Canucks’ Deadline Moves Are Symptomatic of an Organization That Lacks Direction

The Vancouver Canucks are a ship without a rudder; lost at sea, drifting aimlessly in the wind, and captained by a man who prays to God the ship washes up on the shores of friendly territory.

What other conclusions could you possibly come to after analyzing the organization’s moves over the last week?

First, the Canucks locked up a bottom-pairing defenceman in Erik Gudbranson to a three-year deal that will pay him 12 million dollars and expire as he’s nearing 30-years-old. This had a two-pronged effect. Not only did they attach more money and term to a sunk cost, but they also kissed their best tradeable asset at this year’s deadline goodbye.

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With Gudbranson off the market, that meant the team’s most valuable trade chip became Thomas Vanek. Vanek went to Florida for a pick last season, and many fans had hoped the Canucks could fetch a similar return to the one Detroit managed just one year ago.

Instead, they ended up with Tyler Motte and a negative value asset in Jussi Jokinen. Depending on how you look at it, that’s either an indictment of the team’s negotiating skills or of the talent they’ve brought in over the past few seasons.

They also acquired Brendan Leipsic in what could be described as a great deal in a vacuum, but one that really does nothing to move the needle for them in the big picture.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking bets on Leipsic and Motte. One could even argue Leipsic is precisely the type of bet worth taking for a team that is ostensibly rebuilding.

But when you take a big picture outlook, there are a couple of problems.

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The Canucks, by even the most generous predictions, need at least another two seasons before they’ll look like a team that can win a playoff round.

Leipsic will be 24 this May. Motte is a stone’s throw away from turning 23. Both players will require waivers at some point next season. They aren’t a few years away. They were acquired to help the team in the here and now, and if they aren’t contributing next season.

By any reasonable measure, the ceiling on Motte and Leipsic is a pair of middle-six wingers. They’ll be approaching 26 and 27 respectively by the time the team is competitive, and again, that’s being generous.

26 and 27-year-old players aren’t cost-controlled. They get paid, which means that the most significant potential value these players have will have been squandered by the time the team enters their competitive window. This is just one of the reasons many in this market would have preferred to see the team go after picks: not only would a potential future NHL’er from the 2018 draft be peaking at around the same time as players like Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi, they’d also still be on entry-level contracts or second contracts.

There’s also the question of upside. It’s undeniable that players like Motte on average have a better chance of turning out than your average mid-to-late round pick. But to borrow an analogy from Jason Hamilton, these players are like Scratch & Win tickets, whereas draft picks are like playing the Powerball. A Scratch & Win may pay out more often, but that’s because you’re usually getting $5 or another free ticket when you win. Your chances of winning the Powerball are much lower, but if you get lucky enough, you can become a multi-millionaire overnight. (Or, in hockey terms, you can land the next Johnny Gaudreau or Jamie Benn.)

The Canucks should be targeting draft picks for a myriad of reasons, many of which have been discussed at length by CanucksArmy in the past. The refrain that Jim Benning is supposedly a master at the draft table but doesn’t seem to like draft picks has been expressed ad nauseam in this market, but it bears repeating. The Canucks’ best asset is their amateur scouting, their pro scouting has been spotty at best; and in almost every draft, at least one bonafide cornerstone player slips through the cracks into the late rounds. The more picks you have, the better your chance of landing that player. Sure, there’s a greater chance your fifth round pick doesn’t even turn into Motte, but rebuilding teams don’t get anywhere by being conservative. At some point, you have to swing for the fences.

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That’s assuming picks were ever on the table, though. And if you believe the Canucks, that wasn’t the case. The statements made by management after the deadline passed were clear as day: the team wasn’t offered a draft pick for Vanek. Given the talking points Linden and Benning had stuck to leading up to the deadline, it’s entirely believable. The message seemed to be that the team wasn’t going to be aggressively shopping any pieces, and would instead be taking calls and listening to offers. Therein lies the problem: you’re allowed to ask for things. That’s how negotiations work. It’s not unreasonable to suggest the team could have had a better return for Vanek if they had been more aggressive in targeting that return.

What’s equally possible is that the Canucks track record with trades under the Benning-Linden regime has undermined their efforts at the negotiating table.

From the most recent edition of Jason Botchford’s Provies:

This was Benning last week:

“We want to do hockey trades. We have some UFAs to see if there’s interest in them and the point I was trying to make is there a hockey trade to be made for somebody with size and strength, who can play in our top nine.”

