Hockey

We comment on it every time the Hawks and Canucks get together of late. It’s just still so jarring how little you think of the Canucks now, given what they used to mean around here. Then again, Canucks fans probably don’t think about the Hawks much either anymore, aside from Duncan Keith. Even if the Hawks outlasted the Canucks relevance in ’14 and ’15, they’ve both faded from the scene in the past three or four years.

For the same reasons? Maybe. While it’s always fun to laugh at Jim Benning, and you should, the real obstacle in Vancouver is the Aquilino family that owns the team. They have never sanctioned a full rebuild, and strive to make the playoffs every season. There’s a feeling amongst the ownership that the fanbase would never accept a total teardown, even though most of the fanbase was screaming for one for a while now.

And perhaps that window has passed. Benning has done an excellent job of providing Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes as the building blocks of the future. There was even a nifty trade for J.T. Miller. With just the first three, you’d say that’s a great base to build a contender down the road with.

But because of the playoffs-or-fuck-you mantra from above, the Canucks are saddled with comedically bad contracts. Now, it’s Benning after all who chose those players and deals, and he gets most of the blame as he should. But he still has bosses to answer to, and they’ve sent out this directive.

Which is why the Canucks have only $30K in cap space this year. It’s why they’re dragging around Loui Eriksson, who was finished four years ago, or Antoine Roussel, or Tyler Myers. Even Jay Beagle is overpaid, as is Brandon Sutter. We could dig into the past and find more bad deals, but we’re not trying to be cruel here.

Which leaves the Canucks on a funky path. There’s some cap space next year, with only Jake Vrtanen an important piece to re-sign though how important is hard to gauge. Maybe Chris Tanev, but that’s not vital either. But they need a second line. They’ll need a long-term partner for Hughes, and it’s not going to be Tyler Myers no matter how many drugs they take to delude themselves. They probably need a second pairing. They’ll also need to either re-sign Jacob Markstrom or find a new goalie, which is going to cost a hell of a lot more than $3.6M they’re paying Markstrom now.

With Boeser, Pettersson, and Hughes, the Canucks are past doing a total rebuild. If they’re not stupid, they can buy out Eriksson or just pray that he retires early (he won’t). Another complication is that they’ve got $3M in cap-recapture penalties from Roberto Luongo retiring for another two seasons. Edler has one more year left. Sutter has one more. Beagle two. There’s some light at the end of the tunnel, but they can’t afford any more impulsive mistakes, otherwise they’ll be what they’ve been for the past five seasons, just sitting outside the playoffs with no clear direction.

But will the Aquilini’s finally show some patience? The Canucks haven’t seen the playoffs since ’15, even though that’s always been the stated goal. They have an outside shot this year, though you wouldn’t bet on it. Will they see that six or seven years without the playoffs is no different than five? Or will they go all in for more free agents next year? It feels like if they do, they won’t go anywhere again.

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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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There’s little question that the Vancouver Canucks have been floating in a fowl, still body of water for a few years now. They may be heavily deluded by the playoff appearance of 2015 that they somehow spasmed out of nowhere, but the two seasons after that hasn’t seen them clear 75 points and they’re certainly going to get nowhere near that this season. Anyone with half-decent eyesight and at least five functioning neurons upstairs could see this team needs big changes. It has one player it can build around in Brock Boeser, and maybe a decent piece in Bo Horvat, Troy Stetcher, and Ben Hutton. Maybe. Clearly, there’s a long way to go.

The Canucks had some things that they might have been able to move along for at least additional draft picks, and the more spins at the draft wheel you get the better chance you have of landing something meaningful.

Erik Gudbranson, who uncategorically sucks and that’s not even a phrase, was heading into free agency this summer. Thomas Vanek was another. Alex Edler might be starting to have old man stink, but he’s only got one year after this left on his deal and if the Canucks ate just a touch of his money due, they might have been able to convince some idiot that he can be a puck-moving bum-slayer. Chris Tanev has two more years after this one, and would have been harder to move, but given that he’s 28 and can actually still play, that might have been worth kicking the tires on too. And kicking this season into the can as hard as possible raises the odds of Rasmus Dahlin landing in town, which is a real start. Hell, maybe even flogging Lisa Ann’s favorite defenseman Michael Del Zotto would have been worth inspection.

The Canucks did… none of this.

