Stephan Roget is a Jim Benning apologist. A “meat and potatoes” cultist. A shill for the Acquilini Investment group!
This author has heard it all before, and so we’ll start with a confession—this article is going to have a pro-Jim Benning bias. It’s not because this author is related to Benning, and they’ve never received any money from the Acquilinis—or drinking water, now that we mention it.
Instead, the bias comes from outright, unbridled optimism. There’s always a bright side to everything, and sometimes focusing on that can be a much more enjoyable way to take in the game of hockey—and life in general. This author has plenty of additional thoughts on the bright side of Benning’s tenure that will be shared in a later article, but at the moment we’re focusing on the here and now.
Fortunately, when it comes to Jim Benning’s performance as the GM of the Vancouver Canucks during the 2018/19 season, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Whereas multiple other writers are waiting in the wings to rake Benning’s season over the coals, this shill is here to present The Optimist’s Jim Benning Report Card For 2018/19.
For the record, we’re taking everything from June 2018 to May 2019 into consideration here—and dividing everything up into convenient transactional categories. Each of those categories will receive a letter grade, and they’ll all be averaged at the end for a final grade.
Michael Chaput to Chicago Blackhawks for Tanner Kero
June 24, 2018
A small potatoes trade, but a fair one. Kero performed well for the Utica Comets, whereas Chaput spent much of the season in the NHL—albeit for the Montreal Canadiens.
Michael Carcone to Toronto Maple Leafs for Josh Leivo
December 3, 2018
Leivo didn’t exactly set the world on fire as a Canuck, but he did establish himself as a genuine NHL talent with middle-six potential—which is likely more than will ever be said about Carcone. The latter’s AHL production wasn’t all that much higher than Leivo’s big league production.
Darren Archibald and Anders Nilsson to Ottawa for Mike McKenna, Tom Pyatt, and a 2019 6th Round Pick
January 2, 2019
This trade ultimately amounted to a whole lot of nothing. The Canucks lost McKenna right away and Nilsson found success with the Senators, which might tip the deal in Ottawa’s favour—but the cap space and late pick acquired by the Canucks are probably the most valuable assets, so this one’s a draw.
Michael Del Zotto to Anaheim Ducks for Luke Schenn and 2020 7th Round Pick
January 16, 2019
Getting anything for Del Zotto—even a slightly retained Del Zotto—has to be considered a win. The fact that the return was a late draft pick and the surprisingly valuable services of Schenn makes this a resounding victory.
2020 7th Round Pick in 2020 to Nashville Predators for Marek Mazanec
February 12, 2019
Benning badly needed a depth goalie, so he traded for one—and paid the lowest possible price. Mazanec didn’t end up playing all that much for the Comets—or all that well—but trading for him was inconsequential and necessary.
Sam Gagner to Edmonton Oilers for Ryan Spooner
February 16, 2019
A cap dump for cap dump trade that worked out in favour of the Oilers. Spooner badly underperformed his contract as a Canuck and will likely start next season in Utica, whereas Gagner provided solid production for the Oilers and may have resurrected his NHL career. A loss—but a “who cares” sort of loss.
Erik Gudbranson to Pittsburgh Penguins for Tanner Pearson
February 25, 2019
Both contracts looked equally horrible when this deadline deal occurred, but the Canucks have definitely got more bang for their buck with Pearson thus far. Pearson scored at a greater than 30-goal pace with Vancouver—and while Gudbranson’s play improved after joining the Penguins, he was still very much Erik Gudbranson.
Jonathan Dahlen to San Jose Sharks for Linus Karlsson
February 25, 2019
Another rather inconsequential loss. A prospect of Dahlen’s pedigree should have resulted in a greater return than Karlsson, but it sounds like Dahlen might be headed back to Sweden anyway—so Karlsson could be the more valuable asset as soon as next season.
Overall Trade Grade:
Jay Beagle for Four Years @ $3 million
July 1, 2018
Beagle had a solid debut season with the Canucks and made them a better team—as detailed by this author in Beagle’s Year In Review—but it’s still hard to call a contract that will carry him to age 36 anything but a bad deal.
Antoine Roussel for Four Years @$3 million
July 1, 2018
Roussel was everything Jim Benning hoped for when he signed him—and then some. Roussel’s infectious antagonism was expected, but he also had the best offensive season of his career despite missing 17 games—and he’s still just 29 years old.
Tim Schaller for Two Years @ $1.9 million
July 1, 2018
Schaller ended the year a little stronger than he began it, but he’s really not a player that belongs in the NHL—and the Canucks will still be paying him nearly $2 million to man the pressbox next year. This signing always seemed unnecessary.
Michael Leighton for One Year @ $650K
February 19, 2019
Leighton was an emergency signing, and he did some fine work for the Comets this season. A routine depth contract.
Overall Free Agency Grade:
Prospect Free Agency
Mitch Eliot, Three-Year ELC
December 14, 2018
Eliot had a solid regular season with the Sarnia Sting, but a terrible playoffs. He’ll likely turn pro next season, but he’s a longshot to ever crack the NHL.
Josh Teves, One-Year ELC
March 12, 2019
Teves looked alright in a one-game audition late in the season, but his ECAC performance suggests an average college free agent signing—far from a guarantee to become an NHL regular.
