Photo Credit: Matthew Henderson

Monday Mailbag: Trades, Historically Bad Teams, and Boiling Frogs

I’m going to say Michael Del Zotto. He’s on the last year of his contract and possesses a few of the qualities playoff teams tend to look for at the deadline. I would add Anders Nilsson to that list for the same reason, but given how poorly he played towards the end of last year and in the preseason, I don’t imagine he’ll look attractive to many teams.

It’s not a terrible idea, but I’m sympathetic to the theory that pro and amateur scouting require different skill sets. In amateur scouting, you’re acquiring a player for what they could be. In pro scouting, with a few exceptions, you’re acquiring them for what they already are. Teams get themselves in trouble when those wires get crossed.

I’d imagine they’d waive Alex Biega given his role. As far as who deserves it? Take your pick. Other than Chris Tanev, Alex Edler, and Troy Stecher, no one has played well enough to feel comfortable.

Does the preseason count as a type of season?

For three straight summers, the Canucks have given significant money and term to free agents. Teams that are intentionally trying to lose don’t go out and sign players for four years. They just don’t. Believe it or not, every move the Canucks make is with the belief that it will make the team better.

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We can only hope so and it can’t come soon enough.

The Canucks best chance of appearing halfway-respectable next season is to put Horvat and Baertschi on a line together, with Boeser and Pettersson on another. That gives them two lines that should be able to produce offence, and puts the team’s most proven goal scorer with the less-established centre. Offensively, I think that’s the path most likely to lead them to some level of success at even-strength this season.

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The worst goal differential in league history was an astonishing -265 by the 1974-75 Washington Capitals. To put that in perspective, the highest scoring team last season, the Tampa Bay Lightning, scored a total of 290 goals. It’s inconceivable that the Canucks could match that level of ineptitude.

The Sens are the early favourite to be the worst team in the league, but the Canadiens, Sabres, Red Wings, Islanders, and even the Blackhawks could all feasibly give them a run for their money. Over an 82-game season it’s conceivable that the Canucks could be better than two to four but definitely not all six of those teams. Knowing their luck they will probably finish somewhere around 27th or 28th and draft roughly in the same spot they did this year.

Watching the Canucks over the past five years or so has been like watching someone conduct a painfully slow boiling frog experiment in real time. In this instance, the fans are the frog, and the pot is the team, and the boiling water is the series of increasingly poor roster decisions. It’s not a perfect metaphor, but you get the idea.

If you read the right publications, follow the right people on twitter, or listen to the right radio programs, you know people have been saying the water has been getting warmer for years; the fans, however- not all of them, but a dedicated contingency- have said otherwise. At some point you have to accept that if they had the ability to tell they were going to boil alive they’d have jumped out by now.

Over the past four years, the Canucks’ front office has been a lot like the players they’ve targeted in trades or free agency (though not at the draft, to their credit). They do a lot of little things that kill you over long period of time, but they tend not to make the kind of decisions that can be immediately diagnosed as mistakes. The bad contracts will undeniably cost the team in the long run, but until they take an obvious and immediate “L” in a transaction, it’s hard to see anyone changing their minds.

I think for the die-hards to really turn on the front office, they would have to seriously bungle a trade in Subban-for-Weber or Hall-for-Larsson fashion. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, slow process of gradually realizing the team isn’t getting better even when they should be; and that could take years.

  • Burnabybob

    “In this instance, the fans are the frog, and the pot is the team, and the boiling water is the series of increasingly poor roster decisions.”

    Give it a rest already. I enjoy this site, but the endless negativity can be pretty tough to swallow. Benning has made some mistakes, but he’s also made some very good moves. And even with consistently crappy luck at the draft lottery, they have consistently drafted well. In the end, that’s the key to a successful rebuild.