They only made two trades. One was of Philip Holm, a young d-man who couldn’t crack their lineup, to Vegas for reclamation project Brendan Leipsic. Like, ok, maybe the Canucks can get Leipsic to the heights of a third line player. So…fine. And they did move Thomas Vanek…

…for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte.

HUH?!

The Canucks tried to claim that there was no picks available for Vanek. But he got a third round pick at the deadline just last year. Surely a lower pick could have been had. And what the fuck are the Canucks going to do with Jokinen and Motte other than have other jerseys to make? Jokinen will play for all 31 NHL teams by 2020 at this ace, and Fifth Feather called Tyler Motte an ECHL all-star upon one viewing of him in preseason. Are they really selling that a player on his third organization by 24 is going to be a piece?

Not only that, they re-signed Gudbranson for another four years. He’s a big, dumb d-man in a league that’s getting smaller and faster. This deal is going to look awful…well, now. They didn’t move Edler, who is only going to lose value now, and they didn’t move Tanev. Tanev still has use but will he at 31 or 32 when the Canucks are good again? Assuming they do everything right, which they won’t.

The Canucks will spend $23.2 million next year on Gudbranson, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Loui Eriksson, and Bo Horvat. Only Horvat isn’t a synonym for “millstone” at the moment, and only just barely away from that. And remember, they might not get to 65 points this year.

Sure, Adam Gaudette and Kole Lind are in the pipeline already. But look at how much more the Nucks need? This was a whiff.

 

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Stefan Heck is a true treasure, part of the @RealGoodShow. His Canucks and hockey thoughts are found @HockeyDipshit, and believe us when we tell you it’s a necessary follow. 

Assess the Canucks trade deadline. Put do give us time to hide in the other room before you start….
Surprisingly, Jim Benning’s strategy of “wait until the last minute to do something” failed to pay off! Brandon Leipsic seems like a decent little spark plug, at least, but Tyler Motte is yet another piece of tweener flotsam, and Jussi Jokinen… well, if this were 2006 and we needed to win a shootout, he would have been a great pickup.
We’ve asked you similar before, but everything we read from out there suggests Canucks fans are ready for a full rebuild and that’s what they’d prefer. So where is ownership getting this idea that their fanbase won’t settle for a fallow period, which is what they’ve got anyway?
After nearly half a century of abject failure (seriously, the Canucks have only finished in the top half of the league 12 times in their history), I still have absolutely no clue where Aquilini got the idea that this fanbase wouldn’t accept losing. The fact that a franchise this sad hasn’t folded or left town by now is evidence enough that Canucks fans will put up with losing seasons. In fact, attendance-wise, they’re still middle of the pack right now, which is insanely impressive when you, y’know, actually watch this team play. If ownership and management actually had any sort of semblance of a plan, they’d be dealing with approximately half the criticism they’re currently receiving. Even just coming out and saying “we were wrong” about the last few years would be a huge boost of morale to the fanbase. It’s never going to happen, though.
We guess holding on and extending Gudbranson gives us our answer, but will they attempt to unload some other terrible contracts in the summer like Sutter’s or Gagner’s or the like?
I really, really hope so, but at this point I know better than to expect anything positive out of this management group. My guess is they’ll hold on to all of their awful contracts and then add David Perron or James Neal to the mix. Can’t wait!
Nikolay Goldobin was a point per game in the AHL, is he something to look forward to in the future?
When Travis Green isn’t smothering the creativity out of Goldobin, he’s a lot of fun to watch. It’d be nice if they just let him focus on scoring goals in yet another lost season, but they seem 100% set on turning him into another boring grinder, which apparently we just can’t get enough of.
 
Ok, you’re hired as GM (it honestly could happen). What do you do from here?
1. No major free agent signings
2. Trade Sutter, Gagner, Gudbranson, Del Zotto, Granlund, Baertschi for whatever I can get
3. Trade Tanev for futures
4. Pick the BPA with our first rounder and emphasize skill with the rest of our picks
5. Seriously. Zero major free agent signings.

 

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Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: WGN Channel 9, WGN-AM 720
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Because no road trips make any sense anymore, the Hawks will head to Western Canada for a return engagement starting tonight in Vancouver with whatever the fuck the Canucks are these days, complete with NHL ALL STAR 3 ON 3 CHALLENGE MVP Brock Boeser.

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We sent out the clarion call for Canucks experts. We found @PetBugs13. He also goes by Graphic Comments on CanucksArmy.com.