Jake Kielly, Two-Year ELC
April 1, 2019
Kielly is coming off three good seasons for Clarkson University, but he’s starting out his time in the organization pretty far down the goaltending depth chart—so he’s got a long way to climb.
Brogan Rafferty, One-Year ELC
April 1, 2019
Rafferty earned praise for his two-game audition with the Canucks, and appears to be the college free agent with the most potential—which could be on display in the NHL as soon as next season.
Overall Prospect Free Agency Grade:
Markus Granlund for One Year @ $1.475 million
June 22, 2018
It wasn’t the best season of Granlund’s career by any stretch of the imagination, but he still provided more than adequate value for less than $1.5 million.
Derrick Pouliot for One Year @ $1.1 million
June 26, 2018
Pouliot had a dreadful season and ran himself out of town—so paying anything for him should be considered poor value, especially when it’s twice the league minimum.
Sven Baertschi for Three Years @ $3.367 million
July 1, 2018
The only thing stopping Baertschi’s contract from being an excellent value are the concerns over his health. If Baertschi can stay in the lineup for the next two seasons, it will be a more-than-fair deal for the Canucks.
Darren Archibald for One Year @$650K
July 3, 2018
Archibald was a valuable AHL veteran and callup option, and he ended up being thrown into a depth trade. This contract was as routine as it gets.
Troy Stecher for Two Years @ $2.325 million
July 20, 2018
Stecher’s 2018/19 season was exactly what Jim Benning hoped for out of this bridge contract. Stecher delivered much greater value than his salary would suggest—impressing enough to earn a spot on Team Canada at the World Hockey Championship—and the Canucks get him at that same cap hit for another full year. As a bonus, he’ll still be an RFA when it expires.
Jake Virtanen for Two Years @ $1.25 million
July 25, 2018
Virtanen’s bridge contract is an even better value than Stecher’s. Virtanen is younger, paid less, and on the cusp of 20 goals—or perhaps more. As this deal moves into its second year, it stands as a “prove it” contract—which is exactly what Virtanen needs in 2019/20.
Thatcher Demko for Two Years @ $1.05 million
April 24, 2019
Demko has yet to truly prove himself at the NHL level, so he’s being paid less than the average backup goalie. If he performs well for 20 games or so next season, this deal will look like a bargain very quickly.
Overall Re-Signings Grade:
This section won’t get an overall grade, but these transactions bore mentioning.
Brendan Leipsic lost on waivers to Los Angeles Kings
December 3, 2018
The Canucks didn’t really have room for Leipsic, who found himself lost in a sea of middle-six wingers.
Mike McKenna lost on waivers to Philadelphia Flyers
January 4, 2019
McKenna himself wasn’t all that valuable, but losing him to the Flyers did cause a minor organizational crisis in net.
MILDLY CONSEQUENTIAL TRANSACTION
Michael DiPietro emergency recall
February 4, 2019
There was a lot of consternation over DiPietro’s emergency recall—and subsequent shellacking—but his play after returning to the OHL suggests that the experience did nothing but fuel his desire to improve.
It’s simply too early to grade Jim Benning’s performance at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. With that in mind, this section will feature a rating of Trending Up or Trending Down for each draft pick—rather than the more definitive labels featured in other sections. For averaging purposes, there will still be an overall letter grade applied to the section.
Drafted 7th Overall
What else can be said about Hughes? Benning had his choice of two other promising defenders in Noah Dobson and Evan Bouchard, but one year after the draft Hughes still looks like the right choice.
Drafted 37th Overall
Woo doubled his WHL production in his Draft+1 season and made a good run at Canada’s World Junior entry. He can’t turn pro until 2020, but he’s well on his way to success at the next level.
Drafted 68th Overall
Madden starred for the USA entry at the 2019 World Juniors, and was one of the best rookies in the NCAA. Few prospects from the 2018 Draft saw their profiles rise higher this season than Madden.
Drafted 130th Overall
After some moderate improvement this season, Utunen gained notoriety for eliminating Canada at the World Juniors—though he remains a longshot prospect.
Drafted 186th Overall
Manukyan was always a project pick, but he only put up 15 points in the KHL as a 20-year-old—and just one goal in 18 playoff games. It wasn’t the step forward this overage pick needed.
Drafted 192nd Overall
Thiessen’s rookie season in the USHL was less-than-ideal—though the development path of goaltenders is often unpredictable and it’s too early to write him off quite yet. His play improved dramatically in the playoffs.
Overall 2018 Entry Draft Grade:
Jim Benning’s Final Grade For The 2018/19 Season:
Whether you’re a long-established resident of Fort Benning or a dedicated skeptic, you have to admit that his performance as a General Manager improved in 2018/19. His trading game saw notable improvement, his re-signings worked out well, and he had perhaps the best draft of his tenure with the team. Benning’s uninhibited unrestricted free agent signings remains his achilles’ heel, but he avoided any absolutely egregious deals—and added one incredibly valuable player in Antoine Roussel.
The Vancouver Canucks improved significantly under Benning throughout the 2018/19 season—in both the present and the future sense. The debate remains open as to whether the improvement was significant enough—but you already know what this optimist thinks.