They were BACK! The Vancouver Canucks roared back into the playoffs and the 2011 Stanley Cup Final didn’t look that far in the past anymore. New coach, new star goalie, and a big rebuttal to their former coach publicly saying the team had to replace their “stale core”! Now to build on that debut and keep the party going…
Evaluating Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning Second Year Tenure
General manager Jim Benning negotiated a difficult trade, brought in a suitable replacement for Roberto Luongo, and got a match for Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. He even won a bidding war for new coach Willie Desjardins, the Calder Cup winner for 2014. Year One was a qualified success, but a success is a success. Everything’s coming up Benning! Surely the second year of the Canucks’ Jim Benning tenure would also be a success, right?
Year Two, 2015-16
Sure, Nick Bonino wasn’t exactly Ryan Kesler, but how many players were? They still lacked a good offensive defenceman, but Yannick Weber was a nice surprise. If he could keep that 11-goal pace up, protect his minutes… This was a year to push some of that youth! Not all of it, though. Some could bugger off. Ben Hutton won a job over Frankie Corrado, who was lost to waivers.
That caused an uproar, which is a look into Canucks fandom they’d probably rather you not see. Still, it wasn’t completely unjustified, as Corrado had signed a one-year deal in July. Well, the defence needed improving, and Benning thought he could help. Losing his spot to Hutton was a GOOD thing, you see? It showed they were willing to put anyone who earned a spot into the lineup! Besides, swinging and missing on one free agent isn’t bad.
Okay, so last year’s three-year, $10.8 million Luca Sbisa deal was starting to look kinda bad. This year, Jim Benning was going to be a bit more cautious. He brought back Sven Baertschi at a low, Show-Me deal for one year. Weber got a raise, but still just for a one-year deal just in case that was a fluke season. Jacob Markstrom was probably ready, but after such an erratic start to his career, a two-year deal would be enough for now. There just wasn’t anything out there to shore up the defence, so… Matt Bartkowski? Sure, why not. So long as he brings his mom along!
A more experienced, cautious Jim Benning didn’t want to disrupt the team’s growth.
Bonino was okay, but he wasn’t really a second-line guy, and Bo Horvat wasn’t ready for that much pressure. Not yet, anyway. What the team needed was a solid, two-way player who could shelter their ninth-overall pick. Bonino was moved out, along with a 2016 second-rounder, for Brandon Sutter. Sutter, famously, was immediately given a five-year, $22+ million deal. With trade protection. One thing you can say about Benning’s decision here is that he made a decision and acted on it. For better or worse, this was not a wishy-washy move.
Losing the second-round pick didn’t hurt as much as it could have, though. A month prior, stalwart Kevin Bieksa followed Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks, bringing their own second-round pick back. Backup goalie Eddie Lack was shipped out for picks, opening a space for Markstrom. Zack Kassian went to the Montreal Canadiens for the rental of Brandon Prust.
And in the team’s second-most controversial move, Hunter Shinkaruk went to the Calgary Flames for the oft-injured but NHL-ready Markus Granlund. People who couldn’t do math decried the move as “getting older, not better” but otherwise, that was a move to shore up the forward lines.
Since he was advertised as having scouting as his biggest strength, fans were curious to see where his first full season of the Jim Benning tenure would go. Obviously, no GM in the league does the scouting themselves other than occasional games, but they are responsible for the direction of those scouts.
The general manager coordinates the needs of the team and puts their own thumbs on the scales. In 2015, that meant the Canucks’ first USHL pick since the notorious 2007 selection of Partick White: Brock Boeser. Needless to say, this choice has done far better than the previous. In fact, both the team’s USHL picks – Boeser and Adam Gaudette – have done reasonably well.
Other than those two, Guillaume Brisebois has only played eight NHL games but is still on their radar. Currently, he’s loaned off to the Laval Titan so he won’t have to cross a border should the team need him.
The Verdict for 2015-16
This was a disastrous year with little to recommend it. Youth was certainly pushed, with rookies Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann, and Hutton getting major roles and sophomore Horvat suddenly becoming the second-line centre with Sutter missing over 60 games to the first major injury of his career. Radim Vrbata suddenly realized he was 34 years old and managed less than half the previous season’s 63 points.
The defence still lacked any kind of point-producer as Weber’s numbers fell. That they were led by Hutton’s 25 points says all you need to know. Goaltending remained strong, though. Markstrom was the right player to keep over Lack, and Miller continued his solid play.
The team fell in the standings, finishing with 26 fewer points than in 2014-15. The veterans stumbled, the kids were overwhelmed. Fans could see who Bo Horvat was going to be, but he wasn’t there yet. Everything indicated that the team should give up on recapturing the Stanley Cup Final team and rebuild with youth. Even if they didn’t win, they got experience in a hard spot. It was clearly time to start over.