With just 15 days to go before the NHL Draft kicks off in Dallas, things are about to get eventful for the Vancouver Canucks.
They’ll select new players in Dallas, of course, but draft time is also one of the busiest times of year with regards to trades. Free agency follows that on July 1, and the Canucks have a boatload of cap space, so buckle up.
Just what kind of ride Jim Benning and company will take Canucks fans on is anybody’s guess.
Past moves have caused a number of people to lose trust in this management group, and you can understand why.
The Canucks already have little to show for Ryan Kesler, who should have returned a package that set the team up well for the future.
Trading for Erik Gudbranson was a massive failure in talent-identification, and signing Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $6 million per season contract was the type of move you’d expect from a contender, not a team like the Canucks.
After finally admitting the team was rebuilding last spring, they signed a number of veteran free agents on July 1. So you can understand why fans get nervous when rumours of more signs of an impatient franchise materialize.
Elliotte Friedman called the Canucks a ‘stealth’ team for Noah Hanifin. Bob McKenzie mentioned the Canucks as a team he thought could be in on Ryan O’Reilly. TSN has Vancouver’s first-round draft pick listed on its trade bait list – the only non-player asset listed.
.@TSNBobMcKenzie: We know that Vancouver has expressed interest in Hanifin. I wouldn't be surprised if Vancouver has at least expressed some interest in Ryan O'Reilly, out of Buffalo. I'm sure they're probably looking at enough veteran players to get the market in a tizzy
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) June 5, 2018
Now, perhaps Benning is just doing his due diligence. Maybe he’s making sure that no stone is left unturned in his pursuit of improving the hockey club. That’s his job, after all.
Or perhaps this is an indication that maybe Benning hasn’t learned his lesson.
And that’s what should make Canucks fans nervous.
The Canucks hold just six of the seven draft picks they were allowed at their disposal. If they pick fewer than seven, it’ll be the second time in three years they’ve done so. Given that rebuilding teams typically load up on extra picks – that’s alarming.
Vancouver picked eight times at last year’s draft, though the 55th overall selection was the benefit of Columbus signing John Tortorella – a gift from the hockey gods as opposed to a forward-thinking move.
For a team that says they’re going to build through the draft, they have a funny way of showing it.
Jared McCann – a first-round pick in 2014 – was dealt away less than two years after he was picked. Gustav Forsling, who has already played 79 NHL games, was dealt away less than a year after he was selected.
To be fair, the team has made more prudent, forward-thinking moves in the last 16 months. The Alex Burrows and Jannik Hansen trades were smart decisions. Getting something for Thomas Vanek was better than nothing, which is what they received for Dan Hamhuis two years earlier.
But that goodwill could go out the window if the Canucks try to fast-track proceedings again.
A trade involving Hanifin would almost certainly include the No. 7 overall draft pick. Hanifin was a fifth-overall pick three years ago, is still just 21 years old, and has already played in an NHL All-Star Game – so he’s hardly Erik Gudbranson 2.0.
.@rayferrarotsn on Hanifin rumours: 30 pts is probably not going to be too far away from what he is. He's not going to be a 50-60pt player. Great skater, doesn't have the offensive instincts of Zach Werenski. Puck mover, can transport the puck, but offensively is a 2nd tier guy
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) May 25, 2018
Hanifin’s a good, young defenceman, but if his ceiling is limited, as Ray Ferraro has suggested, then the Canucks have to be wary. A rebuilding team can’t be in the business of flipping top-10 picks for second-pairing defencemen.
As for O’Reilly, he’s everything you’d want in a player. A reliable, two-way centre with a scoring punch, he would undoubtedly make the Canucks a better team. There’s a reason why Team Canada chose him for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The problem, other than his $7.5 million cap hit, is that O’Reilly turns 28-years-old next season. When the Canucks are a playoff team again, he’s likely to be on the wrong side of 30. That’s all well and good, if you can get him for a package built around Alex Edler – but that’s not happening. O’Reilly’s a stud, which means a number of teams will call about him, driving the price up. If the ask for him involves prospects and draft picks – the Canucks have to stay away.
If there’s one thing the Vegas Golden Knights have taught us, it’s that diamonds in the rough exist throughout the NHL. Benning needs to search for value, not sure-things that cost a fortune.
Find the next Jonathan Marchessault like Florida did when they signed him as a free agent coming off a seven-goal season with Tampa Bay. Stay away from veteran journeymen with limited upside that take up space on the roster and reduce opportunities for young players like Jake Virtanen and Nikolay Goldobin.
More Linden: We do have to be careful with what we do this summer. We're okay with where we are. We're okay with being young next year. We're going to be extremely young, we know that #canucks
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) April 4, 2018
Trevor Linden has said the team is going to be “extremely young” next season, and it’s time to follow up on that promise.
Be patient and make smart draft choices, like they did last year.
Let the Virtanens and Goldobins of the world sink or swim. Same goes with Brendan Leipsic. Allow opportunity for Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette, and Jonathan Dahlen.
They might not be ready, but that’s okay.
The Canucks can be bad next season, but they’d better not be old.