38
Photo Credit: © Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind: The 2015 Trade Deadline and early offseason

In all the hubbub of the most exciting Canucks season in nearly a decade, we just plain forgot to keep up with our Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind, but we’re here to make up for lost time with a gigantic catchup edition.

If you’re new to this irregular column, or can’t remember what it’s all about after the nine-month gap, we’ll start by explaining the premise behind it.

Jim Benning just completed his sixth season as GM of the Vancouver Canucks, and that’s mighty convenient for our purposes, because an old sports maxim claims that you can’t truly judge a manager’s transactions until at least five years have passed. In the Five-Year Rewind, we’re trying to take a look at each of the moves that have occurred during Benning’s tenure as they pass that five-year threshold, with the hopes that a half-decade of hindsight will allow us to more accurately assess them.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Also, since draft reviews are frequent and commonplace, we’re going to avoid that topic and just stick to the signings, trades, and waiver transactions.

Last time around, we looked at three relatively inconsequential trades, the most prominent of which was the Gustav Forsling/Adam Clendening swap.

But we’ve got a lot of consequential ground to cover today, because we’ll be examining both the 2015 Trade Deadline — Benning’s first with the team — and the beginnings of the 2015 offseason.

March 2, 2015

Trade Deadline Day

Trade #1

To New York Islanders:

Dustin Jeffrey

To Vancouver:

Cory Conacher

We won’t spend much time on this first trade, because it was almost purely an AHL-level transaction, and neither player would ever play a single game for the Canucks. Jeffrey outperformed Conacher post-trade, but Conacher also played a role in the Utica Comets’ march to the 2015 Calder Cup Final — and made it back to the NHL a few years later — so it’s pretty much a wash.

Trade #2

To Calgary:

2nd Round Pick in 2015 (Rasmus Andersson)

To Vancouver:

Sven Baertschi

Now for something a little more interesting. This trade was controversial at the time — with many questioning the wisdom of a should-be-rebuilding franchise trading a second round pick for a reclamation project — but it’s hard to argue that Benning didn’t get fair value in the end.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Baertschi paid immediate dividends, racking up 15 points in 15 regular season games for the Comets and then posting another 15 in 21 playoff games, second on the team in postseason scoring.

By the next year, Baertschi was a full-time Canuck, and he quickly became a staple in the top-six. There he would remain for three-and-a-half seasons before suffering a concussion in 2018/19 that has more-or-less knocked him right out of the league.

Still, in the interim, Baertschi was a valuable asset, especially when it came to the development of other young offensive players. Bo Horvat having someone of Baertschi’s skill level on his wing for a couple of formative seasons, as opposed to someone like Jack Skille or Jayson Megna, no doubt played an important role in his evolution into the NHL’s leading playoff goal-scorer.*

*As of this writing.

This is definitely one of those “fill the age gap” trades that actually worked out.

But then there’s Rasmus Andersson to consider. As we’ve mentioned before in this column, it’s difficult to properly weigh the value of a traded pick — with no way of knowing for sure who the Canucks would have selected if they’d kept it — but it’s still hard not to look at Andersson, a 23-year-old top-pairing, physical, right-handed defender, and wonder “what if?”

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Post-Trade NHL Stats Games Goals Assists Points
Sven Baertschi 225 58 52 110
Rasmus Andersson 160 7 34 41

Early 2015 Offseason

June 27, 2015

To Carolina:

Eddie Lack

To Vancouver:

3rd Round Pick in 2015 (Guillaume Brisebois)

7th Round Pick in 2016 (Brett McKenzie)

Here we have another trade that was quite controversial when it was made, but that over time has started to make a lot more sense. At the time of the deal, Lack was fresh off two consecutive 41-game seasons for the Canucks, one in which he quite literally ran Roberto Luongo out of town, and then a postseason in which he briefly usurped Ryan Miller’s starting role.

With a resumé like that, it was hard to believe that all Benning could get in return for Lack was a third-round pick and change.