    • Better analogy would be that when Benning inherited the team, it was a pot of stale stew. Benning didn’t have the option of just tossing it and starting over because people still needed to be fed. So he scraped up whatever he had since the cupboards were bare and started acquiring good ingredients over time. Some of the ingredients managed to make the top ingredients-that-aren’t-in-a-stew-yet list but he didn’t get credit for it by hungry CA commenters. In fact, some commenters were so hungry that they were outright delusional by demanding food that only existed in their minds. It’s rare for ingredients to be ready to be added to the pot straight from the store, some marinating is necessary but you don’t want to over-marinade them like the cooks in Detroit. Benning is just starting to add his prime ingredients and phasing out the stop-gap ingredients. When Benning has substantially added his best ingredients, maybe we can win some cooking awards.

  • North Van Halen

    Or maybe, just maybe some of us realized 8 years of drafting 1 NHL player was going to lead to pain and a bottoming out. We also realized the Sedins stood in the way of a full rebuild.
    Maybe, those of us who have been patient with Benning realize there’s much more nuance to this rebuild than you or any of the bloggers would admit without having to admit maybe you’re not the smartest people ever.
    Maybe some of us are judging the team by what we think the team will look like going into 2020 and we aren’t caught up in worrying about poor results along the way.
    I know you guys think if you tell the supporters enough times that we just don’t get it you can come across as so much smarter but we do. We just believe no amount of tinkering, whining or ‘smart’ moves was going to fix the 8 years of blank drafting in a short period.
    Benning fixed the, by far, not even close, most important thing that needed fixing, amateur scouting, drafting and prospect evaluation. He has taken us from 5 players with NHL aspirations under 25 to more than 35. This is why we give him the latitude
    we have to this point.
    That said, if the preseason leaks into the regular season for long, he’ll be out of a job by Xmas and I won’t be at all sad.

  • North Van Halen

    Oh and Benning literally said he signed the FA’s to protect the kids not to make the playoffs. Those were his exact words. Why do you lie and say it isnt?

      • Whatthe...

        He wouldn’t be doing his job if he didn’t inquire. Additionally. the news of the Canucks’ level of interest in those two players came from the TMZ section of the media.

        • liqueur des fenetres

          So Friedman = TMZ??
          As for this “alleged inquiry” you reference, why wouldn’t JT’s agent contact every single team to let them know the terms of the auction? Re: EK, that deal was only getting done once they were sure JT was signing (so never).

      • Defenceman Factory

        How often are you going to keep posting this gossip? We all heard the rumours. Intelligent people dismissed them as rumours or simply as inquiries on what it might take.

        You have zero evidence the canucks made anything like a credible offer on either of these players.

      • Both the Province and Sportnet have run articles saying that Benning wasn’t in on either player. I tried posting links but the comment section won’t take them.

        Sportnet John Shannon: “Quick conversation with Canucks’ GM Jim Benning, says there is no truth to the Canucks being in the Karlsson trade conversation.”

        Province Patrick Johnston: “Where we are at in rebuilding, I don’t know if it makes sense to have a player who makes that much money,” he said on Monday morning. “We didn’t really pursue it.”

  • Whatthe...

    Now CanucksArmy is playing the long game with their Benning hate haha. His job is much more secure than people think and he is going to get at least two more years to show progress.

  • Puck Viking

    LE, Beagle and Rousel = 4 more years at 12 million per season. These players could have been not been signed and replacement parts from the AHL or cheap UFAs on year deals could have been signed and the difference in on ice product would have been almost nothing.

    As to how FA doesnt see that he is basically tossing away 15 million per season(add Gagner) this year and next on spare parts is beyond me. Even if you spent 5 million per to replace those players you are tossing 10 million a year in the garbage especially when signings like this make fans not want to go to the games.

    You have to sell a lot of seats to equal 10 million dollars. Not to mention how these signings will negatively impact the club in a few years time when Petterson and Boeser need to get paid.

