The next six months are make or break for the Vancouver Canucks.
I know I’ve criticized one or two pretty much all of Jim Benning’s moves over the last year or so, but that has largely been because almost every one has been slowly whittling away their assets. Death by a thousand cuts, some might say.
But other than the Sutter contract, none of those moves can really be characterized as anchors that this franchise will have to drag around for years after Benning is finally, mercifully, sent to the farm…er, to the farm team. To do scouting and stuff. Yeah, I definitely didn’t mean to imply anything else there.
Anyway, my point is this: Jim Benning has done much to be concerned about, but at least he hasn’t caused any long term damage, or saddled the next GM, and there will be a next GM, with an inescapable contractual mess. At least not yet.
But the next six months could see that change. Winter is coming, and Jim Benning has money to spend.
Benning has clearly been given the marching orders to win now. Despite all the talk after the trade deadline about building through the draft and developing prospects, the indications are that the Canucks are back in rebuild on the fly mode.
Acquiring Gudbranson is about winning now at the expense of the future.
Trying to make a deal for Subban is about winning now at the expense of the future.
Chasing after big name free agents is about winning now at the expense of the future.
So while this franchise is heading in the wrong direction, if you were to replace Benning and Weisbrod with a competent management team, they would at least have the pieces and flexibility to get things back on track in fairly short order.
But starting today, that could change drastically over the next six months.
Why do I keep saying six months?
Because those six months are bookended by July 1, the start of free agency, and January 1, the first day Gudbranson can sign an extension.
Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Sure, while one bullet may have been dodged with Lucic reportedly telling the Canucks they are out of the running for his services, there are plenty of other chances to make bad decisions out there in free agency. Most of those names out there are looking for high value, long term deals. And it is those deals that could hamstring this franchise for years to come.
That being said, there is some room for hope. In his first splash in free agency, Benning brought in some pieces on reasonable two or three year deals. Even Sbisa’s horrendous contract extension was only three years. And Benning has shown an ability to get some cost savings here and there on the deals he has given out at the bottom of his roster. But my concern is that he’s under a great deal of pressure to get back into the playoffs, and get fans back in the seats.
That is going to take some goal scoring and some name recognition. You can see that’s exactly what he’s trying to do in chasing after Subban (and even Stamkos, though who knows how serious that was) blatantly enough to get fined for tampering. And that’s exactly why the entire organization was going all out to bring Lucic back to Vancouver.
Now that he’s out on Lucic, it would not surprise me to see Benning go hard after one or more of Eriksson, Brouwer, Boedker and Okposo. And unfortunately, probably in that order, too.
The problem is that those guys are all after a lot of money and, more importantly, a lot of term.
As we enter into a period of flat salary caps, cap space is going to be even more important than it has been to date. Not only will the flexibility be important in order to manage your roster, but having the capacity to take on somebody else’s bad deal can net you some pretty good assets. Just look back to how the Islanders got Nick Leddy and the Hurricanes got Teuvo Teravainen.
It is ludicrous for a 28th place team to have to be saddled with cap overage penalties, but that was a one year thing. It would be much worse to be the Columbus Blue Jackets, and stuck perennially at the bottom of the standings and at the top of salary cap.
The Canucks are at a crossroads. They have some cap room. How they spend it and how long they lock themselves in will greatly impact their ability to come out of this and build another contending team.
This is Jim Benning’s Dave Clarkson moment.
I’m hopeful he can avoid the temptation, but I’m not confident that he will.
So that’s one end of the biggest six months in Jim Benning’s tenure as Canucks GM. The other end will come on January 1, when I’m much less confident that he can resist the temptation to make it rain for Erik Gudbranson. Heck, it would not surprise me in the least if he doesn’t already have an agreement in principle to give Gudbranson the five year, $27.5 million contract he was looking for from Florida.
That’s exactly what he did for Brandon Sutter, signing him to an extension before he had even played a single game for the Canucks, and even giving him a NTC on the last year of the deal he was already on.
If there’s one thing we know about Benning is that he’s a salt-of-the-earth, open book guy that is loyal to a fault. The way he talks about Gudbranson is the same way he talked about Sutter.
That extension is coming, and it’s going to be long.
Just like winter.