“According to Jim”: A Top-to-Bottom Analysis of Jim Benning, His Plan, and the Moves he’s Made Thus Far

A constant criticism of the Canucks under the Presidency of Trevor Linden and the management of Jim Benning is that the Canucks have little or no long-term plan. The reasons given for this are many, whether it be ownership meddling, misplaced competitiveness, or sheer incompetence. The general idea seems to be that the Canucks need to rebuild, while the management team seems insistent on moving in a different direction, making moves that conflict with a rebuild and show them to be a confused bunch. The signing of Loui Eriksson this summer led to a new round of these oft-repeated critiques.

As I showed in a previous article, not only are there ways other than rebuilding to build a contender, but the rebuild does not even seem to be the preferred method. Read that article for evidence that the Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins, and Lightning all built their teams through a process of gradually reinvigorating their cores, rather than tearing everything down and building from scratch. This is the process that I believe Jim Benning is attempting to recreate.

A small note here, on the difference between being competitive and truly competing. Benning and co. have received harsh criticism in the past for saying that they want their team to remain in competition for the playoffs, when the team obviously needs high draft picks. In the case of each of the teams mentioned above, the teams continued to add talent to their roster year in and year out, providing a competitive environment where improvement was always expected. However, these teams did not necessarily go into each season with a roster that could reasonably compete for the Stanley Cup. The worst seasons, and subsequent highest draft picks, were a natural result of aging talent, youthful mistakes, injuries, and strong opponents, rather than a concerted effort to be non-competitive. This is the path that I believe the Canucks began last season. The Canucks said they wanted to be competitive, made moves towards improving the team, and set an expectation of winning games, yet everyone and their dog knew that the Canucks would end up in the basement of the league, and sure enough, they did. Which goes to show: there’s a major difference between being competitive and truly competing.

That being said, we can probably expect the Canucks to go through a few more losing seasons. Next season will almost certainly be another lottery season, and the team is unlikely to do anything more than flirt with the playoffs for at least three more years. The reason for this is pretty simple; the Pacific Division is the strongest it’s ever been. With Edmonton having Connor McDavid, Calgary having Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, and Arizona having Dylan Strome and Max Domi, the youth movements in those cities are already in full swing. As well, the California teams are not quite ready to start dropping off yet. The Canucks time to rise will be when the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks begin to age out of competitiveness. Until then, it’s a good time to collect prospects.

In examining the routes that Chicago, LA, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay took to perennially contending, a few common threads popped up. Not only were these trends contrary to what the mainstream hockey media spouts about rebuilding, but they seemed to mirror much of what Benning and Linden have stated their intentions are. By combining what the Canucks management say they want to do with what successful teams have done in the past, the outline of a long-term plan for the Vancouver Canucks begins to emerge.

 

Part One: Allow the core to age naturally, only trading off pieces when replacements are available. Glean high-end draft picks from subsequent diminishing point totals.

Part Two: Make moves to improve the team every season. Attempt to compete each year to instill competitiveness in team, but accept losing seasons without resetting process.

Part Three: Close age gaps on team to facilitate gradual influx of young talent. Having a roster with a diverse age range allows for a “bridge” between the incoming rookies and ever-aging veterans, and avoids too much pressure being put on either group. Also allows for salary cap flexibility. Benning inherited a team with a sizeable age gap.

Part Four:  Focus on maintaining or adding high-character players with leadership qualities and winning experience to support, mentor, and take pressure off youth.

Part Five: Reinvigorate the core over several seasons, replacing piece by piece with incoming young talent that is developed patiently.

 

While my research leads me to believe this plan can end in long-term success, and thus I find I end up agreeing with the direction that Benning has taken the Canucks, I will note one specific area in which Benning and I seem to disagree. Personal character is a quality that seems necessary for championship hockey teams, but is entirely intangible and difficult to quantify. While winning experience can be easily qualified, another previous part of my research has shown that adding players who have won championships doesn’t seem to be a major priority for Benning.

Instead, Benning focuses on the intangibles of character and leadership, which has seen him “zero in,” on certain players that he, or others in the organization, think of as having positive personal attributes. I believe that this is why Benning seems to pay a little extra in most of his deals. Time and time again, the person adding a small bonus to get a trade done is Benning.