  • Defenceman Factory

    Jim Benning is not a great GM. Virtually no one believes he is. The next GM will get most of the credit for the parts of his job Jim did well and he has done some parts extremely well. I know there are a few people that don’t believe Benning is a good scout but his accomplishments go deeper than simply the players picked under his watch. He has implemented a scouting and amateur player evaluation system which has transformed an historically bad scouting department into at least a respectable one.

    The most vocal Benning critics attribute every move to Benning and pretend to understand his motivations for making them. Others less critical of Benning aren’t defending his every move as the Ericksson signing and Gudbranson trade were dismissible offences. Combine that with a rather long list of inflated contract values given and the “retool on the fly” debacle it’s surprising he is still here. Benning wasn’t fired, he was re-signed. I believe this is an indication he was not solely responsible for all of the poor moves made by the organization.

    As one who has tried to be patient with this regime and suspicious of the role Linden and ownership played in decisions I view this next year as squarely on Benning. He might survive one more coaching change (Willie was a Linden hire and it’s not clear how sold Benning is on Green) but if some of the veterans don’t get moved out and this year’s trade deadline is uneventful even those of us less convinced of Jim’s incompetence will lose patience.

    I don’t believe Benning ever had any intent of shooting for the playoffs this year. Despite the angst about cost and term he upgraded the bottom six with solid veterans and brought back what everyone knows is a weak defence and mediocre goaltending. Two things which need huge upgrades to shoot for the playoffs. Benning has also left the top 6 wide open for the young guys to win their spots. He decided to wait on prospects. Now if he makes the right moves this year to stock up of D prospects and gets some lottery luck for a change Benning could win over some supporters.

    I don’t expect Benning to last until this team is truly competitive again and maybe his pro scouting is just too poor to get the team there. When he leaves I hope Brackett stays.

    • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

      Jim Benning is a Head of Scouting completely miscast as an NHL GM. Amateur scouting is all he is decent at. It’s all anybody can point to in mentioning positive things he has accomplished in his time here. Take the pay cut and find somebody with previous GM experience who is actually good at ALL THE OTHER things that an NHL GM needs to be good at to be successful. Like communication, trades, contract negotiations, professional valuation of players…

      • Freud

        Except it’s pretty clear from video from the draft table that Judd Brackett makes the draft picks, not Benning.

        So if you take away the myth that Benning is decent at amateur scouting, what’s left?

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      I think Benning is a mediocre, but not outright terrible GM. The thing is that I come to mediocre only by averaging because some things he’s downright brutal at, and others he’s actually done fairly well. So they average out.

      • It would help if Benning would stop trying to appease others. For example, he said that he traded for Linden Vey because Desjardins asked for him. And he acquired Gudbranson to “give the fans something”. He signed Eriksson to try to give the Sedins one last kick at the can. If we could just those 3 moves, I bet a lot of Benning haters wouldn’t be so hard on him. We can’t go back in time but hopefully he can focus on the team overall over the terms of his current contract.

    • Burnabybob

      Until Jared McCann demonstrates that he is a franchise cornerstone, I think the Gudbranson trade will be a tempest in a teapot. Kind of like the Hodgson for Kassian trade- big deal at the time, but inconsequential in the long run.

      The Louis Eriksson signing looks pretty bad. I will admit to that.

      • Defenceman Factory

        I’m less concerned about the assets given up in the Gudbranson trade than I am about the actual play of Gudbranson. The notion of trading McCann for a RHD that plays well in your top six and perhaps top 4 was definitely the right move to make. Thinking that should be Gudbranson not so much.

  • Macksonious

    Benning obviously hasn’t been perfect as a GM, definitely not above criticism. The Gudbranson trade and the Eriksson contract for example were both terrible moves.

    With that stated, some of the negativity about his performance gets a bit much. He inherited Horvat as the only good prospect and no quality young players on the roster in 2014. Also inherited the Kesler situation and many other aging vets with no trade clauses. He also had to deal with an owner who wanted to retool on the fly instead of rebuilding. Difficult circumstances.

