What must infuriate Canucks fans, who are generally in a constant state of infuriation, is that Jim Benning isn’t completely helpless at all facets of his job. Much like Stan Bowman, he’ll show a flash of knowing what he’s doing, especially in the draft, but then foul it all up in the free agent market. But unlike Bowman, Benning can’t blame his crap signings on trying to sandbag his coach.
Since being hired in May of 2014, Benning has drafted Jake Virtanen, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, Elias Pettersson, and Quinton Hughes. Hughes won’t be around until next season, and Virtanen has yet to really get a breeze going between anyone’s legs, but that’s also a first-line scorer, top center in this league, goalie of the future, and in Gaudette possibly a down-lineup weapon. When Hughes does wash up on the B.C. shores from Ann Arbor (roundabout trip, that), the Canucks will finally have a top-pairing d-man for a while. You don’t have to squint all that hard to see the spine of a real team there.
Still, the one aspect most NHL GMs haven’t gotten right is that when you’re rebuilding, though the Canucks never stated that’s what they were doing, you don’t need to sign anything other than lost hobos and wayward children to fill out your roster to one- or two-year deals at most. Maybe Canucks ownership wouldn’t let Benning really tank this until the kids were ready to take the mantle, but good lord check some of these out.
He signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year deal beyond the age of 30, in a desperate lunge to wring whatever was left out of Thing 1 and Thing 2. And this was after Boston gassed up Eriksson’s car and gave him a police escort to Logan to make sure he got out of town. Eriksson will be 36 when this deal is up.
He gave Brandon Sutter five years, and if Brandon Sutter’s name was “Brandon Owen,” he would be drinking beers in a parking lot at a beer league near you. He’ll be 31 when this deal is up. Benning inked Antoine Roussel to four years, when he’ll be 33, and he’s gotten six goals out of him. He signed Jay Beagle, at 33, to four more years to do…something. He’s been hurt, and the checking center has given the Canucks eight points. Teams that are a year or two or three away do not need specialized checking centers. He extended Erik Gudbranson, who should have “Security” written on the back of his jacket somewhere instead of his name and a jersey, for three more years before this season started. Sam Gagner is buried in the AHL he was so bad, but luckily he only has one more season to go.
Now, Benning will get away with this. None of these guys are making serious dollars, and the Canucks will have nearly $35M in cap space next year with only Brock Boeser a necessary re-signing. Ben Hutton and Nikolay Goldobin aren’t must-haves but will be kept. The Canucks could conceivably get someone real. And thanks to the complete and utter shit-show that the Pacific Division, and really the Western Conference as a whole, is below the top tier, the Canucks have been able to hang around and hold a playoff spot. They can claim it all worked.
But imagine the spot the Canucks would be in this summer if they weren’t holding on to Roussel or Gudbranson or Beagle. They could honestly add Erik Karlsson and Matt Duchene in the summer with Hughes and Pettersson and Boeser and all of the sudden things look a ton rosier, don’t they? They could have been one of the biggest free agent players the league has seen in years.
And they still could be, given what they have available. But given his history, would you trust Benning with that money?
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