While I don’t necessarily think that seeking out specific players is a bad thing, the cost for this “character tax” seems to consistently be draft picks. My analysis of the modern dynasties did show that they all traded draft picks of their own while building their teams, including second rounders, but they also kept enough picks to develop a stable of late-round talent. With scouting reportedly being Benning’s strongest suit, it would be nice to see him hold on to just a few more selections.

With all that being said, this has only outlined what I believe to be Benning and Linden’s intentions. As we all know, intentions do not always lead to results. Building a team in the style of the LA Kings or Tampa Bay Lightning is one thing, but actually crafting a lasting contender requires all that along with astute talent assessment, asset management, and no shortage of luck. It will be quite some time before the end result of the Benning regime can be fully measured, but for now, we can look at how Benning’s moves stack up when viewed through the scope of my outlined plan.

The only thing I won’t be judging here is Benning’s drafting, as it’s simply too early to tell after only three drafts. Same goes for free agent prospect signings. However, early returns, including picking Thatcher Demko, Nikita Tryamkin, and Brock Boeser, seem quite promising. It’s obvious that the plan will only work out if the team manages to draft quality talent consistently.

 

The Good: Moves that are indisputably positive regardless of context 

November 20, 2014: Trade, Kellan Lain to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Will Acton

-Not much to talk about with this trade, but experience on the farm is nice, and it only cost the relatively useless Lain.

 

November 25, 2014: Trade, Alexandre Mallet and a 2016 3rd Round Pick to the New York Islanders in exchange for Andrey Pedan

-One of a few examples of how draft picks can be dealt judiciously to fill in the age gaps left by previous management. Pedan represents an already partially developed asset that can be used at the NHL level a lot quicker than a 3rd rounder would be.

 

July 2, 2014: Signing, Radim Vrbata for 2 years @ $5 million average

-Despite Vrbata’s poor second season, this short-term contract was still a bargain for a top-flight UFA, and helped the Sedins to continue carrying the team’s offense.

 

February 23, 2015: Release, Tom Sestito

-When character is important your development plan for young players, you have to get rid of people like Sestito, someone who seems every bit the doofus off the ice that he is on it.

 

March 2, 2015: Trade, 2015 2nd Round Pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Sven Baertschi

-An even better example of the concept of trading a draft pick for an already partially developed player. In this case, it seems that Baertschi was on the cusp of a breakout, paying huge dividends thus far and into the future.

 

March 2, 2015: Trade, Dustin Jeffrey to the New York Islanders in exchange for Cory Conacher

-Though Jeffrey was also a veteran presence, Conacher brought a bit of NHL playoff experience to the Comets, and helped them reach the AHL Finals.

 

June 27, 2015: Trade, Patrick McNally to the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2015 7th Round Pick

-Any sort of return for a prospect you don’t intend to sign is a positive.

 

June 30, 2015: Trade, Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2016 2nd round pick

-This is a good example of when it is best to cash in on a veteran. Bieksa’s on-ice play was beginning to deteriorate, and younger players were ready to take on his minutes. A 2nd rounder may seem like a low price given everything Bieksa had meant to the franchise, but it was obvious that his future returns would continue to diminish.

 

August 26, 2015: Signing, Adam Cracknell for 1 year @ $575,000

-Not much to talk about here, but Cracknell was a serviceable veteran that allowed a player like Brendan Gaunce more time to develop in the minors.

 

January 8, 2016: Trade, Nicklas Jensen and a 2017 7th Round Pick to the New York Rangers for Emerson Etem

-Trading the highly disappointing Jensen and a low pick for a player that has upside and helps fill in the age gap is a win all around. Etem’s late season quality of play gives even more reason for optimism.

 

January 19, 2016: Signing, Mike Zalewski for 1 year@ $575,000

-In contrast with trading the underachieving Jensen, rewarding a hard-working player like Zalweski with a contract sends the right message throughout the organization.

 

February 24, 2016: Trade, 2017 5th Round Pick to the Edmonton Oilers for Philip Larsen

-A low risk, high reward gamble on a player that had no interest returning to the NHL if it meant going back to Edmonton. If he doesn’t pan out, it’s no real loss.