OK, fair enough.

But consider this question:

If Benning announces to the NHL the Canucks are looking for hockey trades, why the hell would any team offer a draft pick?

Take CBJ.

If you show your cards and say you want hockey trades, and CBJ knows you have a history of taking 22-23 year old players, of course they’re going to play hardball with this knowledge.

Of course they’re going to say, here’s the player, take him or leave him.

And if you really want him, you have to take Jussi too.

The return on the Vanek deal looks even worse when you consider the team’s messaging after their deadline debacle two years ago. Wasn’t the whole point of refusing to take a lukewarm return on Dan Hamhuis so that the team wouldn’t get lowballed in the future?

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At this point, it’s fair to ask: what the hell is this team’s plan? There’s mounting evidence to suggest it’s to continue to try and be competitive in the short-term. Signing Loui Eriksson; re-signing Gudbranson. And now, trading your best chip for a plug-and-play AHL/NHL tweener and the corpse of Jussi Jokinen.

Take an honest look at the moves the team has made over the past four years. Sure, the drafting has been good, but there are far more moves that say “we’re trying to compete now” than “we’re building for the future.” That should be a big red flag at this stage. The Canucks are en route to their third straight bottom-five finish — any attempts to stay competitive have been an abject failure.

In a vacuum, many of the moves the Canucks have made in recent memory are entirely defensible. Acquiring players like Motte and failing to target draft picks in trades won’t make or break anybody. But when a team has spent three seasons in the toilet, they have to do better than a handful of reclamation projects. The constant emphasis put on these types of assets isn’t the root of their problems, but it’s symptomatic of a larger issue: the Canucks don’t seem to know what their long-term goal is.

They have players coming. Pettersson looks to be the real deal. Juolevi could be a cornerstone in the team’s top four for years to come. Kole Lind, Jonathan Dahlen, and Adam Gaudette could form the nucleus of an effective middle-six group. Only time will tell.

A rudderless ship that hasn’t set a course can still wash up somewhere beautiful.

But it’s far more likely it sinks long before the crew can even see land.

  • NucksLifer

    I’ve been lurking on this site for a while and generally appreciate the thought that goes into the articles. This article was the straw that finally drove me to sign up to post.

    I feel like the group-think at CA is negatively affecting the product. We all get that you don’t agree with what Benning is doing but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a plan or, quite frankly, that the CA plan would be an improvement (or even possible, in some respects). The trade deadline debate is an object example.

    Jackson suggests that “its not unreasonable to suggest the team could have had a better return for Vanek if they have been more aggressive in targeting that return.” The fact is that none of us, including Jackson, know how “aggressive” the Canucks now. What we DO know is that Benning has since said that they wanted picks but failed to secure a deal for picks. Why on God’s green earth would Benning admit to such a failure if he didn’t actually try very hard to get a pick? Why wouldn’t he just say – “We think reclamation projects are just as good as lower picks?”. You, and the other writers on this site, so frequently invent facts and impute motivations with little or no support.

    There are other obvious logical flaws in the piece but nobody wants to read a rambling comment. I’ll just pose one question: has anyone at CA attempted to assess the percentage chance that a young reclamation project like Motte (with a decent resume) becomes an impact player and compare it the percentage chance of a 5th rounder becoming one?

    (bonus question: what is the chance that Motte or Leipsic perform so well in the next year that they can be traded for something better than a 5th rounder at next years’ deadline?)

    • tru north

      Wow! Thank you for expressing what I believe a lot of the readership here feel. We get that CA writers disagree with the majority of Canucks management moves and ‘plan’ … we take offense at being told over and over that it’s WRONG, doesn’t exist and that the CA way is WITHOUT DOUBT better and the only way! It’s even worse when we think about how little real information CA has about the details of trade negotiations … opinions, best guesses or pipe dreams? For a website that prides itself on numbers, scientific methodology and measurable data this is debauched.

    • TD

      Welcome Nuckslifer! I seriously suspect the CA authors write to enflame the readers so that they feel compelled to post. CA is a business trying to make money. The more they rile up the readers, the more people post and then return to read and respond to comments. All that leads to more traffic on the site which attracts advertisers and allows CA to charge more for advertising space. I wouldn’t doubt that some of the authors also post under a variety of names to stir the flames. So well I’m saying welcome NucksLifer, I’m also saying you may have been had… Join the group.

