We could have titled this: The good, the bad, and the meh.
Calling some of Jim Benning’s deadline work “ugly” seems unfair, even if there have been some duds. In the instances where he was criticized, it was more for what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.
Entering Monday’s trade deadline, his fifth at the helm of the Vancouver Canucks, we have a pretty good sense of the deals that Benning likes to make. His style has changed slightly since his first trade deadline, as you’re unlikely to see this iteration of the Canucks move away any second-round selections.
Still, the emphasis for Benning has always been to target under-utilized players from other organizations. It’s a trend that has stayed true for nearly every one of his trade deadlines. Could we see something similar this year from the Canucks general manager?
Before we get into that, let’s take a look at some of Benning’s past trade deadline work for the Canucks to understand how it could affect this deadline.
A Svendid day at the office (2015)
- Canucks acquire Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames for a 2nd round draft pick (Rasmus Andersson)
- Canucks acquire Cory Conacher from the New York Islanders for Dustin Jeffrey
The Canucks were all smiles heading towards the 2015 deadline. Sitting firmly in a playoff spot, they were one of the highest scoring teams in the league and managed to snag former 13th overall selection Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames.
While Baertschi has been a good player for the Canucks, he has had trouble staying in the lineup due to injuries. The draft pick the Canucks traded away turned into Rasmus Andersson, who’s been a reliable third-pairing defenceman for the Flames this season as a rookie.
Nothing for Hamhuis and Vrbata (2016)
- Canucks acquire Philip Larsen from the Edmonton Oilers for a 5th round draft pick
- Canucks acquire Markus Granlund from the Calgary Flames for Hunter Shinkaruk
The 2016 trade deadline was easily Benning’s worst.
In a year where the Canucks needed to trade veterans Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata, who each were not in the future plans of the team, Benning couldn’t find a taker for either.
Both players had no-trade clauses (Hamhuis agreed to waive his for two teams, while Vrbata had to submit a list of teams to go to), making a deal more difficult, but not impossible.
There was some interest in Hamhuis from Dallas and Chicago, but they wound up making other deals instead. Benning was left with nothing to show for both Hamhuis and Vrbata, who each left as free agents the following summer.
Deals for the future (2017)
- Canucks acquire Nikolay Goldobin and a 4th round draft pick from the San Jose Sharks for Jannik Hansen
- Canucks acquire Jonathan Dahlen from the Ottawa Senators for Alex Burrows
After floundering through the 2016 deadline, 2017 brought along better results. Trading Alex Burrows for promising prospect Jonathan Dahlen could be considered as Benning’s best trade.
Benning also dealt away Jannik Hansen for Nikolay Goldobin and a fourth-round pick.
Despite trading away a pair of fan favourites in Burrows and Hansen, Benning was largely applauded for the deals, which gave the team some hope for the future.
Underwhelming return for Vanek (2018)
- Canucks acquire Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Thomas Vanek
- Canucks acquire Brendan Leipsic from the Vegas Golden Knights for Philip Holm
Fans weren’t happy with the return for Thomas Vanek, but what did you expect? Vanek’s track record was well established, and the Canucks still managed to get a player who’s been a full-time contributor with the team this season.
The Brendan Leipsic for Philip Holm trade was only a short term win, as Leipsic found himself on waivers by November.
Benning’s biggest mistake from this deadline was re-signing Erik Gudbranson to a three-year, $12 million deal.
The only logic for such a move at the time was that Benning expected Gudbranson to improve after two injury-riddled, underwhelming seasons. Not only has Gudbranson failed to improve, analytics make a case that he’s now one of the worst defencemen in the NHL.
What this means for 2019
Here are some takeaways from Benning’s trade deadline work:
- He loves targeting undervalued players.
- He’s not afraid to trade within his division (five of his eight deals have been interdivisional).
- He hasn’t been willing or able to acquire many draft picks
It’s the last point that still frustrates most fans in this market. While Benning has made some decent deadline moves in the past, his refusal to trade declining players to improve through the draft has been frustrating for many.
The Canucks have also been successful at the draft, especially over the last two seasons. They can also look to success stories like Ben Hutton (5th round, 2012), Adam Gaudette (5th round, 2015) and Tyler Madden (3rd round, 2018) as examples of why it’s important to acquire draft picks, even in the later rounds.
Alex Edler is the team’s lone marquee pending UFA, but his current injury (a concussion), coupled with a full no-trade clause likely kills the possibility of a deal.
Other than that, the Canucks have pending RFAs in Markus Granlund, Nikolay Goldobin, and Derrick Pouliot that they could move, if there’s a taker.