    Despite those challenges, he’s manged to do a nice job rebuilding the prospect pool and farm system. Its a significant accomplishment which shouldn’t be understated, considering the teams history in this regard.

    All things considered, he deserves to be cut some slack.

    • Puck Viking

      The amount of poor trades and signings is alarming.

      Dont forget all the 2nd rounders that he gave away for years. Look at the players who could/would be on this team if those 2nds werent given away.

      • North Van Halen

        Please list all the bad trades. I’ll even start and give ya Guddy. I’m not in the camp the Sutter trade was terrible but I’ll even give ya that one too. Now list all those bad trades and please focus on the last 3 years when they weren’t trying to make another run for the Sedins (Aquilini).

        • truthseeker

          not to mention the straight out lie of saying crap like “all the second rounders”. He’s got a net loss of I think 2 second rounders at most. And that’s if you ignore the return of a 3rd rounder.

          There people go again rehashing fictions based on stories that were straight out proven to be BS, as truths.

          • Macksonious

            If memory serves correct, the only second rounder Benning ever squandered was the one he acquired in the Garrison trade. He used that in exchange for Linden Vey.

  • The Blackhawks aren’t what they once were, but they still have a top six featuring Kane, Toews, Saad, and Debrincat, and a defensive core anchored by Duncan Keith. The depth behind those players isn’t nearly what it used to be, and Crawford’s career may be unfortunately over, but a team with that much talent is not challenging for 31st.

      • Dirty30

        Unless they look at what happened here and trade their aging stars while they still have value.

        Imagine you’ve got Toews here instead of Sutter … or Kane instead of Eriksson or Crawford instead of Markstrom. The Canucks don’t have the assets to make that happen, but teams that are close and could particularly if Chicago retains some salary.

        • If they decide to go full rebuild and convince their stars to waive their NMCs, then sure. As the roster is currently constructed, though, they’ll probably miss the playoffs, but they’re definitely not in the conversation for worst team in the league.

    • Dinsdale

      …Hope it doesn’t turn into “a defensive core ‘anchored’ by Keith AND Seabrook’s massive, multiyear contracts that see them comfortably through their 30s.”

  • TheRealPB

    I think you’re overestimating the patience of fans or our ability to influence what happens with this team. The only thing that really affects FA is the bottom line and that is likely going to continue to fall as attendance dwindles this season. The last years of the Sedins papered over with nostalgia part of what was going on, but as long as FA buys what this management team sells that’s all that really matters. And I will continue to give credit to the team for turning an absolute wasteland of prospects into a great pool (not only with their picks but some good young FA signings). It’s at the pro level that I cannot abide where we are right now. To go into the season with this group is nuts. It’s not the overpaid fourth liners. It’s that the overpaid top six and top four on offense and defense can neither score nor defend. That is an inexcusable failure of coaching, pro evaluation, and management. Judd Brackett may not be the answer but the inability to assess what kinds of results NHL players will produce requires some other solution than what we have.

    • North Van Halen

      You know I don’t know if Benning is a good GM or not, From the moment he arrived I said he had a minimum 5 years job to rebuild. I have said all along I would not judge the minutiae of each deal, step back and see where he’s at after this season. I’ve given him one extra season, to the end of next but if this team isn’t clearly a playoff contender by the end of next season I’ll be happy to drive him to the airport.
      For those that say his trading is awful, Guddy is REPEATEDLY thrown out there, with Sutter closely in tow. Again, what about Goldie, Leipsic, Dahlen & Granlund . Weren’t those clear wins for the future? He literally hasn’t had a bad trade in 3 years.
      All I know is this team has been in need of a few years of patience and thats what I’m trying to be. If Benning is gone after this season or next, again, I won’t miss him but he will have fixed a 50 year problem and left the new GM with an abundance of youth to work with. I’m okay with that.