 

April 26, 2016: Contract Extension, Markus Granlund for 2 years @ $0.900 million average

-Although the trade for Granlund itself was questionable, locking up a young, NHL forward who helps fill in the age gap is the right move. Doing so with a cap hit that can be buried in the minors is even better.

 

June 16, 2016: Contract Extension, Sven Baertschi for 2 years @ $1.85 million average

-I doubt anyone will complain about locking up the promising Baertschi to a very reasonable bridge contract. The team will have to pony up eventually, however, if Baertschi continues to break out.

 

July 1, 2016: Signing, Michael Chaput for 1 year @ $600,000

-Chaput brings a ton of winning experience to the Comets, having won both Memorial Cup and Calder Cup championships.

 

July 1, 2016: Signing, Chad Billins for 1 year @ $600,000

-Billins also brings Calder Cup experience to the Comets.

 

July 1, 2016: Signing, Jayson Megna for 1 year @ $600,000

-With more and more quality prospects beginning to play on the Comets, keeping a large veteran presence there is key. Megna helps that.

 

July 1, 2016: Signing, Borna Rendulic for 1 year @ $600,000

-While Rendulic brings experience to the farm like the above three, he is also young enough that he still has some NHL upside.

 

July 7, 2016: Contract Extension, Jacob Markstrom for 3 years @ $3.67 million average

-Markstrom is the de facto starter for the next few years, and this is a low salary for a starter. It ends right around when Thatcher Demko is expected to establish himself.

 

July 12-19, 2016: Re-signing, Mike Zalewski, Alex Grenier, and Andrey Pedan to 1 year deals

-Grouping these together for convenience’s sake, these re-signings were no-brainers whether the players play for the Canucks or Comets. All three have NHL upside.

 

July 13, 2016: Re-signing, Richard Bachman for 1 years @ $650,000

-This move deserves its own special mention, as it gives the Canucks an eligible goaltender to expose in the expansion draft.

 

 

The Bad: Moves that are indisputably negative regardless of context 

January 29, 2015: Trade, Gustav Forsling to the Chicago Blackhawks for Adam Clendening

-This one is just poor professional scouting, it seems. Forsling had already shown a great deal of promise overseas, and Clendening had yet to show anything at the NHL level, a fact that hasn’t changed after more than a few address changes.

 

April 8, 2015: Contract Extension, Luca Sbisa for 3 years @ $3.6 million average

-Whatever the team sees in Sbisa, it must be highly intangible. By almost every measure available, Sbisa is a bottom-pairing defenseman at best, and while he can bring some unique physical elements to the team, him being paid like a top-4 player is restricting the team financially, making Sbisa more trouble than he’s worth.

 

June 27, 2015: Trade, Eddie Lack to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2015 3rd and 7th Round Pick

-While Lack’s less-than-stellar performance in Carolina might show that the Canucks were right to give up on him, it seems that Lack’s play in the 2014-15 season really should have warranted a higher return than this. It may be that the team wanted to avoid trading Lack within the West, and goalie markets are tough to predict, but this was an extremely underwhelming return.

 

July 1, 2015: Signing, Matt Bartkowski for 1 year @ $1.75 million average

-Bartkowski filled a spot on the roster for a year, and that’s somewhat important, but calling a contract that pays the worst defenseman in the league more than a million dollars anything but bad would be untrue.

 

October 5, 2015: Waive, Frank Corrado

-Whether or not you think Corrado had a spot on the Canucks, he was an asset, plain and simple, and letting young assets go for free is never a positive thing. The Canucks should have pulled out all the stops to hang on to Corrado.

 

February 22, 2016: Trade, Hunter Shinkaruk to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Markus Granlund

-The acquisition of Granlund itself itsn’t too hard to understand. After all, he brings versatility to the forward ranks and fills in the age gap, which makes him a flexible piece to have in an ever-changing lineup. Giving up on a promising prospect like Shinkaruk so early, however, is puzzling. Shinkaruk was in the midst of a fantastic AHL season, and unless the Canucks had inside knowledge that made them doubt his future, it seems like patience would have been warranted for Shinkaruk.