    • Sharpshooter

      I think your bonus question is spot on, as both could be on expiring contracts next year, (provided they are not extended early) and Leipsic especially is the type of player that could be more valuable come playoff time.

  • Killer Marmot

    This is overblown. I think people are taking their frustration over the last few seasons out on this one event, and it doesn’t warrant it.

    Coming up to the deadline, everyone knew that the rent-a-player market was going to be anemic. Benning can not force other teams into trades, so he took what he could get. It’s disappointing, but there obviously was not a big demand for Vanek, and there would have been even less demand for Gudbranson.

    • harmbasi

      This. This site really likes to get people riled up. They intentionally troll people with their articles. They really seem to hate Benning and Linden, so they will keep posting negative articles no matter what the topic is as long as they get to bash the leadership.

      • tyhee

        When the team management says year after year that their goal is to make the playoffs every year, then proceeds to finish near the bottom for three years running, negative articles are inevitable. The performance of management outside of the draft is dismal and inside the draft better, but how much better remains to be seen in the future.

        I really have a tough time understanding all the management defenders who are surprised that after years of worse than mediocre results and trades and signings that were predicted to turn out badly largely turning out badly (yes, there are some exceptions) that a blog that exists for analysis makes negative comments.

        Are they supposed to write articles about how great it is that the Canucks couldn’t get a pick at the deadline, about how great it is that the Canucks signed Eriksson, about how great it is to see empty seats and how great it is to lose while clearly trying to win immediately?

    • Jackson McDonald

      In a sense, I agree with you. But that’s part of what I’m getting at. People aren’t just reacting to the deadline. They’re also reacting to every other move that led up to it. They’re reacting to what the move seems to indicate about the organization’s plan. I think for a lot of people, every perceived misstep becomes a part of a tapestry of ineptitude

      • Killer Marmot

        If you listed all of Benning’s dealings over the last year or so, most of them were either good or defensible. I thought he overpaid for Gudbranson, and I’m not a Sam Gagner fan (although I know it was part of a successful attempt to bolster the power play), but those were the only things I’d like a do-over on.

      • Super Pest

        You’re not alone Jackson. And here’s the real reason I died as a fan of the regime: Mr. Benning admitted to a change in direction last trade deadline when two favourites were traded. THAT was the moment fans believed the rebuild was officially on. The old guard had been given another opportunity to ride into the playoff sunset… and failed. Goldobin and Dahlen became the poster boys for “we are officially rebuilding.” Out with the old and in with the new… including a new coach for our youth. Then? Gagner, DJ MDZ, and Vanek signed. WTF? No worries. We can trade Vanek and Gudbranson, right? Well… let’s resign EG and sit younger d-men. Let’s have Virtanen become 10-Minute Jake. Goldobin? Boucher? Holm?

        What seemed promising a year ago had become the “Retool on the Fly” Part II.

        Next? Wait for it: Evander Kane 7×7

        • Chris the Curmudgeon

          I think that’s a really good point, and speaks well to the “rudderless” theme. We kept hearing how the fans won’t buy into the rebuild (false, but ok). Then, they signal that, OK, the rebuild is on, and fans are annoyed if only because we’ve watched the team sputter under the “quick turnaround” when we should have been rebuilding. And then, after shipping out some favorites and rekindling hope of a youth movement, we’re back to veteran contracts and reclamation projects instead of draft picks.

      • Cageyvet

        A tapestry of ineptitude……sounds like the tag line for CA’s brand of journalism. I heard actual professionals on the radio today discussing the media who cover the Canucks needing to be fair, balanced and accountable in their coverage. This site rarely hits the mark on any of those traits, much less all three. Once again, a “how can you arrive at any other conclusion” article instead of an “in my opinion” article. There’s two sides to every story (some would say three), unless it’s printed here.

    • LAKID

      Come on the Nuk’s didn’t have anything to trade after they signed Gudbranson to a 3 year deal @$4million. Do you think Mary-Kate and Ashley get that contract from Benning? I think it will be close.

  • Jamie E

    Rudderless or moving in a direction you disagree with? Benning has consistently demonstrated that he likes betting on existing prospects that are undervalued by the teams that picked them. One could even postulate that in a league where GMs are obsessed with the value of draft picks that players like Motte and Leipsic represent a market inefficiency worth exploiting.

    • Jamie E

      Let’s take the example of Canucks Army darling Jonathan Marchessault. He is 27 years old. He didn’t have have his breakthrough season until he was 25 turning 26 in Florida. Was Florida a directionless franchise because they took a a chance on him at that age?

