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.
Team name shows unblocked shot rates over past 25 games; unmarked tail shows the same a fortnight ago. pic.twitter.com/T7VYWelnFL
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 18, 2016
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.”