Ok, this should be fun. Why won’t the Canucks trade Gudbranson and/or Vanek at the deadline even though they’re not going anywhere?
Um, do you guys remember when Dale Tallon couldn’t figure out how to work a fax machine? Well, Jim Benning is like that, but with an NHL roster.
That’s the short answer. The long answer is they think they need Gudbranson to provide the grit they lost in Derek Dorsett, as if fourth line tough guys aren’t a dime a dozen in the NHL. And although the plan all along was to trade Vanek at the deadline, now they think they need to keep him around for next year if the Sedins decide to retire.
Wow, that’s even more depressing when I see it written out like that.
Is Troy Stecher anything worth getting excited about? The Canucks don’t have a Boeser on the blue line so they have to start somewhere, right?
I don’t know about getting excited, but the kid has potential. What he lacks in size he makes up for in hockey smarts. He’s probably been the Canucks’ best defenseman the last two years. Sure, that isn’t exactly saying much on a blueline that has featured Luca Sbisa, Erik Gudbranson, and Michael Del Zotto, but he’s probably been better than Chris Tanev overall. Mind you, Tanev has had to carry a lot of that aforementioned dead weight most of that time, so he’s had some bad stretches. But yeah, Stecher has been a pretty solid defenseman, for a 23-year-old that probably doesn’t crack six feet even with his skates on. He doesn’t so much battle for the puck in the corners as use positioning and his stick to come away with it, and he has the skating ability to carry the puck out of the zone probably better than anyone else on this defense. So no, he’s not exciting, but he’s dependable. And on this team, I’ll take it.
Jake Virtanen is only 21 somehow. Are they ever going to be able to turn him into anything to join Horvat and Boeser in the next wave or is he this and that’s it?
Let’s put it this way, the hope is that he’s another Bertuzzi. The fear is that he’s another Neely. The reality is probably that he’s another Kyle Beach.
But seriously, what Virtanen has in size and speed, he lacks in hockey smarts. He had a great Junior career because he used that size and speed advantage to manhandle the kids he was playing against. But those advantages disappear when you get to the NHL, and I’m not sure he has the hockey sense and skills to fall back on. Even his hitting, which was a huge part of his game in Junior, has disappeared. Not sure if that’s because he hurt his shoulder and has never recovered, or if he’s just gun shy after getting hit with a two game suspension in his rookie season. This is a guy that could really have used a couple years in the AHL to round out the rest of his game and learn what it takes to be a professional hockey player. But the owners and management desperately wanted him in the NHL, so here we are.
What will the Sedins do this summer? They’re old and won’t play anywhere else and obviously the Canucks are years from a Cup. But it’s not like they’re useless either. 
It has pretty much been an open secret that they want to play at least another year, and if you look at their performance this season, they still can still control play when they’re on the ice and they’ve found new life on the powerplay now that they have a trigger man in Brock Boeser. The big question is how much they’ll want to be paid if they come back. They’re definitely not $7 million players any more, but they’re not $3 million players either. So will the Canucks be willing to give them $5 million each to come back?
(In an alternate universe, they agree to a trade to a contender at the deadline for a chance at the Cup and then re-sign here as free agents in July.)
There seems to be a fear among Vancouver ownership that Canucks fans won’t stand for a full rebuild. But surely they’d have more patience for that than watching a barely middling team run in place, no?
Absolutely. What this fanbase rally wants is some hope for the future. Well, the smart half of the fanbase, anyway. The dumb half always has hope and thinks are going just fine, thank you very much. So yeah, a full rebuild is exactly what this market needs. As long as the trajectory is on a downward descent, the fans are going to be restless. If you can bottom out quickly and show that there’s hope for the future and the team is starting to get better, the fans will get behind it. The team has almost turned the corner, but it’s taken four years. More if you count the last couple of years under Mike Gillis, when he was prevented from tearing it down by the owners. But even that little hint of hope that has started to creep into the fans since last year’s trade deadline can be just as quickly snuffed out if they don’t stick with it and turn guys like Vanek and Gudbranson into useful assets at this year’s deadline.

 

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Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, SportsNet, SportsNet 1, WGN-AM 720
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As the Hawks continue westward to the edge of the continent, tonight they will make their usual first Saturday night stop on the Circus Trip in Vancouver for a late tilt against whatever the hell it is the Canucks are anymore.