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Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning talks Pearson and Demko extensions, team’s COVID-19 recovery, and more

Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning was joined by team physician Dr. Jim Bovard in a media availability on Friday morning.

The first 25 minutes were intended to be questions about COVID-19 and how it has affected the Canucks organization and what the plan is moving forward. Dr. Bovard took a majority of the questions from the media as he answered questions about the outbreak.

One of the most notable takeaways from the first 25 minutes of the availability was Jim Benning talking about the NHL being keen on the Canucks playing out all 56 of their originally scheduled games. This feels extremely difficult to accomplish as the Canucks are just beginning to get to the recovery stage of this outbreak with a high percentage of players being infected with the virus.

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Bovard talked about the Canucks players going facing a variant — the genome sequencing to determine which variant exactly is still underway — and said that there have not been any “unusual” cases or symptoms to these elite athletes. He also added that thankfully, nobody needed to be hospitalized.

In the second half of the availability, Benning spoke about the team’s roster and contract situations moving forward.

Benning spoke on the contract extension for Thatcher Demko, saying, “we’re really excited, Thatcher Demko’s been a guy that we’ve drafted and developed him properly. We’ve been careful every step of the way, we got him up here in Vancouver, made sure that he was surrounded by an experienced goalie and then when he was ready to take over as the guy — he’s showing us that this year and he’s done that so we’re excited to get him signed for the next five years.”

He then discussed the extension to Tanner Pearson.

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“He’s a real good pro. He does things the right way, on and off the ice,” said Benning. “Once we get back to play to all teams in a regular season, he’s going to be as effective as he’s always been. He’s a guy that plays the right way, he’s strong on the walls, he goes to the front of the net. Bo and [Tanner] have been really good together ever since we acquired him. I know his production is down a little bit this year but next year when things are back to normal again, I expect him to have strong seasons for us for the next few years.”

Pearson has spent 89.1% of this season in a top-six role. He is eighth in team scoring with 11 points in 33 games, he will turn 29 in the offseason and by all accounts is a great player to have in the locker room. Benning spent a lot of time talking about Pearson’s leadership qualities and how he will help the young players grow in the NHL. He’s not wrong there, he is definitely a good guy in the room but the problem is that the Canucks have been paying a premium for “good guys in the room”.

His numbers have declined this season but I do believe he will be able to hold a spot in the Canucks’ middle-six for most of the next three years.

Benning was questioned why he didn’t want to explore cheaper options in free agency during a flat-cap world during a pandemic and said: “I think we got a good deal. He’s going to be making less than he was this year,” said Benning. “If he goes to free agency, this number is probably the number he was going to get in free agency. We could have moved on here at the deadline and got some sort of futures. We would have missed him if he didn’t re-sign with us because he’s an important guy. As we go forward here, we’re going to get younger, and he’s going to be good for the young players as a role model and as a player that does things right on a day-to-day basis. So he was an important guy for us to get.”

Later on in the Zoom call, Benning said that he wasn’t sure when the Canucks would be returning to play. “I would think probably that the end of the league schedule as it stands right now will be changed, allowing more days to get in our games,” Benning noted.

This idea of the Canucks finishing all 56 games of their season still baffles me. It’s a lot to ask of these players just days after they make their recoveries from COVID-19 symptoms. He was asked if any players have said that they want to be done for the season, to which he said, “no, nobody’s said that. We’ve been dealing with our players’ health first and foremost and getting better, talking to their families and stuff and we’ll get through all that, but these guys are competitive guys and they want to get back playing again when they know that they’re going to be safe.”

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A few other things that Benning spoke on was the status of extensions for Quinn Hughes and Elias Petterson.

He went on to say that Pettersson is close to returning and “the injury is getting better”.

The final thing I wanted to note was the expectations going into the trade deadline. It sounds like the Canucks will not be very active this year, “I don’t expect us to be doing a lot at the deadline” said Benning. “We still have a couple of days until that’s here, we will make calls to see if there’s something out there that makes sense to follow through with it.”

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Once again, it was a media availability where Jim Benning talked a lot but didn’t say a whole lot. There are many questions about the team making moves that seem to be flip-flopping on if they are trying to be competitive right now or if they are a few years away. I don’t think the Pearson contract hurts this team as much as the backlash on social media has indicated. The problem is having so many of these middle/bottom-six players being paid so much money when you know that this coming free agency is likely to be a buyer’s market where one and two-year deals will be available on the cheap for players who will make a similar impact to Pearson.

I don’t think that Pearson makes 3.25 million dollars on a playoff team in the next three years. He is a valuable asset to an NHL team but if he was sent to waivers today, I doubt a team picks him up with his new contract extension.

Benning needed to take advantage of the buyer’s market that is to come and try to swing on more one and two-year deals to players who want to turn their careers around. His approach to building this roster seems to be the opposite of that. He wants to keep players here in the organization even though they have proven that this roster is not currently good enough to compete for the Stanley Cup. Changes need to be made and honestly, there is not much more time for this team to make those changes. Benning has put himself in a position where he now needs to make big moves to avoid this franchise falling back into another rebuild.

The Canucks have proven that players can come in and earn a spot in their middle-six. It just feels like a slam dunk that exploring cheap free agents with high-upside is the right route for a team moving forward with young players pushing to crack the lineup. We will see what Benning does moving forward and have you covered every step of the way here at CanucksArmy.