The Canucks have experienced the highs and lows in the first month of the regular season. Starting out 4-0-1 was considered an accomplishment for the team, but most knew that they were bound to be challenged as their schedule became more and more tight. They’ve lost seven in a row and are back in the all-too-familiar bottom section of the league. Several thoughts have popped up during this time – Willie Desjardins’ coaching, Jake Virtanen’s ice-time situation, Jim Benning’s search for a 20-goal scorer, and the autonomy that the ownership group has supposedly provided.
Jim Benning was on the air with TSN 1040 earlier today to discuss these topics.
So what has management’s goal been this season? It’s pretty well known that they have their eyes set on the playoffs. Whether that works out or not – or is even realistic – remains to be seen. As of today, it would be hard-pressed to confidently say that the Canucks will be contending for a playoff spot. One can say that most of the team, except for the goaltenders, have struggled. Players have underperformed and that has taken its toll on the team.
Jim Benning: “We wanted to be competitive in every game and I think we’ve shown that. I’m trying to transition young players to be the next core group, and we have older players who are helping out with the transition. Bo Horvat has taken a step, I was expecting more from Sven Baertschi. In the last 3 or 4 games, he’s (Baertschi) played better and had more scoring chances, he just needs to finish them off. Ben Hutton has been real good for us, Jake Virtanen is making skilled plays that we know he can make. We’re on the course of getting this next group of core players going. If we keep playing like we’re playing and putting the puck in the net, we’ll start winning.”
Speaking of Jake Virtanen, his “calling-out” of Willie Desjardins’ allocated ice time seemed to only make matters more complicated and magnified. The entire situation sparked discussion amongst the media and Canucks fans, pondering essentially who’s side to take: Virtanen or Desjardins? I covered this situation last week and you can read that by navigating here.
Jim Benning on Virtanen’s ice-time: “I had this conversation with Jake a week ago, but that will be up to him. If he started scoring goals, Willie would have more trust in him and putting him out more. Ice time is something that young players have to earn, and they earn it by doing something that gains the coaches’ trust and wanting to keep putting them out there. The last three or four games, he’s shown us things he can do. For now, we need him up here and we need him to start scoring. We’re going to continue to work with him and hopefully he gets better.”
Earlier this week, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun broke the news that Jim Benning was searching for a goal-scorer. This is a player that the Canucks have been searching for even throughout the off-season, but no deals were made. Come the start of the regular season, the waiver wire was another last-minute addition tool that would have allowed Benning to claim a player at no cost. Scoring has, without a doubt, been the Canucks’ achilles heel this month. Had they scored a goal or two in each of their shutout games, their record may be different. And though adding a scorer would definitely help the team, the bigger concern is what would possibly be given up to obtain the goal-scorer. While LeBrun’s report is not exactly shocking news, Canucks fans gave of the impression of “oh no, what is he going to give up now?”
Jim Benning on adding a goal-scorer: “I’m in constant communication with all the other General Managers in the league. If anything makes sense, we’re going to look to into trying to do it, but we’re not going to sacrifice any of our young players to make the team better now. I’m not moving Boeser, Demko, Juolevi. If we can do something that makes sense, we’ll look at it. I’m not going to do anything that it going to harm the long-term success of our group.”
The Canucks got off to a very hot, top of the league start in their after their first few games. One month later, they find themselves near the bottom. Comparing the start of the season to now, there must have been something that triggered the large fall-out. Coaching has always been a concern amongst Canucks fans, and Willie Desjardins’ deployment of some players has also raised eyebrows. More recently, the significant struggles of the team have lead to some fans calling for a release of the head coach, while others have insisted on staying patient and letting the team recapture their game.
Jim Benning on coaching: “I think they’ve done a good job. We asked them to play with more structure and discipline and we’ve showed that right now. We’re not giving up a lot of chances. The games are close but we have to figure out another way – whether it be on the power-play or 5-on-5 – to get to the net longer and get some dirty goals. Overall, they’ve done a good job.”
It’s safe to say Troy Stecher has been a pleasant surprise this season. Should he have been given an opening-night roster spot? Some, if not most, would say yes because he’s a puck-mover and has looked very steady defensively. Stecher is on a two-way contract, meaning the Canucks can call him up and send him down to Utica seamlessly. With the NHL expansion draft occurring at the end of the season, it appears that Luca Sbisa and Alex Biega, who are both on one-way contracts, will likely be exposed for Las Vegas. With that being said, one might say that the draft is also a reason as to why Troy Stecher is not a full-time Canuck.
Jim Benning on Stecher: “He’s coming from college hockey where they’re only playing on Friday and Saturday nights. For him to learn the pro game (through Utica) and play three or four games a week is a good learning experience for him. It’s good for us because, if we have injuries, he’s a guy we can call up and know he is going to be good.”
There have been rumours that the underlying root cause of the Canucks’ playoff mentality has been the ownership group. I view this thought as being a sensitive situation because owning a professional sports team is an immensely massive investment. I know I have no right to judge or interpret how the Aquilinis oversee the Canucks, so I will just let Jim Benning do the talking.
Jim Benning on the Aquilini ownership group: “Francesco (Aquilini) is a really good owner. He lets us do what we need to do to try to be competitive. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him, he doesn’t interfere with anything that we’re doing. He’s supportive and he’s a great owner.”
And finally… here is Benning’s message to the fans that are understandably impatient and frustrated:
“Just be patient with us. We want to be competitive and we’ve showed that. Once we start scoring, these losses that we’ve suffered will turn into wins.”
Source: TSN 1040