Jim Benning on The Trade Market and Exploring Different Avenues for Improving The Team

Jim Benning took some time from his busy schedule during an off-day in New York to sit in a cushy looking chair and chat with Matt Sekeres and Friend Of The Blog Blake Price this morning. In his 1040 hit he discussed the team’s direction as the trade deadline approaches and the activity picks up across the league.

You can listen for yourself, or you can read on for a quick summary of the main talking points that were covered (which for your sake has omitted “real good” and “umm, like..” wherever humanly possible). 

On the goaltending:

“He [Ryan Miller] looked good last night. I think he’s been good all year for us. There was a point there where maybe he started getting a little fatigued playing a lot and stuff.. that was a chance to get Jacob in, and Jacob grabbed the reins and ran with it for a couple of weeks. And he was real good. So I feel good about having both goaltenders at the top of their games right now.”

As a follow-up, on being so heavily outshot lately:

“Well.. for the most part I thought we were good at.. a lot of the shots were from outside. And if there was a rebound.. I think having Luca back in the game helped us around the net, being physical and taking their guys out from getting second and third opportunities to score. Once we get our injured players back and we get our team up and going I think we’ll see where we’re at. I think we’ll be able to compete in most games.”

There’s no question that Miller was stellar for the second straight time since returning from his injury. Before that, Markstrom was fantastic except for one or two small hiccups. For the year that combination is now up to 11th in the league in five-on-five save percentage, and 14th overall. During this recent 7-3-1 streak those league-wide figures bump up to 3rd and 4th respectively. They’ve needed every single one of those saves along the way, considering that they’ve in turn been surrendering the 4th most unblocked shot attempts against, the 4th most ‘high-danger’ scoring chances, and the most overall scoring chances.

To say that that’s not a sustainable recipe for success moving forward would be quite the understatement, but you probably already knew that. All of the projection models out there are readily aware of that too. Despite the string of recent wins, the Canucks are still in reasonably good shape to not only finish on the outside looking in at the end of the year but also potentially get their hands on a truly elite prospect.

And to think, I came thisclose to refraining from taking the Luca Sbisa bait. Forget for a second the obvious fact that the Canucks were outshot 11-6, outattemped 17-7, and outchanced 12-7 with him on the ice. Despite all of his vaunted crease-clearing glory, he still wasn’t able to do anything about Anders Lee standing right in front of his goalie on the sole occasion an opponent was able to get a puck by him.

On a tangentially related note, here’s a series of quotes about the direction of the team and the trade market. First on Jannik Hansen becoming an ‘indispensable piece’:

“He’s always been a valuable guy for us. He’s fast, he can get in on the forecheck and disrupt play. Sometimes his scoring comes in and out. He scores in streaks and bunches, but even when he’s not scoring he’s still an effective player for us.”

On the activity around the league picking up:

“I went pretty much the whole season phoning guys, talking to guys, seeing what was out there.. and there really wasn’t much going on. I talked to one GM and he commented ‘you’re the first guy I’ve talked to in 3 weeks’.. so it was slow. But then I think the Seth Jones/Johansen trade opened things up. I’ve noticed a lot more chatter with other GMs making calls, finding out where teams are at.. since that trade I’d say we’re getting calls from other teams on a daily basis.”

On making a lot of calls to other GMs:

“Yeah.. because I think it’s important. We’ve got to see what the market is out there. You have different avenues to try and make your team better. One of them is through free agency in the summertime. Another one is if you can make a trade that’ll make your team better.. you have to look at that. And another big one is the draft where you can add 6-7 players every year to your organization to build your team with going forward. Any avenue we can try to pursue to make our team and our organization better we’ll pursue it.”

On the idea that they could trade away rental players and still try to make the playoffs:

“I think it depends on what you get back when you sell. The players we have, like.. Vrbata is a big part of our team because he scores. That was a big goal he scored in the shootout last night to give us that extra point. Sometimes at the end of the year the team that misses is by one or two points. He’s a big part of our team. Hamhuis is back skating and he’ll be back.. he’s a big part of our team. We’re going to continue to see where we’re at going into the deadline, and if something makes sense we’ll look at it.. but those guys are a big part of our team.”

