What Is Jim Benning Doing?

Benning

 

Lots of chatter on the interwebs today that Jim Benning made a major mistake in trading Jared McCann to the Panthers for Erik Gudbranson.

On the surface, it might be plausible that is the case but only if you look at it on a “one and done” basis.

But there is a much better way to assess the trade and that is to see it as part of Benning’s need to balance his team.

Benning paid a pretty high price for the towering Gudbranson but, as he told the Vancouver Province last night, it really was market value especially in light of the poor deal the Edmonton Oilers made in acquiring Griffin Reinhart.

“We talked to a lot of teams the last two or three weeks and this wasn’t something we expected to happen — it happened quite fast and we’ve be dealing with them (Panthers) the last two days,” said Benning. “It kind of came together rather quickly. We knew the price to acquire a top-four defenceman was going to be high and giving up McCann was a tough decision. But I just felt like we needed to add a top-four-guy to our group because the market is just so tough.”

“They (Panthers) had a lot of interest in Jared and if you look at the Dougie Hamilton deal in Calgary — a first- and two second-round 2015 picks to Boston at the last draft — and the Griffin Reinhart deal to Edmonton — a first-round pick and 33rd-overall pick to the Islanders — that kind of set the precedent. It was tough to give up the second-round pick in this draft. But we felt it was worth giving up that 33rd-overall pick.

What stands out here is that Benning effectively gave up a late 1st round pick (McCann) and a 2nd round pick for a young, huge RHD with 309 NHL games under his belt while the Oilers paid a higher price for Reinhart who has yet to become a full-time NHL player and has only played 37 NHL games.

Yes, Reinhart is 2 years younger, but at his age, Gudbranson had already played in 189 games in the NHL.

Expectations

Most of the criticism of the deal from Vancouver’s perspective is that Gudbranson hasn’t lived up to his draft pedigree as he was selected 3rd overall in 2010…and that is true.

(Just as Reinhart has belied his 4th overall stats in the 2012 draft.

But Benning was trading for draft pedigree and, of course, Florida would not have moved Gudbranson if he had lived up to the hype.

What Benning acquired was a #4 RH D to balance his back-end and Gudbranson at a $3.5M cap hit next season (and a RFA after that) is certainly at the proper price point.

(worth noting that many of the fiercest critiques of the trade are Oiler fans whose team management is paying a #3 D, Sekera, $5.5M and a #5D, Fayne, $3.625M.)

The Canucks now have a D that is pretty well set and they avoided the temptations to get into the Jason Demers (a #3D) sweepstakes which the Oilers may blow their brains out at over $5M annually since there are very few RH D available as free agents.

Demers is likely better than Gudbranson now but let’s remember that Gudbranson is still only 24 and likely still has some upside and he costs a lot less.

The Canucks D pairings are now coming into focus and, if Alex Edler can stay healthy, they look solid if not spectacular.

Edler – Tanev

Hutton – Gudbranson

Sbisa – Larsen

Tryamkin – Stetcher

It’s easy to forget that Benning added the best defenseman for the NCAA earlier this spring or that Ben Hutton was a god send in his rookie season. Both he and their superb top pairing RH D, Chris Tanev, played for Canada at the recent WHC and that Philip Larsen was acquired earlier for a 5th round pick.

Why McCann?

There is a pretty easy answer to that question…the Canucks have too many centres.

Sedin

Horvat

Sutter

Granlund

Gaunce

While McCann had a passable rookie season, he was likely never going to be a top 6 centre in Vancouver as long as Henrik is around and, with the 5th overall pick in the draft Benning can upgrade on McCann in a few weeks.

At the Draft

With the need for a second pairing D now gone, Benning can comfortably take the best of whichever forward left after the Oilers pick.

Whether they get Matthew Tkachuk, PierreLuc Dubois or Alexander Nylander, all are an upgrade on McCann based on pedigree (McCann was taken 24th overall in 2012).

I expect the Oilers will take Dubois unless they trade down and that will leave Tkachuk sitting there for Benning. He would be the perfect compliment to the Sedins in the short-term but, if another team (like Arizona) trades up to take him with the Oilers pick, Benning will have a shot at Dubois and Nylander either of whom have 1st line potential.

With college phenom Brock Boeser only a year away from pro hockey, the Canucks will have 2/3 of the Sedin succession plan already out-of-the-way and will only need to find a top end C to finish the job.

About the Cap

The acquisition of Gudbranson ends the temptation for the Canucks to re-sign UFA defenseman Dan Hamhuis saving more than a million in cap space.

If, as expected, the Canucks buy out Alex Burrows and Chris Higgins that will free up another $3M to pursue free agents.

With their long-term goaltending locked in place (Markstom, Demko) and their D all set, Benning and company can now turn their attention to adjusting their forward ranks before the season starts knowing they will also get another $6M in cap relief when Ryan Miller’s contract expires a year from now.

