Photo Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
BUFFALO – Jim Benning may not make a huge splash in the
National Hockey League draft this weekend, but the Vancouver Canucks general
manager certainly created some waves on Thursday. Benning left no doubt about his interest in pending
unrestricted free agent Milan Lucic when the bruising forward becomes available on July 1st.
Speaking to reporters at the team’s hotel headquarters in
suburban Buffalo, Benning didn’t mince words when he was asked if Lucic was
going to be one of his free agent targets a week from now.
“Yeah, he’d be a guy we’d have interest in,” Benning confirmed.
“He’s from Vancouver. He’s been a good player in the league for a long time. He’s
a unique player – a power forward, so we would definitely have interest in him.”
Lucic and the Los Angeles Kings have been unable to come to
terms on an extension for the 28-year-old who scored 20 goals and added 35
assists to go along with 79 penalty minutes in his first season in Southern
California after being acquired by the Kings at last year’s draft. Lucic
struggled to score and registered just three points – all assists — in the
Kings first round playoff exit to rival San Jose.
The former Vancouver Giant has reached the 20-goal mark four
times in his nine NHL seasons – scoring a career-high 30 in 2010-11 when he
helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.
L-A general manager Dean Lombardi has given Lucic and his
camp permission to start speaking to other NHL clubs ahead of the official
opening of free agent courting which begins on Monday. However, Benning says
the Canucks have yet to reach out.
“Not yet,” he says. “We’re
going to get through the draft. We’ve got a lot going on here the next couple
of days with the draft. We’re going to get this figured out. Then when we get
back on Sunday we’ll start in on free agency.”
The Canucks have already made decisions on three of their
own players on expiring contracts. Benning admitted that Radim Vrbata, Matt
Bartkowski and Yannick Weber have all been told they won’t be back and have
been instructed to explore the open market.
“We’ve talked to them and their agents and we’re not going
to resign,” Benning said.
As for tendering restricted free agent Linden Vey a qualifying
offer, Benning indicated what happens on the draft floor over the next few days
may impact the club’s decision.
“We’re going to get through the weekend and see what happens
here tradewise the next couple of days,” he said. “We’ll decide on him on Monday.”