On improving the blueline via trade:

“The problem is that every team in the league is looking for better defensemen. There’s some teams, maybe the Rangers, Nashville, St.Louis, Winnipeg that are happy with their defense. All of the other teams are looking to add defensemen. It’s about assets, too.. everytime we talk to teams about acquiring a good young player, a defenseman, they want one of our good young players. We’re just not at that point where we can afford to move one of our good young players.. so we’re not going to look at anything like that.”

I don’t want to put too much stock into this here because it’s still impossible to truly discern what’s reality, and what’s just good old fashioned posturing. Ultimately it’s smart to avoid backing yourself into a corner as a decision-maker, which is exactly what going out of your way to formally announce your intentions would double as. 

What would be a concerning issue however would be if there were actually some truth to the rumblings we’ve been hearing recently. Like the one about the Canucks considering giving Radim Vrbata an extension as a viable course of action. That would be a gross miscalculation of both the landscape and their relative place in it to say the least. While Vrbata’s stock has undoubtedly dropped thanks to his unfortunate shooting luck early in the schedule, it’s still easy to envision a contending team offering a pretty penny for his services as a rental come the deadline. With how tight the standings are league-wide because of the loser point, there are very few legitimate goal scorers sure to be available in trade. 

Vrbata is one of them, making him even more enticing than he would be otherwise. Passing up a promising package of assets for a 35-year old given the current state of the franchise would be nothing short of inexcusable. The same goes for Jannik Hansen, even though he’s younger and still under contract at a completely reasonable figure. 

While fans have been clamouring for the organization to fully embrace the tank and hopefully earn the right to draft a difference-making prospect, knowing when to cash in chips that are surely less valuable to you than they may be to someone else is another more subtle but equally important part of that rebuilding process.

*****

And finally, a couple of comments about the team’s younger players both currently on the team and down in the AHL. First on Jared McCann potentially continuing to fill in for Henrik Sedin on the top line:

“Willie had those guys together for a couple of games on that last road trip. Playing with Daniel and Hansen, two experienced players.. we don’t have the luxury of doing that per se this year, but in Detroit with all of their good players they play Larkin with Zetterberg and Abdelkader. Those guys are good players and can help his game along. I see that with Danny Sedin and Hansen, they can help Jared.”

This seems like a perfectly reasonable course of action. The sample size is awfully minuscule, but in the 40 or so minutes that McCann has gotten to play with Daniel Sedin at five-on-five the Canucks have controlled 54.3% of the shot attempts. With news coming out that Henrik Sedin has been sent home for the remainder of the trip (missing 3 games at the bare minimum) this is a opportunity for McCann to finally get away from Derek Dorsett and Brandon Prust. 

On remaining patient with Shinkaruk and Gaunce:

“People look and they ask us why’d you keep two 19 year olds in McCann and Virtanen? I say because we wanted to get them in the fold, develop them, and get them up to speed so that they can be good players for us moving forward. But with Shinkaruk and Gaunce we want to be patient with them..

Shinkaruk is a goal scorer, we want him to have a good year and score 25-30 goals down there. Be the go-to guy. He got one game with us and we’re not afraid to call him back up. But in a perfect world, we’d like our players to play 2-3 years down there in the American League, be over-ripe, and when they’re ready to go to come up and play. Gaunce is a real good two-way player, the details of his game are in place. But we want to get him to where he has his confidence offensively. For him to score 20 goals down in that league this year is big for his development. I know it sounds strange because we weren’t patient with McCann and VIrtanen but we want to be patient with these guys.. if we can leave them down there all year to develop then when they’re ready to play next year they’ll come in and help us.”

On Jordan Subban’s development in Utica:

“We’ve always known this.. when he has the puck he’s excellent. He can run a power play, he’s good moving laterally across the line and getting shots on net. How he needs to develop is when he doesn’t have the puck down low in his own end. He’s not a tall player, but he’s strong. It’s going to be about angles, and stick positioning, and finding a way to play at his size. He’s come a long way this year, but there’s still work to be done defensively until he gets a chance to play in the NHL.”

  • SJ

    Absolutely agree 100% that it would be inexcusable not to move an asset like Vrbata. Hamhuis I could see keeping, but for the right deal he has to be available, too.