With departure of Radim Vrbata ($5M) and Hamhuis ($4.5M) Benning is setting himself up to have some where near $10M this offseason for acquisitions.

Steven Stamkos anyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vancouver Canucks – The Road Ahead

The Vancouver Canucks are playing out the string and even two victories over San Jose and Anaheim cant mask the disappointment of this season.

Vancouver beat writer Ed Willes has an excellent piece up on what ails the Canucks and the bottom line is right here:

The Canucks have to get bigger before they can compete with teams like the Kings, Ducks, Sharks and Blues — and they have to get faster and more skilled before they can compete with the Blackhawks and Stars. For a team that’s now tied for second-last in the NHL, that’s a lot to ask.

But that’s also the reality facing the Canucks.

“You have to find players who can compete with the physical teams and be quick enough to play with the skill teams,” said Hansen. “It’s tough for new guys to come in and be difference-makers. They don’t grow on trees. Look at Edmonton. It doesn’t matter where you pick (in the draft).

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The Sedin Era is Over

While the Sedin twins are still playing at a relatively high level, they can no longer compete effectively in a bigger, faster, younger NHL. Team President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning attempted to “re-tool on the fly but it is now obvious, even to them, that it was a failed strategy and it will be necessary to endure some pain to get the team back into contention in the Western Conference. But what, and how long, will that take?

Goaltending

This is one area where the Canucks have very little to worry about in the future. While Ryan Miller plays out the final year of his contract next season, the Canucks can continue the NHL development of Jacob Markstrom who has been pretty good this season (.913) under very difficult circumstances.

Meanwhile, draft choice Thatcher Demko has been spectacular in NCAA hockey, posting a .936 save percentage for Boston College and Hockey’s Future is lauding the performance of the Hobey Baker award nominee who is headed the Frozen Four in Tampa next weekend.

Thirteen drafted goaltenders played in the NCAA in the 2015-16 season. Hockey’s Future takes a closer look at the top five netminders with NHL ties, all of whom were among the nominees for this year’s Mike Richter Award. This ranking is based on season performance, overall developmental progress, and NHL potential.

1. Thatcher Demko, Junior, Boston College (Hockey East)
Drafted: Second round (36th overall) in 2014 by the Vancouver Canucks

Thatcher Demko topped this year’s ranking due in part to his remarkable consistency and resilience throughout the season. In addition, he continually fine-tuned all aspects of his game, making him one of the nation’s most reliable and elite goaltenders.

The San Diego, CA native sports a 27-7-4 record that includes an NCAA-best 10 shutouts appearing in all 38 games to date. Demko also is second in the nation with a .936 save percentage. His 27 wins ranks second among all NCAA netminders. Furthermore, his miniscule 1.85 goals-against average is tied for sixth nationally. Most recently, Demko was named a finalist for both the Mike Richter and Hobey Baker Awards. In addition, he was named the Hockey East Co-Player of the Year and earned a spot on the conference’s All-First Team.

Of course, there is always a worry that NCAA players will refuse to sign with the team that drafted them but, so far, there has been no indication what Demo is thinking and it’s rumoured he may sign his first pro contract as soon as the Frozen Four ends.

The Defense

It’s difficult to get a good read on how good (or bad) The Canucks’ D really is. Their top pairing of Alex Edler and Chris Tanev have both missed long stretches of the season with injury and that has forced the Canucks to play fringe NHL players far too high in the lineup.

Edler has missed 23 games and counting while Tanev has missed 13 so, if they can remain healthy next season, that will go along way to restoring some stability at the position.

The good news here is that two big Europeans have performed very well down the stretch despite the team’s woes and should be significant pieces next season.

6’7″ Russian Nikita Tryamkin now has 7 NHL games under his belt and has been adapting to the North American game very well.

6’5″ Lithuanian Andrey Pedan has also looked decent in his 9 NHL games this season and is likely a reliable bottom pairing shut down D next season.

The Canucks also pulled off an under the radar trade with the Edmonton Oilers earlier this season when they picked up Finnish league stand out Phillip Larsen.

Larsen, 26, has spent the 2015.16 season with Jokerit Helsinki of the KHL where he has accumulated 38 points (12-26-38) and 39 penalty minutes in 54 games. The 6’1”, 183-pound defenceman has also appeared in 125 career NHL games with the Dallas Stars and Edmonton, recording 31 points (8-23-31) and 42 penalty minutes.

Larsen is a right shot PP quarterback who should easily supplant Yannick Weber and/or the dreadful Matt Bartkowski who the Canucks have been forced to play in 74 games this season despite having some of the worst underlying numbers in the league.

One bright spot this season has been the emergence of Ben Hutton who unexpectedly won a job out of training camp and been very steady all season.

