Vancouver Canucks Jim Benning Tenure – Year Seven (So Far)

jim benning tenure

The Jim Benning tenure with the Vancouver Canucks has had – to be generous – ups and downs. Inarguably the highest point on the ice was the 2019-20’s Stanley Cup Playoff run in Edmonton. The lowest? Despite the cries of some fans, that’s likely already passed. The standing caveat is “likely” because no one actually knows what will crop up in the future. What if Elias Pettersson‘s injury is serious in the long term? Or Francesco Aquilini decides the team can’t afford to keep both Pettersson and Quinn Hughes? Or – potentially worse – he demands Benning act to reach the playoffs this year?

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Jim Benning Tenure – Year Seven

Obviously, we have to overlook the pandemic, here. Off-ice lows don’t get much lower than that, and to pretend otherwise would be psychotic. That being said, let’s pretend otherwise! But first comes the current, latest year of the Jim Benning tenure…

Year Seven, 2020-21

Free Agents

When negotiations with Jacob Markstrom failed – likely a mutual decision – Braden Holtby came in as his replacement. It was a quick, decisive move that was clearly in the works for this eventuality. The same could be said for the signing of Jake Virtanen. Tyler Toffoli, as good as he was with Vancouver, wasn’t a point-per-game player. The safer bet would be for him to slip back to his career-typical 45-50 point pace. And that’s how they did it, giving an improved Virtanen another shot and letting the older veteran walk. The third big deal was bringing in Travis Hamonic for one year. The solid, defensive defenceman had a profile almost exactly like the outgoing Chris Tanev and would be a suitable replacement.

Adam Gaudette and Zack MacEwen showed enough at the NHL level to sign them up again, helping put youth and some cost-control in the bottom-six. Gaudette did well enough to open the possibility of moving up this season and was asked to focus his off-season training on defence.

With the minor exceptions of Ashton Sautner and Tyler Graovac, the Canucks lost every one of their unrestricted free agents. That’s a big chunk of the team walking out the door, many of whom had been with Vancouver for years. Both Markstrom and Tanev were outspoken leaders on the team. As much as we like to pretend players are as unaffected by moves as they are in virtual leagues, losing players like that has an effect.

Getting Thatcher Demko‘s name onto a five-year deal is a solid win. Whether he’ll be worth $5 million when he’s 30 is a risk they’re willing to take.

The Trades

For now, this is “Incomplete” for the obvious reason that the trade deadline hasn’t happened yet. We’ll be getting into the specifics of each deal as they come, and wrap up once the deadline is done. We’ll get a retrospective once April 13th rolls around. The thing to add is… nothing. The Canucks GM worked the phones hard, and publicly. His slightly mad pursuit of Oliver Ekman-Larsson – something Benning might revisit – likely cost the team their own free agents. With Ekman-Larsson carrying such a massive contract, it was an opportunity to shed some dead money, certainly. But without knowing if he needed to fit that money into the salary structure of the team, Benning hamstrung himself.*

But game recognized game, and he managed to pull Nate Schmidt out of the Vegas Golden Knights at a massive discount. In any normal year, Schmidt doesn’t cost a third-round pick. While he hasn’t set the world on fire, he is very much an upgrade for the team, able to play either side of the ice and providing offensive bite. Whether he can provide nearly $6 million worth of value over the next five years of his deal remains to be seen, but with Tyler Myers being the only other defenceman signed past this season, Schmidt is likely seen as filling in the Alexander Edler “Senior Statesman Blueliner” spot. That idea is made slightly ironic as they have been the Canucks’ most frequent and effective pairing.

The Draft

Deals for Toffoli and J.T. Miller meant for the first time in the Canucks’ Jim Benning tenure they would be without a pick in the first two rounds. The sheer weirdness of the past year put some question marks in the draft, but nothing like this year will. It’s impossible to judge this early, but Vancouver did… okay? If everything goes well, Dmitry Zlodeyev might end up a steal as a defensive centre, but frankly, any sixth-round pick who makes the league is a bonus.

The Verdict for 2020-21

Saying the Jim Benning tenure has been contentious is the only thing you can say about it that won’t get an argument. At the halfway point, the team has dropped nearly out of the playoff race. How will Benning react to that drop? Given that our own predictions were far from optimistic for the team, he shouldn’t be surprised. But will he force the issue? With the trade deadline being complicated by quarantine, does the North Division have to move sooner?

If he decides to bring players in, picks will most likely go the other way. Otherwise, he will be leaving his team short-handed when they are making a push for the playoffs. If he sells, any team will want players as soon as possible. Obviously, his waiver wire pickups are going to adjust his options, but how much?

On the plus side, since players have to undergo quarantine anyway – even a shortened one – minor injuries aren’t a real issue. Can’t get someone for a week? Well, he’s out for at least that long anyway, so no worries!

Of course, this could all be done by this column’s publication. We’re going to hold off on a career-long synopsis until after the April 14 trade deadline. And if the Canucks did make major deals between writing and publication, we know who to blame.

Year Six is here, Year Five, Year Four, Year Three, Year Two,  Year One.

*See also: “Free Agents” above.

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