 

The Understandable: Moves that make sense given the context of “The Plan.”

June 27, 2014: Trade, Jason Garrison and Jeff Costello to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2014 2nd Round Pick

-The Canucks blueline was a little crowded when Benning took over, and moving Garrison allowed for Chris Tanev to begin to shine. It’s not a great return for a solid top-4 player, but it helps to stockpile draft picks, especially if you plan on trading some of them for young players.

 

June 27, 2014: Trade, 2014 3rd Round Pick to the New York Rangers for Derek Dorsett

-Dorsett is a polarizing presence on the Canucks. Some don’t see room for a player of his ilk in the league anymore, but I strongly disagree. Dorsett can play a regular role on the 4th line, continually plays with energy, and is willing to take on nearly the entirety of the team’s pugilistic duties. As the team tries to develop Jake Virtanen and Nikita Tryamkin, two extremely physical prospects, it is nice to know that they can throw huge hits without necessarily having to back it up with their fists every time. Until fighting is removed from the game, players like Dorsett will remain valuable in the NHL.

 

June 27, 2014: Trade, Ryan Kesler and a 2015 3rd Round Pick to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Luca SbisaNick Bonino and 2014 1st and 3rd Round Picks

-A trade where the context of Benning’s plan takes a backseat to the circumstances of the situation. Ryan Kesler demanded a trade, and was only willing to accept two destinations. Getting the serviceable Bonino, a first rounder, and an NHL defenseman is an underwhelming but fair return. The fact that Kesler signed an instant-albatross of a contract with Anaheim makes the trade much more palatable.

 

June 28, 2014: Trade, a 2014 2nd Round Pick to the Los Angeles Kings for Linden Vey

-This trade is very similar to the Baertschi trade, minus the eventual breaking out. With a few dominant seasons at the AHL level, Vey seemed to only be held back by Los Angeles’ depth, and was an excellent candidate to explode with the Canucks. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way, but the chances of Vey succeeding were probably higher than any average 2nd round pick.

 

July 1, 2014: Signing, Ryan Miller for 3 years @ $6 million average

-This move, like the later signing of Eriksson, was decried as a move in the wrong direction. What was a rebuilding team doing with an aging goaltender? Miller has proven quite useful over the past two seasons, however, as Markstrom has shown both his inexperience and lack of durability. Markstrom has begun to blossom as he’s taken over from Miller, and Miller deserves some credit for this. It seems that Miller’s attitude and personality are a better fit for a mentor-turned-backup than, say, Roberto Luongo. The contract may be a bit high, but that’s to be expected with a UFA, and it conveniently ends when Markstrom’s new one begins.

 

February 12, 2015: Waiver claim,  Brandon McMillan from Arizona Coyotes

-McMillan was just a warm body, but at least he got to play in his hometown for awhile.

 

April 8, 2015: Contract Extension, Derek Dorsett for 4 years @ $2.65 million average.

-I’ve already outlined my reasons for valuing Dorsett above, and with those in mind, this contract makes more sense. It may be in the upper tier for 4th line salaries, but Dorsett’s production and experience probably warrant that. Giving four years to a grinder is always risky, but it does allow the Canucks to maintain some continuity as young faces get shuffled in.

 

July 1, 2015: Trade, Zack Kassian and a 2016 5th Round Pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Brandon Prust

-Once again, if character is important to your team, you have to dispense with players like Kassian. Prust had value for the Canucks for many of the same reasons Dorsett does, although an early injury and a seemingly poor attitude made Prust a poor fit. This trade would be in the “good” category, were it not for that 5th round pick, a great example of the “character tax” that Benning often pays. In this case, his character assessment of Prust seems to have been wrong.

 

July 28, 2015: Trade, Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2016 2nd round to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Brandon Sutter and a conditional 2016 3rd Round Pick

-This trade makes sense in the context of the Pacific Division. The Canucks face a gigantic list of centers than includes Ryan Getzlaf, Joe Thornton, and Anze Kopitar on a regular basis. Playing against those players is a daunting task, and the pressure of doing so could severely hinder the development of prospects. Sutter is a player capable of taking on those defensive minutes, allowing someone like Bo Horvat to spend more time developing his offensive game. Bonino, while a superior offensive player, just couldn’t take on such assignments. Sutter is also reported to be a high character guy, and has his family’s reputation, which explains the “character tax” showing up again in this deal. Clendening is a throw-in.