Since leaving Vancouver, however, the lovable Lack has shown why other NHL GMs weren’t exactly clamouring for his services. After a decent, but unspectacular, debut season for the Hurricanes, Lack was spending time with the Charlotte Checkers by 2016/17.

Injuries no doubt played a role in the deterioration of his play, but they were far from the only factor at work. Simply put, Lack never again reached the heights of performance he enjoyed during his first two seasons in Vancouver, even when healthy.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

From there, Carolina retained salary on Lack to flip him to Calgary, and then it was onto waivers and off to the New Jersey/Binghamton Devils. Following his departure from Carolina, Lack would play just 35 games total over two seasons before calling it a career.

The draft picks received were of little value, though Brisebois has become a Utica staple and enjoyed a brief cup of coffee with the Canucks, but that’s mostly irrelevant. It may have seemed like Benning should have got more back for Lack when this trade happened, but in hindsight, he got plenty for a player that would be out of the league within a couple of seasons.

Post-Trade NHL Stats Record Save % GAA
Eddie Lack 22-25-9 .898 2.88

 June 27, 2015

To San Jose:

Patrick McNally

To Vancouver:

7th Round Pick in 2015 (Tate Olson)

There’s not much to talk about here. McNally was only ever a notable prospect because he happened to be the first player selected by the Canucks in 2010 — albeit, at 115th overall. At the time of the transaction, McNally was coming off an excellent senior year at Harvard, with 21 points in 21 games, but wasn’t considered a top prospect and showed little interest in signing with Vancouver.

Instead, he signed with San Jose the day of the trade, and joined the San Jose Barracuda for two seasons before dropping down to the ECHL, and ultimately taking his talents to Europe. In 2019/20, he played for both Budapest and Nitra in the top Slovak league.

In other words, any return for McNally — even a pick wasted on a defenceman who never even cracked the AHL — was good enough.

June 30, 2015

To Anaheim:

Kevin Bieksa

To Vancouver:

2nd Round Pick in 2016 (traded to Pittsburgh, who used it on Filip Gustavsson)

The 2015 offseason may not have marked the start of Jim Benning’s rebuild, but this particular trade was perhaps the first indicator that the dreams of 2011 were slowly being let go.

It wasn’t a surprise when Bieksa moved — most saw it coming, and plenty even predicted he’d be joining Ryan Kesler in Anaheim. Nor was this fairly modest return much of a shock, not with Bieksa coming off the worst season of his career to that point and entering the final year of his contract.

Still, trading such a beloved player for so very little — especially when that very little was quickly flipped in a package for Brandon Sutter — left a less-than-satisfactory taste in the mouths of many Canucks fans.

With hindsight applied, however, this transaction looks a whole lot different. And not so much because it looks like a good trade for the Canucks in retrospect, but because of how bad it now looks for the Anaheim Ducks.

Three days later, the Ducks signed the 34-year-old to a two-year contract extension, set to begin the following season, at an average salary of $4 million per year. Far more consequential than the dollars was the No-Movement Clause attached to both years, something that led to the Ducks being forced to protect Bieksa in the 2017 Expansion Draft, which then in turn led to them trading Shea Theodore to the Golden Knights to prevent them taking Sami Vatanen and Josh Manson.

Ouch.

For his part, Bieksa put up three seasons for the Ducks even worse than his final one in Vancouver, and then entered unofficial retirement to become the best on-air personality in the business — a gig he has used primarily to heap praise on the Canucks and their players.

Maybe Benning did win this trade in the long-run, after all.

Post-Trade NHL Stats Games Goals Assists Points
Kevin Bieksa 211 7 30 37

Lastly, we should mention here that Benning also used this portion of the summer to sign Baertschi, Linden Vey, Alex Biega, and Yannick Weber to one-year, modestly-priced contract extensions.

That was a hot start to the 2015 offseason, but Jim Benning wasn’t done there. Not even close.

We’ve still got Free Agent Frenzy, the Zack Kassian and Frankie Corrado affairs, and perhaps the worst trade of Benning’s career to cover — next time, on the Jim Benning Five-Year Rewind!