      • NucksLifer

        This Blackhawks blog listed Motte as their #8 prospect in September 2016 – https://www.secondcityhockey.com/2016/9/23/13030878/chicago-blackhawks-top-prospect-rankings-list-tiers-nick-schmaltz-gustav-forsling

        They put Motte in the third tier with Hinostroza (currently playing on the Hawks’ first line with Toews and Saad), Hartman (just traded for a 1st round pick, a 4th round pick and a good prospect…in other words the proverbial CA orgasm) and Pokka (since traded to the Sens – hasn’t panned out yet).

        Of course, chances are that Motte won’t break out like Hinostroza or Hartman, but can anyone really argue that this was a bad bet by Benning given the alternatives?

          • Cageyvet

            Totally agree with truthseeker, Jamie E and the “lifers” aren’t blinded by stats or a negative bias, and aren’t looking through rose-coloured glasses either. Nobody is saying these moves are game changers, but the backlash is so out of line it’s crazy. For those of you buying into it, please take the time to respond to their extremely valid points against the CA stat-lines and the negativity fueled by certain media members and trolls.

            Don’t take a chance on any of these guys? Wasn’t this the same site who advocated signing every waiver wire player 2 years ago? Isn’t this the same franchise who built the West Coast Express from exactly this type of player? Thankfully their posts are being given many cheers, I was beginning to think real hockey fans in this city were a dying breed.

      • Jamie E

        But of course, CA has a model that says forwards are washed up by the time they are 24 even though Henrik Sedin had his best statistical season by far when he was 29 and Daniel Sedin had his best statistical season by far when he was 30. Indeed, Daniel and Henrik didn’t really produce “at a first line rate” until they were 25.

      • NucksLifer

        I totally agree.

        Marchessault is a perfect example for the question I raised in my previous comment. What is the percentage chance that Motte, who obviously has some skill (was ranked as Chicago’s 8th best prospect a year or so ago) turns into a “Marchessault” versus the chance that a 2018 4th or 5th round pick turns into a “Marchessault” (with the Canucks)?

        (Leaving out the fact that the Canucks were, as far as any of us know, unable to secure a 4th or a 5th)

        In the circumstances, it seems to me that Benning pivoted at the last minute and got what he could – more than nothing.

  • Holly Wood

    30 other NHL organizations disagree with your assessment that Thomas Vanek was a valuable trade asset. He performed well above expectations here this season but the other GM’s didn’t feel that was enough to give up anything. To get Motte and see what he may do is not as much of a crap shoot as say a 6th or 7th round pick.

      • Killer Marmot

        Holm will become a restricted free agent this summer. The Golden Knights have the right to match any counter offers, which tend to be very rare anyway.

        Vanek will become an unrestricted free agent, and Columbus will have no advantage over any other club in signing him.

        That may be why the Canucks got more for Holm.

  • TD

    Yawn, another article of the same, the management sucks and does not have a plan.

    Here’s an alternate theory. Bo and Boeser are top 6 forwards. Baertschi could also be considered a top 6 forward. If 3 of Petterson, Dahlen, Gaudette, Lind, Gadjovich and/or any of their other prospects now or in the next year or two also become top 6 forwards then the team has all they need.

    Bottom 6 players play a bit of a different role but are still important to a team. Do you think the Canucks can win the cup with Sutter, Archibald, Gagner, Gaunce, Granlund and the others as their bottom 6. Or should they look for better bottom 6 forwards that will make the team more competitive. Vanek has been a top 6 forward on most teams he has played for throughout his career. His reputation is as a productive one way scorer. He had no value at the deadline because he is not good enough to be on the top 6 of a competitive team and does not have the skill set to be effective in a bottom 6 role. If either Motte or Liepsic become a solid bottom 6 player that helps the Canucks win for the next 6-8 years, then this was a steal and an upgrade on the players they currently have in those roles.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      We’ll put you down in the “half full” column then. What do you have to say about signing a bottom pairing defensemen with amongst the worst metrics in the entire NHL to a 12 million $ deal. Just wondering how that fits your analysis.Also, Baertschi plays like a top 6 guy once in every 5 games. And not at all when he’s not on the Horvat line.

      • TD

        Yes half full is accurate, which is also half empty. I am not a fan of many of the moves that have been made by this GM, but also recognize that not everything is bad.