The Canucks off-season has seen many changes, changes that have brought about strong emotions from the fan-base. Trading away fan favorites in Eddie Lack and 2011 hero Kevin Bieksa, officially giving up on Zack Kassian (we still won that Hodgson trade though, right?), while getting lower then expected returns on them, has left some fans feeling a bit shocked.
Now, it’s easy to get pessimistic in Vancouver. One of our most iconic symbols in Vancouver is a coach waving the white towel to the refs, and one of the very first Canucks big moments was reading a draft lottery wheel incorrectly. It sometimes feels like the Canucks can’t catch a break.
So after a day like today, it’s easy to view things negatively. The worst case scenario for many Canucks fans is that management is confused and lacks direction. That they are stuck on the idea of a “re-tool” instead of a “re-build”. Being stuck in hockey purgatory is having a good enough team to end up 9th, just out of the playoffs, and just out of reach of the top five draft picks. The Canucks, after all, ended last season with 101 points. What if they once again put together a season that either just makes the playoffs (and crashes out of the first round) or just miss the playoffs? The Sedins are the types of players who can still carry your team to wins your team might not have deserved.
Are the Canucks fully committing to a re-build, or is it some sort of weird hybrid re-tool? Trading away Bieksa would seem to be a sign of a re-build. Trading away Lack and Kassian, while sticking with $6 million Ryan Miller and bringing in 31 year old Prust, speaks of the hybrid re-tool. What if Benning plans on building a team of Derek Dorsett’s and Luca Sbisa’s to win every scrum battle ever? Moral victories are still victories, right?? Well, we don’t really know what the plan is, which has left the fan-base scratching it’s head.
That’s what makes this year so interesting to watch. The Canucks have two big name players with expiring contracts this year in Hamhuis and Vrbata. The type of players you can potentially deal at the deadline for 1st or 2nd round picks. They also have Higgins and Burrows they could possibly move. Newly acquired Canuck Brandon Prust could be traded at the deadline to recoup the fifth rounder they included with Zack Kassian to get him. There are a lot of places the Canucks can embrace a full re-build this season. What remains to be seen is if they will do it.
Let’s take an optimistic view of things for a second, then. Let’s say Benning honestly thought last year that the old core deserved one more shot. That he wanted to take his time and find out what he was working with. He brought in Miller as a guy he trusted because he didn’t know who Lack was (it’s hard to stay up late to watch Canucks games on the east coast, you know?) and gave the team a year to show their stuff. After bowing out of the playoffs, Benning realizes the team needs changes. He sticks with his boy Miller, either due to loyalty or because he doesn’t want to be a GM who deals a UFA he just signed last year, and starts compiling draft picks. He trades away some of the veterans at the deadline, opening up more roster spots for the young players in the system.
This all leads to Jim Benning’s infamous scouting background as the key ingredient to greener pastures for the Canucks. That’s what it will come down to. That Jim Benning is such a great scout that he is able to put together the future core of the Vancouver Canucks over the next few seasons. Drafting is an inexact science, and Benning has shown he doesn’t follow the analytic trends (Virtanen over Ehlers, drafting Tryamkin, trading for Sbisa, etc), as he sticks to his “intangibles” roots. With an abundance of picks over the next couple of seasons, the Canucks future would rely heavily on Benning coming as advertised as that expert scout. This is both intriguing and scary.
Or maybe management is a mess. Maybe there is internal strife in the organization. Maybe the owners demand a playoff team, and management is handcuffed by it. Maybe Benning truly believes he can pull off a re-tool. He was just quoted today about still believing the Canucks are a playoff team (though it could just be posturing).
"The teams in our division all got better, but we still have a skilled team. We want to be competitive; this is still a playoff team" – JB
— Vancouver Canucks (@Canucks) July 1, 2015
Maybe the Canucks move forward in an attempt to get draft picks while remaining competitive at the same time with savvy free agent signings. Maybe Benning believes he’s so good at drafting that he can knock home runs with 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th round draft picks.
We have no idea what is going on, to be honest. If there is one thing hockey has taught us, however, it’s that when a team is struggling, no story is too small to be blown up as a reason for failure.
That being said, I think it’s safe to say there are a lot of reasons to be concerned about the future of the Canucks. The seeming lack of direction from the teams management is a concern. Many teams in the West have improved their teams considerably while the Canucks have done very little. Benning’s returns on the trades haven’t exactly been home runs either. Maybe the Vancouver market over valued its commodities, or maybe Benning is just really bad at trading. Preaching about getting younger while giving up on Kassian seems to counter that philosophy (although Benning did hint today at off ice reasons for the departure of Kass).
What we can’t say for certain is that the team is doomed. It’s only been one year into Benning’s reign, and it would be unfair to judge him before many of his results are in. Maybe Benning is the cleanse this team has needed since 2011.
Or maybe Benning is what we all feared. Homer Simpson being promoted to a position above his head.
"I'm beginning to think that Jim Benning is not the brilliant tactician I thought he was." pic.twitter.com/5saiA17a71
— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) July 1, 2015
Either way, we’ll have to wait to find out.