Dag… I can’t believe I’m defending this so hard. I just don’t understand the outrage. I don’t want this to become an “everything is awesome!” site where people only come to read exactly what they want to hear. There are only a handful of writers/broadcasters/pundits who don’t make me roll my eyes at something every now and again, but I still listen to what they have to say. That’s just the nature of opinion, and I think this site needs opinion. I don’t want straight-up numbers, I want someone to tell me what those numbers have meant to other teams and what Jose numbers could mean for the future. Some of those stats are “hard”, like Corsi, Fenwick… frigggin… goals. And some are “soft”, like managerial moves, asset management, salary cap management, roster decisions… I want to hear about everything, take it with a grain of salt, see what actually happens, and then hear about everything all over again with a new perspective.

      Uhhh…I guess in conclusion…let’s give these guys a couple of weeks to shake off the rust and gather some actual data before we start lighting pitchforks on fire and storming the bastille or whatever those angry mobs do.

  • birdie boy

    Lame is the best way to express your agenda,I get it you are really a oiler fan ,so i suggest you remove the poster above your bed,then keep your roll of toilet paper in another room,your weak from over use my freind.

  • birdie boy

    I for one, can easily say Lehner, Talbot and Jones all, that’s ALL, easily commanded higher returns than Lack. But so what, it’s done and done, quit ragging about it already. Plus it won’t be much of a talking point if Miller keeps up his stellar work, and Markstrom blossoms like most think he will.

  • birdie boy

    I enjoy reading commentary I disagree with. I find it good to challenge my own assumptions and biases and consider a different perspective. Judging by the comments here, mine is a minority view…

    Some of Benning’s moves are defensible, such as not getting fair value for Lack (markets aren’t always rational after all). But the Sbisa signing and the Sutter extension I am not fond of. call me conservative or a miser, but only vitally important players should be signed for 6 year contracts and I don’t get the sense that Sutter is a crucial piece to the roster puzzle.

    Re Corrado: the saddest aspect of losing Corrado is that he is already better than Sbisa.

  • SuddenlySedinery

    Finally got around to making my account to post, because of all the negativity in the comments here. Moneypuck, I just wanted to say, I’ve found your insights interesting and I appreciate your efforts to delve into an empirical model of how to evaluate players.

    I think that this piece was a somewhat new way to express your previously expressed opinions, and was a well-written angle. I say let’s let it be the capstone on your opinions of the off-season moves, and continue onward to explore more ideas on how to predict future performance of our boys in blue and find better prospects.

    Perhaps some comments on what aspects of scouting reports usually correlate with actual high-level performance, and what kind of comments are naught more than fluff? I think more examination of scouting evaluations would be a refreshing addition to some of your articles.

  • Dirty30

    No one would ever accuse me of liking Benning or anything that he has done.

    I am, however, willing to admit when I am wrong, and the way this team plays right now, I was wrong to criticize Benning’s moves.

    That doesn’t mean he was absolutely right — we’re only four games into the season — or even a good manager for some of those dreadful moves.

    But there is a time to simply shut-up, accept what is, and move on. And this latest Moneypuck diatribe wasn’t amusing, interesting or really original.

    Things I do like that Benning has done:

    1. Put Vey on waivers. He had a full year, plus a summer to prepare, and he got outplayed and management took note and did the right thing.

    2. Traded Kassian — at first it was like some secret conspiracy, but now it looks like they maintained his privacy and dealt with this horrific situation in a confidential and reasonably fair manner. And he blew it … again.

    3. Traded KB3 — I was a huge fan and disappointed he was gone. But watching Sbisa play with Hutton is enlightening.

    4. McCann — wow … just F’n wow.

    5. Crackin’ and the Plodders … when Calgary’s top line pins these guys in their own zone for ages and couldn’t score, they earned my grudging respect … keep this up and we may have a 4th line to write home about.

    And finally — the Youth Movement … and Miller (who didn’t groan when Benning said he could have been traded?) … and Horvat — that he got the chance (even against Coach’s reluctance) has been incredible.

    Easy to criticize Benning’s methods, not so easy to criticize the results so far.

  • Vintage

    Hey, I get it, you’re a blogger, you write blogs. Losing Corrado to waivers isn’t just about mis-managing contracts. When you, as the leader of an organization come out and say “if a player earns a place on the opening night roster, then we’ll make room for him”, and then you send him down to the minors because it’s more convenient to do that, you lose credibility.

    Adam Cracknell is still with the team, in case you hadn’t noticed. What if he had been claimed off the waiver wire? Would you be up in arms over it? What if Biega had been claimed because he was the next best option for the Leafs (Corrado not being available)?

    In all likelihood, Corrado will be available again via waivers by the end of the month, maybe he will get picked up by a team needing defensive depth (i.e., a guy to shoot pucks at the goalie during practice and sit in the press box, like what he’s doing now in TO), maybe he will slip down to the Canucks, who will re-acquire him, who knows, who cares.

  • Vintage

    Holy hell we have a lot of Canucks PR guys commenting here. What part of “we could have kept him” do you not understand? You actually telling me Alex Biega and Adam Cracknell have a higher ceiling than Corrado?

    • Vintage

      Then tackle that issue. I have no problem with questioning this move. Fresh opinions are great. New debate is awesome.

      In no way did it need to lead to the 101st analysis of Sbisa or Dorsett’s contract or the Lack trade.

  • Waffles

    Although his scouting and talent evaluation with young players seems to be a reasonable case to keep him on. That’s the other side of the argument, and it’s a reasonable one.

  • Waffles

    Some Nancies simply won’t let things go. Are you still going to be crying about Lack and Sutter years from now? Nearly all of Benning’s moves are showing to have worked out for the better, yet the nellying continues.

    As was said earlier, your ilk are just plain BORING. With the team doing well I suppose you now have nothing else to complain about so you regurgitate the same tired crap.

    Oh look, no mention of Prust or Kassian. Yeah, just hope that one will silently slip away, right?

    • Waffles

      Can’t we give credit where it’s due and complain about the mistakes? Why are these two things mutually exclusive?

      I think the Prust for Kassian deal was ok (would have been better straight up), but in retrospect, with the hindsight of the coke-fueled car accident, giving up a draft pick to rid ourselves of that mess was a positive.

      But why do you seem to think that praise Lindenning for their good moves and criticismtheir bad moves can’t come out of the same mouths?

  • Waffles

    Also, by the way, a seriously under-discussed decision is the acquisition of Clendening for Forsling. You can say what you want about 5th round picks, but he had earned himself a full role at 18 in the SHL by the time of the trade. Extremely rare for a 5th round pick.

    And then they throw Clendening into the Sutter deal? They say he’s not a good enough skater and don’t think he’ll be an NHL’er? What? Didn’t they thoroughly evaluate that before the trade?

    In hindsight, it seems like a desperate move for a team that wanted NHL defensemen right then and there. He had a very good history in the AHL, so they just pulled the trigger. I assume it was Thomas Gradin who wanted Forsling in the first place, and Benning was probably never that big of a fan.

    Forsling right now in the SHL: 9 games: 1 goal, 7 assists –> 8 points. At 19 years old. Looks like JB got embarrassed.