Monday Mailbag: Benn is better on the right, Virtanen is important to the Canucks’ current roster and how I’ve been proven wrong about Chatfield

Photo credit:Matthew Henderson
By Faber
1 year ago
Another week, another mailbag where David Quadrelli asks me to take over.
It’s been an excellent run of games for the Vancouver Canucks since last week’s mailbag. The team is on a four-game winning streak and is one game deep into a six-game road trip that will see them play two games against the Montreal Canadiens before wrapping things up with a much anticipated three-game series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Let’s get right into it, here’s what you wonderful Twitter folk had to ask this week!
Everything I have read, analyzed and heard about Jordie Benn was that he is a much better defenceman when played on his off-side. Who would have thought that we would be 11 games into the season and be talking about Benn being Quinn Hughes’ partner?
Not me.
Benn has looked excellent on the right side with Hughes. From the eye-test point of view, having Benn on his off-side helps him keep an open forehand side when skating alongside Hughes. Having Benn on the right side just makes things easier on him. When he receives a pass on the right side he immediately has the puck triggered to be moved and his view of the ice gives him an easy decision whether or not to make a pass.
Think of it as if I rolled a soccer ball from the side to you and asked you to kick it into a net that was in front of you. If I rolled it to you on your strong side, you’d be able to kick it with ease instead of letting it pass by your bad foot and having to get perfect timing to kick it into the net.
Benn is put into a position to succeed right now and of course, having a Norris Trophy level partner makes things even easier.
There’s a lot that is working for the pairing. Now for the analytics test, the pairing of Travis Hamonic and Hughes has played almost the exact same amount of time as the Benn and Hughes pairing. (47 minutes-50 minutes)
Each pairing is giving up a very similar amount of shot attempts against.
Hughes-Hamonic CA/60Hughes-Benn CA/60
The interesting stat that pops off the page is the small number of attempted shots that actually hit the net with Benn on the ice alongside Hughes compared to Hamonic. The Benn-Hughes pairing is giving up 16.4 fewer shots per 60 minutes.
Hughes-Hamonic SA/60Hughes-Benn SA/60
With Benn as his partner, Hughes is controlling the expected goal share when he was under 37% for the expected goal share with Hamonic as his partner.
Benn has made things better in the defensive zone for Hughes but Hughes’ offensive attempts have taken a dip according to the analytics in the small five-game sample size.
Hughes’ on-ice analytics show that he is expecting six and a half fewer scoring chances per 60 minutes with Benn compared to Hamonic. The Hughes-Benn pairing has benefitted from an astonishing 21.74 on-ice shooting percentage and has been on the ice for five five-on-five goals compared to no goals against, which means the goalies have a 1.000 save percentage at even strength with that pairing on the ice.
Right now, it’s working so I wouldn’t mess with it until it begins to dip. Even with Hamonic coming back from injury, you have to roll with the hot hand in this shortened season.
This is an interesting question to dive into. Just one week ago, the pitchforks were out for Jim Benning. The team was losing and when the team loses, Twitter takes notice. Some fans definitely embraced the #FireBenning movement that once again found itself as a trending hashtag all across Canada.
Jim Benning has been the Canucks’ General Manager since May of 2014. He has definitely had enough time to ice a team that is satisfactory in his eyes. After six and a half years, there should be no more excuses about an empty cupboard for Benning. He has been able to draft, trade and sign his way into the current roster construction.
I don’t think fans are rushing too much when they are voicing their opinions on pushing Benning out. This Canucks team has two superstars in Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes. The fanbase is very knowledgeable about what type of potential these two young phenoms have. One will have a chance to be a league MVP and the other is already in the conversation for the Norris Trophy.
It’s about the roster surrounding these players that give fans hesitation and dismay towards Benning. There has been a massive turnaround with this team after being one of the worst teams in the NHL for a run of years under Benning’s watch. The core currently shows so much promise and has the pillars to be a cup contender.
The same can’t be said about the roster as a whole.
This team could absolutely go on a magical run and deep into the playoffs. It would take a magical run, but this core doesn’t need to be magical, they just need to play to their potential. The question many fans have is if Benning is the right man to get them to being a cup contender with the supporting cast instead of depending on magic.