 

Aug 4, 2015: Contract Extension, Brandon Sutter for 5 years @ $4.375 million average.

-If you buy the argument for acquiring Sutter above, this deal is understandable. It seems in line with what players like Sutter usually make, and it’s quite reasonable when compared to recent deals for inferior players like Darren Helm. Like Dorsett’s deal, this contract will allow for some continuity amongst the youth, especially if the Sedins move on after their contracts expire.

 

February 1, 2016: Contract Extension, Alex Biega for 2 years @ $0.75 million average

-Biega definitely earned this contract with sheer hard work and dedication. Re-signing him sends the right message.

 

February 2, 2016: Waive, Brandon Prust

-Prust did not pan out at all, and when his negative attitude reared its ugly head after a near-scratch in New York, it was definitely time to pull the plug. It was nice to see Benning admit to an obvious mistake.

 

May 25, 2016: Trade, Jared McCann and 2016 2nd and 4th Round Pick for Erik Gudbranson and a 2016 5th Round Pick

-Fans were initially sour on this deal, but came around more once they saw the price tags other right-handed defensemen were obtaining on the market. Trading young assets like McCann and the 2nd hurt, but Gudbranson isn’t too ancient himself. He provides a youngish veteran presence in a key position, and his intangibles are off the charts. Physicality, leadership, and competitiveness are all staples of Gudbranson’s game, and all positive qualities to have around a young organization.

 

July 1, 2016: Signing, Loui Eriksson for 6 years @ 6 million average

-Signing Eriksson, like the signing of Miller and the acquisition of Gudbranson, sets the expectation that the team is not completely resigned to losing. While the Canucks will undoubtedly still struggle for the next few seasons, Eriksson will help ensure the team avoids being embarrassed on a regular basis. With the Sedins’ future unknown, having Eriksson for six years means that when the young talent is able to take on major scoring roles, they will be taking over for Eriksson, rather than being thrust into a void and expected to take on the entire load immediately. The Edmonton Oilers have shown the danger of this sort of set-up, and the Canucks seem determined to avoid it.

 

Overall Grade, according to “The Plan”: B-

Benning’s score is hurt by the “character tax,” and the subsequent bleeding of draft picks, along with a few bad judgements on individual players, but overall he seems to be doing a fair job of attempting to replicate the path to team building that the league’s most successful franchises have taken.

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An Investigation Into the Efficacy of Full Rebuilds, Using the Blackhawks, Kings, Penguins, and Lightning as Case Studies

In a summer that saw the long-term signing of Loui Eriksson and the trading of young assets like Jared McCann and a 2nd round pick, much has been made of the Canucks’ plan, or apparent lack thereof, when it comes to the team’s future. Various sources have described the Canucks and their management team as confused or in denial, stating that the team should rebuild completely by shunning older players, trading off veteran assets, and fully embracing a youth movement. It many cases, it is outright stated that this is the preferred way to build a contender in the NHL, usually with the inclusion of promoting tanking as a quick path to success.

While it’s true that in the past, the NHL has witnessed some teams achieve success by way of dismantling their roster and intentionally trying to lose hockey games, things have changed. The NHL added a Draft Lottery in the 1990s after the embarrassing Mario Lemieux fiasco, which saw teams like the Devils and Penguins benching players that gave them a better chance of winning games. The NHL has recently made the Draft Lottery odds as open as they ever have been in league history, meaning that the appeal of tanking is at an all-time low. Still, one constantly sees fans and media types bemoaning the decisions of Jim Benning and co, and wishing the Canucks would start a full-on rebuild.