  • SJ

    Benning gets eviscerated on Twitter for being open about trades and what he expects in return, maybe with Vrbata/Hamhuis he’s playing this one close to the vest and he’ll surprise us all and get some good value out of them.

  • wojohowitz

    Vrbata: trade. Has to happen, he’s the only asset with actual value in a rental.

    Hamhuis: on the fence. If you can’t get anything back for him, he could be a good “veteran presence” on the blueline moving forward. Obviously we need it. Don’t trade him just for the sake of getting rid of him.

    Hansen: keep. The guy is a first line forward, useful in all situations, making 2.5 million against the cap, and he’s only 29.

    Sbisa comment: shocking. That Benning is praising anything about our defence after a game in which they gave up 48 shots is extremely disturbing. That he clearly still thinks highly of Sbisa’s game is terrifying to me to the extent that it’s a window on Benning’s view of his defence.

    • I think our D is doing OK. Sure, they gave up lots of shots but they were not all high quality. Shots on goal is misleading. I’m more interested in scoring chances.

      I think Sbisa has been decent and he’s only 25. It takes long for D to learn the position and he is getting there. I have no issues with him. He isn’t a top pairing guy and he isn’t an All-Star but he is decent. Idiots like Botchford make jokes at his expense then Botch’s minions follow and also dump Sbisa into that joke category – look at all the idiots that frequent this site and call him the pizza man. These idiots are probably Botch sheep.

      Benning isn’t going to go out and declare what is going on behind the scenes. That would be stupid. I’m not sure if the bloggers here get that. Anyway, I am hoping Vrbata, Hamhuis and Prust are being shopped around. I also think Batkowski and Weber should be dealt even if the returns are small. I can see the Canucks extending Hamhuis (isn’t he only 32) but hopefully none of the rest.

      • The point was that Benning seemed to indicate that he thought Sbisa had a good game last night and had a positive impact on the game. That’s frightening when any unbiased observer could see that Sbisa had an awful game last night and that the entire defensive unit was bailed out by an incredible goaltending performance. If the Canucks had been ventilated as badly as the defence’s performance last night would normally lead to, we’d all agree that any Sbisa praise was outright delusional.

        By every possible metric, the Canucks were woefully outplayed last night. It happens, sure, but to be specifically complimenting a player for his contributions to that is either spin, or complete self-delusion. If it’s the latter, we’re in trouble.

        If there’s any saving grace for Luca, it might be that Bartkowski’s mistakes are even more glaring.

      • Cageyvet

        Chris the Curmudgeon, I couldn’t agree more. I’m also not surprised to see your comments getting more trashes than props, you had the audacity to not bash Sbisa, point out that Benning isn’t going to do his job through the media (so don’t believe everything he says, how long have these people followed hockey?), and even worse, you asked them to use their own minds and not follow the media’s lead.

        Intelligent commentary is hard to find. In a city where the cycle of jubilation and panic is legendary, it’s nice to hear a voice of reason.

        The team is rebuilding. Of course you should move your UFA’s (Vrbata, Hamhuis, Prust, Weber) since they are all underperforming anyway. Let’s not let them walk for nothing, especially after trading draft picks while building this team in past years, now is the time to re-stock the cupboards.

        As for Hansen, trading him would be a mistake. You need some veteran presence on the team, and he’s a great utility forward. That’s not even mentioning the fact that he’s found a home on the first line. Or are we flush with top 6 forwards and I’m missing something?

        Take a flyer on all the Etem’s you like, even if that means getting some Clendenning’s. Better to roll the dice on younger players with potential than watch this team stagnate.

        It’s been a fun season ONLY because of the young players, how boring would it have been to watch the same old story? Enough of the “devil we know”, keep bringing in the new blood, I never know for sure what they’ll do and that’s what keeps me watching!

        This season is all about figuring out what to do with the club next season. Anyone who is willing to forego a single long-term move in the hopes of bolstering this year’s playoff chances better be named Aquilini, otherwise I’m not sure why you’d have that attitude.

  • SJ

    Why exactly would it be inexcusable to hold on to Vrbata?

    Benning and Linden work for an owner that wants playoff revenue every year.