That raises the question of the fate of pending UFA Dam Hamhuis. Hamhuis has been very good since returning from a smashed face earlier this season but I’m not sure the Canucks will re-sign him unless he is willing to take a reduction on his $5M cap hit for a sort term.

Hamhuis has indicated he wants to stay with the Canucks so,perhaps that is possible. If so, the Canucks D next season would look much better than this season’s rag-tag bunch.

Edler – Tanev

Hamhuis – Hutton

Tryamkin- Larsen

Sbisa – Pedan

What that group still lacks is a true #1D (Edler is passable when healthy) and Sbisa is paid way too much for that role but perhaps he’ll be moved in the offseason.

If Hamhuis isn’t re-signed, the Canucks will have his $5m cap hit to grab a free agent and there will be more than a few available this off-season.

GM Jim Benning has stated, if he isn’t drafting in the top 3, he’ll take a defensman and, if that happens, it’s likely Jacob Chychrun could debut as a Canuck next season.

Based on this scouting report, he may be just what the doctor ordered:

 The son of former NHL player, Jeff, plays with a calm demeanor, good feet, lateral agility and physicality. An elite defensive prospect with a tremendous package of talent. Already physically developed, he is a terrific skater with a separation gear, and a hard cutting stride and a skating base that lets him protect the puck. Possesses a strong wrist shot and is able to stickhandle with precision and accuracy through traffic. He is polished two-way player with good feet, strong skills but needs to continue to hone the defensive side of his game. Already plays with an edge. With physicality in place he needs to continue maturing in his positional play. It will determine if he evolves to an impact pro or simply a good one. His puck smarts and passing ability see him as a future NHL PP guy too.

Another guy to keep an eye on is Jordan Subban who has scored 34 points in 52 AHL games with the Utica Comets this season. The diminutive rearguard  has always been considered a long shot but he’s been producing well against men in the AHL and may be able to translate that scoring touch in the NHL.

Centre

As Henrik Sedin’s career winds down, this is the most pressing need in the organization. While the Canucks do have some quantity at this position, they don’t have an heir apparent in the system.

Bo Horvat projects as a very good 2 way second line centre (Ryan Kesler lite) while Brandon Sutter (when healthy) would best be slotted at #3 C.

The Canucks also have Jared McCann, Markus Granlund and Brendan Gaunce at C so their depth isn’t an issue if they can eventually find a #1C.

With their freefall in the standings, it now seems more likely they’ll have a shot at picking  1st overall if the lottery balls fall in their favour and they choose Auston Matthews.

That would be a huge step in the right direction but, at the moment there is currently only am 11.5% chance of that happening and I don’t think there is a Plan B.

On the Wing

A real dog’s breakfast here but there are some interesting pieces.

Both Daniel Sedin and Jannik Hansen continue to play very well but, once again, they are more ideally top line options no longer.

Alex Burrows is a buyout candidate this offseason and Radim Vrbata will be gone in free agency.

So what is left?

The brightest hope is UND C/LW Brock Boeser who tore up the NCAA in his freshman season, scoring 26 goals and 54 points in 40 games played.

Here are a couple of scouting reports from Elite Prospects.

A dynamic offensive winger and natural goal scorer. Has great instincts and is able to quickly get into position for premium scoring chances; possesses an accurate release on his shot which he can get off in the blink of an eye. He always knows where his linemates are, and is a great passer; that being said, his individual puck possession play is incredible and sets him apart as an offensive player. He will need to work on defensive zone coverage and a slew of small details such as board battles, but Brock Boeser has a ton of elite-level scoring potential due to the way he can read, make, and finish plays. (Curtis Joe, EP 2014)

Some scouts are seeing quite a bit of Patrick Sharp in Mr. Boeser. He skates well and has a complete set of goal-scorer’s tools. Doesn’t give up his own end, and transitions to offense in such a quick and concrete way that he can catch the opposition off-guard.

[EliteProspects 2015]

Bowser should be counted on to fill a top line LW position and is the Canucks top prospect.

Jake Virtanen has played reasonably well and so has Sven Baertschi but those two players, realistically, top out as second line wingers.

Emerson Etem and Linden Vey have been poor and I doubt either is a Canuck next season which opens some gaping holes at wing.

With all of McCann, Granlund and Gaunce available to switch to wing (as they already have) they can populate the position going forward albeit in the bottom 9.

The Bottom Line

The Canucks may be closer to competing than first appears. The assortment of young talent they possess should easily be capable of filling productive roles as second line and third line players and Boeser projects as a high end #1 LW.

Their D will likely get an infusion of a high-end prospect at the draft…a player who has #1D potential.

What they will then need to do is far from easy but it is identifiable as a long-term goal. They need to find two 1st line forwards to replace the Sedins.

That may require another two seasons of drafting high in order to have a chance to do so.

Difficult, but not impossible.