The Canucks currently sit 27th in the NHL, ahead of Toronto, Colorado, and Arizona. For a majority of this season, it’s been win-one-lose-one. The team is 6-3-1 in their last 10 games – a significant improvement of what was once 0-8-1. Playing alongside Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi appears to have revitalized Alex Burrows, and injuries to the likes of Jannik Hansen, Chris Tanev, and Alex Edler have arguably taken a toll on the front and back ends. The presence of veterans has an obvious beneficial impact on the team, which reinforces management’s thinking in that the young players need mentors.
Jim Benning was on TSN 1040 this morning to discuss some recent, eye-catching statements that he made earlier this week. This interview was very much focused on the team’s future and management’s plans, eventually hinting at the idea that the Canucks’ re-tooling phase may be over.
The NHL Expansion Draft will take place on June 21st. Numerous mock drafts have already taken place, and the general consensus is the Canucks will be protecting Daniel Sedin (NMC), Henrik Sedin (NMC), Loui Eriksson (NMC), Brandon Sutter, Bo Horvat, Jannik Hansen, Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, Erik Gudbranson, Jacob Markstrom and one of Sven Baertschi or Marcus Granlund.
With regards to Baertschi/Granlund, Jim Benning gave up important assets, a 2nd-round pick and Hunter Shinkaruk, to acquire the two players. By the looks of it, one will be exposed and one will be protected. Exposure does not necessarily mean either of the two will be drafted, but it does make the possibility more realistic.
Benning on exposing players for the Expansion Draft: “We’ll continue to watch our players. I would expect, this year at the trade deadline, there to be a lot of moves made with the eye on expansion. We’re going to continue to monitor our players, watch them, and evaluate them. Once we get to the trade deadline, we can make some decisions on them.”
Going into the 2017 NHL Draft, the Canucks have five picks. Their 6th-rounder goes to the New York Rangers as a result of the Emerson Etem trade, and a 4th or 5th will go to Edmonton for the aquisition of Philip Larsen’s rights. As a so-called “draft guru”, one would think that Jim Benning covets draft picks like no other. Since his first season in 2014, the number of draft picks held have not increased as a result of trades, but rather remained static or decreased. Benning has frequently expressed his desire to acquire more picks, but never fully lived up to his word.
Benning on adding draft picks: “That’s one thing we looked at. If we could add more picks, we’d look to do that. I’m not trading any of the picks we have. We’re at a pretty good place. Our defence is young, we got some players in the 22-27, 28-year range. We have to work with the guys we have and continue to draft well. Thatcher Demko is playing excellent in Utica. Jake, you know, has a good attitude and is working hard and his game is improving. With the Juolevis and the Boesers, we’ve got some real good young players. We have to be patient and work with the group we have.”
Earlier this week, Jim Benning spoke to Jason Botchford with regards to the idea of trading players with No-Trade Clauses. Benning said, “I’m not doing it. I’m not going to any one of them to ask them to waive their no-trades. If they come to me, I will accommodate and find a trade.”
Coming from a General Manager whose goal has been to get younger, his words brewed discussions in the media. On the Pat Cast yesterday, Botchford had made the point of saying Benning “had an agenda and wanted it out there and to be known.” Derek Dorsett was the initial topic of discussion, then Benning brought up the subject of No-trade Clauses. For some, his intention to make it public and know may be a little odd. If an underlying goal was to generate a topic of discussion, he succeeded.
Current players with No-Trade/No-Move Clauses: Henrik Sedin & Daniel Sedin (36), Loui Eriksson (31), Alex Burrows (35), Brandon Sutter (27), Jannik Hansen (30), Alex Edler (30), Chris Tanev (26; NTC effective next summer), Ryan Miller (36).
Benning on going public about not trading players with NTCs: “There’s a couple reasons why I wanted to put it out there about not trading guys with no-trade contracts. The first reason is I wanted to be honest with our players and fans about not asking players to waive their no-trade contracts. The other reason is I want to try to limit the unnecessary distractions so our players can focus on getting better and winning games.”
In previous seasons, Jim Benning was adamant in simply stating that NTCs were a non-issue. He was not afraid to approach players to waive, and he stuck to his word. He traded the likes of Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison, Ryan Kesler, and also discussed the possibility with Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata at last year’s trade deadline. This is a reason as to why his comments to Jason Botchford appear out of the ordinary.
Benning on why he won’t ask players to waive: “The players we have left with no-trade clauses are some of our best players and are important to the development of our best players. Alex Edler has helped our young defensemen break into the league. Alex Burrows has helped Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi get to the next step of their games. The players are experienced players and help drive us winning. We’ve moved some no-trade contracts the last few years, but the players we have left are important veteran players who bring our team experience and leadership. We’re going to keep them.
Ouch. When I first heard his response, Benning makes it seem as if Bieksa, Hamhuis, and Kesler were not “important veteran players who bring our team experience and leadership.” I’m sure it was not his intention, but it would be hard to argue that it won’t prompt some questions about his thinking. Looking at his comments, it would be hard to defend the idea that Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis did not possess leadership qualities and experience. What Benning said may anger or confuse some individuals, while others may believe that he took the necessary steps to achieve his ‘get younger but surround them with leadership’ goal. Some of the aging core had to move on, and he decided that it would be the players mentioned above. He further added:
“(Even if not in playoff contention at the trade deadline) I’m not going to ask (players to waive). The players we have left are the best players on our team and the leaders on our team. If a player comes to me and says ‘You know, I’m at the end of my career and I want a chance to win the Stanley Cup,’ I’ll try to figure something out to play on a team that can win. If they come to me, I’ll try to help them out. But I’m not going to any of the players to ask them to waive their no-trade contracts.”
For some, confusion would be an appropriate word to describe what is happening. One year, Benning says he’s not afraid to ask players to waive, the next he says he won’t approach them. A few weeks ago, he was on record in saying he would be willing to trade a defenseman to acquire a goal-scorer. One could say that idea is now thrown out given the fact that the most valuable defensemen have an NTC or are young and emerging. Management had previously expressed their desire to enter the marketplace for the bonafide scorer, but then Trevor Linden recently told Frank Seravalli, “There’s not anything from the outside, via trade, that’s going to change anything from us. There’s no easy answer from the outside. We’ve got to find the find the answers from within.” It can be argued that management’s sudden change in thinking may be a result of the following:
1) The marketplace has seen a quick and dramatic change in teams’ supply, demand, and objectives
2) Canucks management and ownership is happy with the current group, thus clearing any ideas of adding a significant piece to the puzzle
3) This is another instance of the mixed messages being sent
Regardless, when Jim Benning first became GM, he stated the need to create and develop the next core to succeed the Sedin era. Based on this interview, it appears as if he’s reached the finish line. Over the past few seasons, there have been several additions and subtractions to the roster and organization. It was out with the old and in with the new – while still keeping some of the old. Moving key veterans in Bieksa, Hamhuis, and Kesler has allows Benning to bring in the likes of Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson, and Sven Baertschi. This fresh mix of veterans and youth is the new core they had initially hoped to create, and now they frequently have emphasized the need for patience. Whether you like it or not, it appears as if the new core is locked and developing to hopefully contend for the Stanley Cup.