    Considering he has a partial NTC and controls his destiny to some degree, the return might not be particularly impactful anyway.

    If the offer is a 2nd round pick and the Canucks remain a playoff bubble team, he’s not going anywhere.

  • Cageyvet

    Vancouver has two good forwards in their mid to late 20’s — Sutter and Hansen. The rest of the talented forwards are either old or young.

    For this reason, Hansen is untouchable.

  • wojohowitz

    I disagree with the emphasis on being outshot and outplayed. The Canucks are in playoff mode where you make one mistake and it`s in your net. Winning 2-1 is playoff hockey and winning 1-0 shows a mistake free game. If our goalies are good and our team defense is good then they will continue to be outshot and outplayed and yet still win and with a mistake free game they can beat anybody.

    • Cageyvet

      Being out shot occasionally isn’t so bad. Getting out shot in almost every game and giving up 40+ shots repeatedly is a serious concern. You can’t rely on goalies to steal games week in and week out, even the best can only do it so often.

      “Playoff hockey” is to a large extent a crap shoot because of the small sample size. A hot run of goal-tending and some lucky shooting percentages can made a big difference in a seven game series (see 1994). Over a full season though, if you’re getting heavily out shot you probably are not going to do very well.

  • Cageyvet

    Good recap.

    I like Jim Bennings goal on making long term moves. No short term rental stuff, no giving up young assets, and no rash decisions. My guess he feels out the market on our pending UFAs and pulls the trigger when something good comes up. I don’t think he will re-sign anybody soon.

  • Cageyvet

    “That would be a gross miscalculation of both the landscape and their relative place in it to say the least.”

    Perhaps you are the one with the gross miscalculation of the landscape and their place in it.

    Perhaps making the playoffs and rolling the dice in a best of 7 is the best course of action for the stability of the franchise.

    Perhaps being a losing team, is a not a winning formula.

    Perhaps.

  • SJ

    Vancouver has to do everything they can to try to move Hamhuis and Vrbata for young d-men at the deadline. The reality is that there are only a few teams truly selling each year at the deadline, and the top UFA players from those teams fetch outrageous prices. Every team has draft picks at the draft, and everyone wants good young D. At the deadline the Canucks will be in a position only a few other teams will be in, and hopefully they can convince some team that Hamhuis and/or Vrbata are still top players who will make a difference for a cup run. This is the best chance, aside from drafting one, of acquiring a top young d. Outside of the deadline this year, other teams generally have more/better trade assets, especially given Benning doesn’t want to move his own young players.

  • SJ

    I like what he’s saying about Shinkaruk and Gaunce. I know people are screaming to see those kids up here, but I like the fact they’ve kept them on the Comets. They’re leading that team, and I think that’s better for them than to come up here as replacements on a struggling team. Let them finish the season in Utica, and they can both make the team out of camp next year.

  • Cageyvet

    As Benning has stated that he wants to keep Hunter and Gaunce in minors this year I hope he at least calls up Grenier to fill in Henrik’s spot. Unless of course Sutter is back.

    Grenier at 24 and expiring contract, needs a good look to determine if he will fit into plans for next season.

  • Cageyvet

    It’s frustrating on the one hand to have the big team so inconsistently handled, while encouraging on the other to see such a positive perspective being taken toward developing prospects.

  • wojohowitz

    Disagree about Hansen but we should definitely move Vrbata if given the chance. Regardless of his production not being what it was last year (since he’s not on the Sedin line and protecting two youngsters on his own not surprising) he still has all the skill and shows it regularly in the shootout. if you get a second for him I still say you pull the trigger — he’s an entirely different class of talent than say a Matthias. I’m not sure what you’d get for Hamhuis and if it’s a really low pick I don’t think it’s worth losing what he brings to the room and probably to the development of some of the younger guys.

    And what Benning and Desjardins see in Sbisa I’m still not sure. I get that he’s big and can absorb some hits but for a supposedly physical defenseman he does a terrible job of clearing the net or tying up sticks. Above and beyond the giveaways that’s what drives me crazy.

  • wojohowitz

    Good recap for the most part. Biggest issue I take with your commentary is the idea a team “earns” the right to draft high. Sucking and giving up on a season while still doling out millions to players doesn’t scream “earning” to me.