He is definitely showing some promise over the past few years. The J.T. Miller trade has worked, the Braden Holtby signing made a lot of sense and they have struck gold in drafting Nils Hoglander in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft.
There have been some bad moves over the past couple of years as well though. The loss of Judd Brackett due to an internal problem is a major loss to the scouting department. Say what you want about Brackett, but he did an incredible job in the position that he was in. The lengthy and expensive contract given to Tyler Myers could bite this team down the road if it’s not already hurting them.
So it all depends on how you look at Benning’s tenure.
Could another GM have done a better job over the past six and a half years? Probably.
Could another GM have done a worse job over the past six and a half years? Definitely.
There should always be criticism. I get it every single day in the comments department and that’s fair because it is someone’s opinion. It doesn’t make them right and my writing doesn’t make me right either. It does give a different point of view, and that is always a good thing to explore.
Jim Benning has done a fine job as the Canucks’ GM, but does a fine GM put a team over the top to become a Stanley Cup contender?
That will be told over the remainder of Benning’s tenure.
I don’t have a sandwich that is a go-to for me. It’s a side that haunts my dreams.
The loaded curly fries…
The curly fries are already elite, and when you throw two types of cheese, bacon and sour cream on it, it’s game over.
R.I.P. my summer bod.
I’ll be the first to admit that the early returns on Jalen Chatfield in the NHL make me look like a fool.
I believed that he was the fifth most NHL-ready defenceman from last season’s Utica Comets roster. I believed that Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, Brogan Rafferty and Olli Juolevi were more NHL ready than he was.
I’ll wear that one early on here as Chatfield has looked solid in his first few NHL games.
Here is where I have been wrong on Chatfield.
I saw what he did last season in Utica, I watched every game. Some more than once when I was going back and keying in on a certain player for a report.
At the AHL level, Chatfield was strong in the corners, he made simple plays and did a good job on the penalty kill alongside Olli Juolevi. This was at the AHL level, and for the same reason why Reid Boucher can be a scoring machine at the AHL but not at the NHL, I did not believe that Chatfield would be able to play his game at the next level and be successful.
The thing is, he has done exactly that. He has played the same as he did in the AHL, but because of how simple his game is, it is translating to success at the NHL. He is being strong in the corners and making simple plays. Lately, he has been partnered up with Alex Edler, a defenceman who Travis Green just called one of the smartest hockey players he has ever coached.
If Chatfield continues to play as the coach wants, he will be fine. He’s not going to be an elite NHL defenceman but he could chalk up a career as a defenceman who comes into your lineup and just does all the little things right.
It’s still very early in the season but for now, I have been wrong.
Chatfield looks good.
I’m not sure if this one-for-one trade gets done but there have to be general managers around the league that value the skillset of Jake Virtanen. You don’t have to look further than right here in Vancouver, that’s why Benning gave him a two-year deal worth 5.1 million dollars.
Virtanen has been a healthy scratch for a couple of games now, but I still believe he has a place in this organization.
If someone was to go down in the top-six, Virtanen is the Canucks’ best option to fill the spot. He has the skill set that works with top talent. The problem is consistency with Virtanen, and it always has been. There are flashes where he looks like a top-six NHL player but we don’t see them enough to write him into the lineup alongside Horvat or Pettersson.
The Canucks will have a decision to make on Virtanen after his contract is up if they don’t move on from him before then.
Right now, I am fine with the coach giving him some time in the press box. Virtanen simply hasn’t made enough of an impact to consistently be in the lineup.
The forward group is healthy though, injuries will come and having a motivated Virtanen will be a boost for this team if he is going to come out of the press box with something to prove. No player wants to be held out of the action but for Virtanen, there will be a time and place for him to make an impact down the road. Green has worked with him enough that I trust he knows which buttons to push to make Virtanen go.
If a deal were to arise where a team needs a middle-six winger and believes Virtanen can be that guy, the Canucks should explore the trade market.
For now, having Virtanen as a reserve who can hop in and play on a variety of lines gives the Canucks flexibility, and who doesn’t want flexibility in a season that will require teams to bend and not break as they move towards the playoffs?
Well, that does it for another Monday Mailbag. Thanks for the questions as always and Quads will be back next week to answer all your questions!

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