  • DeL

    I think some of the posters are underestimating the fact that FA thinks he’s an astute hockey mind, along with the fact that for him it’s about making the playoffs for a round or two, in other words cash in the pocket. For us the fans it’s about the cup plus an exciting competitive team. I’ve never believed that the Aquilinis and the fans were on the same page. Hence TL is gone because he told Aquilini the cold hard facts which he didn’t want to hear and Benning told him it was possible which is what he wanted to hear. Benning has done a passable job considering what he inherited.It’s unfortunate the team did so well in the first year of the new management team because it created false hope. We’re still 2-3 years out. I there’s one thing Benning’s team does well is drafting. Take solace in the fact there’s another great pick waiting next early summer.

    • Puck Viking

      You know how else to make cash?

      Its not just with making the playoffs. Its also by not wasting money on horrible free agent signings like Beagle, LE, Roussel and Gagner. Saving millions on poor contracts is still cash in the pocket for FA.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    It’s kinda difficult to find trade partners for ‘professional hockey players’ whos value has been so severely depreciated by their use/performance.

  • Burnabybob

    Just a couple of thoughts on Benning as GM: It’s too late to characterize him as good, bad or mediocre. His work isn’t finished. If he lays the groundwork for a contender in a few years after inheriting a mess, then he will be remembered as a good GM. If not…

    All GM’s have their strengths and weaknesses. Pat Quinn pulled off brilliant trades – too many to mention, but Stoyanov for Naslund was probably his greatest. On the other hand, despite stealing Pavel Bure in the 6th round in ’89, his draft record was abysmal. I still wince when I think back on the historic, talent-rich 1990 draft and the Canucks had three first round picks, which they managed to squander.

    Benning’s best talent is his drafting, but this is arguably the most important skill for a GM to have in today’s NHL, where there aren’t as many trades. His trades haven’t been terrible, despite Gudbranson. Goldobin, Leipsic, Dahlen, and Baertschi, have all been nice acquisitions. His FA signings have been his weakest area.

  • Bornonice

    ” Believe it or not, every move the Canucks make is with the belief that it will make the team better.”

    You’re right…..but it’s just not now that the team will be better. The latest RFAs are here to take the losses that are going to be piling up this year and to be an example of defensive responsibility to the younger ones on the team.

    Meanwhile, the kids are hopefully gaining experience, cohesion with each other and winning ways down in the AHL as opposed to being up here getting their brains beat out. I didn’t see anyone other than EP who was NHL-ready and I even wish he would go down for a few weeks or so to get a running start at the NHL.

    Patience is the toughest pill to swallow after the Sedins retired but it’s needed.

    • If the recent UFA signings are just here to absorb losses this year, why are they signed for four years?

      This team should be returning to contention in two years – ideally you’re competing while at least a couple of your young stars are on their ELCs, and using that cap flexibility to build your depth and add a high-end piece or two. When the Canucks *should* be there, they’ll have 1/5th of their cap space tied up in boatanchors like Beagle, Eriksson, and Gudbranson.

  • Kanuckhotep

    My Benning report card to date: “D” on FA signings. “C” for being about 50/50 on trades not having to give up too much. “B+” for compiling future prospects. The follow phraseology IMO best describes Big Jim: “ Once a scout always a scout,” his first and best attribute. What condition Gillis left the VC in JB was hardly handed the early 80’s NY Isles. And I am neither a cheerleader nor an Ed the Sock style nay sayer either. I’m trying to read the room here and I think Benning is sincerely trying through obvious trial and error. Would YOU want the job?


    I think JB and to a lesser extent, since he is gone, Trev were and are blamed for these contracts that will drop off in successive years. They have plenty of cap room going forward, so the doom and gloom is Blog theatre…
    My question to Jackson Macdonald would be, “ Did you have a mentor.” “ Where they born geniuses, or did they learn the hard way and explain that.”
    Smart people learn from their mistakes, smarter people learn from others mistakes and never make them.
    Having vets that worked their way up will pay off in the long run.