    I was quite happy when buffalo and Arizona lost out on the lottery last year. Wasn’t very happy with oilers winning it but at least they’re legitimately bad and need the help( as useless that help has been)

  • wojohowitz

    Let’s not forget this was an average possession team before Sutter went down.

    And that was with Hamhuis not having a legit 2nd pairing partner.

    Okay, so Hammer might still not be back any time soon.

    But I’m curious to see how the team performs after the all star break when the centre depth is restored hopefully.

  • wojohowitz

    Good recap and the responses as usual are practically what makes this blog, thanks for that also.

    However, where are fans clamoring for a tank? That is the worst thing ever. I hate “the tank”. It stinks up hockey almost as much as dirty hitz. No? I look at Calgary. A good coach and a savvy trade or two and voila, fun team rebuilding on the fly.

    Granted this requires more savois-faire than even just managing a good team into the playoffs (hello! Yes, you Minnesota and Colorado! Just wanted to say, LOL!!) and Benning at times seems like more of an autistic savant than a savant.

    But yeah, I don’t want this team to tank!!! Heck no.

  • wojohowitz

    Well, at the risk of sounding superfluous, I’m seeing the sense in what Cageyvet is saying. Many people (myself included) think that Burrows has given us all we’re gonna get from him.(I hope we can retain a mil on his salary and find him a spot to ride into the sunset with) if he’s not on next years edition how many vets at forward does that leave? By my count that leaves the Sedins, Dorsett, aaand Hansen. By that point if they get any younger they’re gonna need a chaperone on the ice.

    Hansen’s got that little bit of something (maybe that honninggraevling thing) that every team needs and he certainly qualifies as a vet. The kids could be learning from worse.

    Or maybe I’ve been exposed to more Dranser articles than is good for me.

    On another note, I myself like the Curmudgeon. I just keep in mind that the American air he breathes compels him to tell those kids to get out of his jell-o tree.

  • Cageyvet

    Not everybody endorses or clamours for a tank.

    Hamhuis is undervalued and a B.C. boy. He will likely sign for less to wind up his career here.

    Vrbata is also playing below trade value for a man of his talents. Great teacher and mentor. Keep him.

    There are veterans that are overpaid and could benefit the team by moving on. Lets see how Benning plays his cards.

    • Cageyvet

      Are you sure Vrbata is a good teacher and mentor, never have heard praise from other players about him mentoring. Agree with you on Hamhuis, but a trade and resign in offseason works also. This of course depends where we sit late February.

      Benning has some tough decisions to make and I trust he will make the right ones.

      • wojohowitz

        Of course a veteran NHL star like Vrbata is a mentor. 63 points for $5m bucks.

        http://www.vancouversun.com/sports/vrbata+likes+riding+shotgun+with+canucks+young+speedsters/11428637/story.html

        Lets dump his production and keep Burr for the same salary or Prust with no production at half his salary.

        With Rogers arena devoid of fans for the Tank Nation Network Draft Fantasy,Aquaman cuts the payroll and the Canucks go back to the Griffiths era where he risks losing the franchise. Great idea all around.Sound business acumen.

        Hamhuis is a better d man than most on this team. I am sure Sbisa,Bartkowski,Weber,Fedun and Biega learn plenty from his presence. A 3rd round project kid for Hamhuis says Tank Nation.

        Dump Bart,Weber,Burr and Prust and GMJB has enough dough for a PP QB.

        • Was not suggesting we should be in tank mode, as I believe the youth on this team are gaining very valuable experience being in a battle to make the playoffs, never mind the valuable experience of being in the playoffs. I had just never heard before about Vrbata before being a mentor.

          A few weeks ago I had suggested that maybe a package deal involving Vrbata & Hamhuis for an NHL ready defenseman would be an option. Not all of our trades have to involve draft picks, as an NHL ready defenseman could be huge in the push for a playoff spot.

          I had suggested that maybe a team like Minnesota might be interested in the 2 players and in return maybe we get 21 year old Matt Dumba, who I believe could be our PP QB as well as a solid top 4 defender.

