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.

Everything Else

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?

 

Game #55 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

250px-Ozymandias at 

Game Time: 9:00PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, SportsNet, SportsNet 1, WGN-AM 720
A Literal Statue Of A Coach Bitching At A Ref: Nucks Misconduct, Canucks Army

blackhawks-lineup-card

canucks-lineup-card

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.

Everything Else

bruins fallon fever pitch vs evil empire

Game Time: 11:30AM Central
TV/Radio: NBC, SportsNet, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
You White, You Ben Affleck: Cup of Chowder 

There really is zero excuse for an 11:30 start this morning, as the game isn’t necessarily running as counter programming to anything specific. But the NHL and marketing sensibility have never exactly gone together like bologna and Miracle Whip. So somehow what they’ll bill as in important game between two ORIGINAL SIX teams in its final pre-scheduled Sunday matchup still will start while the vast majority of the country is still sleeping. Great job again, everyone.