          I closed off with saying that Benning has tough decisions to make as I trust his evaluation on whether team can make a final push for playoff spot or not & getting value for assets.

          Dumping Bart, Weber, Prust (UFA’S)if we can would be great, take whatever we can get in return. Although that would leave us with little if any depth on defense(not a fan of any of these players).

          Incidentally, I am a huge Hamhuis fan. He is from a neighbouring community in which I live, in the beautiful Pacific Northwest & gives me even more reason to cheer on my favourite team.

          Go Canucks

  • Cageyvet

    Not sure why you say trade Hansen. The guy is 29 and can literally play all 4 lines, effectively. He’s a great guy to have. Both as a mentor to guys like Etem and just as a player in general.
    Trading Vrbata can go either way. If they can get a 1st for him, you take that deal and run. Even if you have to include Weber/Bartkowski to make it happen. If it’s a 2nd or 3rd though? Personally I’d rather see some playoff hockey than get a pick in the 45-90 overall range that may or may not Crack the team by 2020. Sure, it could be one of those gems like Hutton. But it could more likely be something like Weber. Playoff experience for the kids is just as valuable as that gamble.
    Prust on the other hand really needs to be dealt away. Unlike Vrbata, Bartkowski, etc, he was aquired by surrendering assets. Not through free agency. I’d like to see that pick recovered. I also noticed that Benning didn’t even so much as MENTION his name when talking about expiring players that are important to the team. That in itself says a lot, I think.
    The team is on the right track. I don’t mind if Vrbata stays and then walks in the summer. I don’t think he’ll be extended. Neither will Hamhuis. Not after Benning said a couple weeks ago that they’d have a lot of money to spend in free agency this year. That doesn’t happen if they stay. Hamhuis hasn’t been the same since that hip injury a year or so ago. If he decides it’s time to retire, I’d love to hear the Canucks hire him onto their coaching staff. He’d be a great guy to have around, even if he isn’t playing.

  • wojohowitz

    Vrbata was useless in last year’s playoffs and continues to play like a deer caught in headlights.

    I would trade him for anything as I don’t want him here next season, a second rounder would recoup our cost for Baertschi. BTW a 1st for his expiring contract is over-payment.

    Trade Hansen? No way, he’s been our best non-Sedin player, consistent effort, has great speed and can score. This is a player you keep unless you’re getting a bona-fide 1st line player or 1st pairing D in return. Hansen has a place on this team and isn’t the one taking opportunity away from our young guns.

    Those calling for a Hansen trade are just foolishly asking for change for the sake of change.

    Can we really win with two Sedins and 21 teenagers? How many teams won the cup or advanced to the finals without a single players between the ages of 24-33? How are teams like the Oilers doing with their all youth movement & lack of NHL pros?

  • Hansen just has the most value out of all roster. I agree with Dim, if price is right, move him. Play Virtanen or Etem with the Twins, call up Grenier to have an extended look. There’s always place for the right deal, the right time.

  • Dirty30

    Ironic that Hansen suddenly has such ‘value’ when he seemed to be in everyone’s doghouse not long ago.

    Its not that Hansen is suddenly the best player on the ice by virtue of some hidden Sedin mojo, its the reality that his peers’ have slipped so much in their production (Higgins, Burrows, Vrbata etc.) that Hansen looks so good.

    Hansen has simply replace Burrows — younger, faster, cheaper and showing more durability in comparison.

    Etem has simply replaced Higgins at every level except scoring — that will come as he learns the system and gets more comfortable.

    I get Max’s argument that the team needs some scoring — Vrby provides that, but he is not going to accept what the Canucks should be paying him and he’s now worth to this team what some other team will pay him.

    If you can get an asset now and resign Hamius in the off-season that’s a bonus for the team. Whether he wants to be a team player is another question.

    It is a bit scary to look a the Sbisa, Bartowski, Weber troika and wonder what anyone was thinking when they made these guys play D.

    This team screams for that workhorse, makes an impact, D-man that can take you deep into the playoffs. How many D did Chicago play to the Cup?

    Dump Millers’ $5 mil with Vrby’s $4.5 and get that workhorse D-man signed.

    Note to Benning: look up how many high paid, long-term goalies won Cups and how many high paid, long term D-men won Cups.