However, it seems fair to question whether this method really is a recipe for success. It is my contention that, in recent league history, the most lasting success has been found not by engaging in outright, burn-the-house-down franchise rebuilds, but by a more slow and steady influx of youth which is supported by a veteran core, a so-called retooling, although I prefer the term reinvigoration. Furthermore, these teams acquired their high draft picks from a legitimate downturn in team results brought on by aging or less-than-talented cores, rather than a seemingly intentional tank. In other words, the path that the Vancouver Canucks appear to be heading down currently.

In order to prove my theory, we’re going to look at the four franchises which have found the most lasting success in the NHL in the past decade: the Chicago Blackhawks, the LA Kings, the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

To keep this as short and readable as possible, and also to simplify matters, we’ll focus solely on the seasons where these teams picked up their premier talent via the draft, and the seasons during which those teams integrated said young talent into the league.

 

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks began their downfall just before the 2005 Lockout, as their core-to-be suffered from injuries (Eric Daze) and failed potential (Kyle Calder, Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell). After some astute draft picks in the preceding years, including Brent Seabrook as a mid-1st and both Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford as 2nd-rounders, Chicago stumbled by flubbing on the selection of Cam Barker in 2004.

 

2005-06 Season: Things really began to turn around for the Hawks after the 2005-06 season, which culminated with the drafting of Jonathan Toews at 3rd overall. However, despite the poor season pre-lockout, Chicago did not enter the season like a team seeking the lottery. They no longer had veterans Steve Sullivan, Bryan Berard, or Alexei Zhamnov from the previous season, but replaced them with players like Jaroslav Spacek, Radim Vrbata, and major free agent signing Martin Lapointe. Chicago also acquired Patrick Sharp early in the season, although he had yet to break out.

Even at the deadline, the Blackhawks did not exactly clear house, as Arnason was the only traded player of consequence. Spacek had been traded earlier in the season. This was not a team out to make wholesale changes.

Chicago didn’t even finish last in their division in 2005-06, as that honour went to the Blues. Still, the Hawks ended up with the 3rd overall pick, and grabbed future captain Jonathan Toews.

 

2006-07 Season: In the summer leading up to the 2006-07 season, the Blackhawks did some major rearranging, but still didn’t appear to be in rebuild mode. They got rid of the enigmatic Mark Bell but received Martin Havlat and Bryan Smolinski in return in what was essentially a three-way trade that also saw the Senators give up a 2nd rounder.

The Hawks also gave up on Kyle Calder before the season began, but dealt him for the very useful Michal Handzus instead of for futures. The team would later reacquire Calder before immediately flipping him for Jason Williams on the same day. Williams and Handzus were both young veterans ready to contribute immediately, and although Smolinski was dealt for a pick at the deadline, the team had kept Vrbata, Lapointe, Adrian Aucoin and Jassen Cullimore around for further veteran presence. However, the team still floundered to last place, and got to pick Patrick Kane with the 1st overall.

 

2007-08 Season: Both Toews and Kane made their debuts this season, and although they played important roles right away, they were very much supplemented by a strong veteran presence. Included in this were the newly acquired Robert Lang, Andrei Zyuzin, and Sergei Samsonov, along with the oft-injured Havlat and high character veterans Lapointe and Williams, who had winning experience with the Red Wings. The team was backed by the great Nikolai Khabibulin.

From day one, Toews and Kane were able to slide in as important pieces but were not expected to carry the entire load themselves. They received more opportunity than expected due to injuries to Havlat and Williams, along with Samsonov’s poor performance, but still had players like Lang and the much older Sharp around to help carry the offensive load. Though the Hawks still missed the playoffs by three points, but greatly improved all around and began their swift ascent to the league’s peak.

 

Conclusion: The Chicago Blackhawks did not engage in a rebuild, but rather gained success by legitimately struggling for a few seasons, making some astute draft picks, and then integrating those young players into a veteran lineup. At no point did the Blackhawks stop making moves towards icing a competitive team. A good example of retooling and reinvigorating a less-than-optimal core, but a unique situation in that there wasn’t much of a base to rebuild in the first place.

 

The Los Angeles Kings:

The LA Kings began a streak of six straight years out of the playoffs in 2002-03. That year’s squad was veteran-laden, with such luminaries as Ziggy Palffy, Adam Deadmarsh, Jason Allison, and Lubomir Visnovsky, although injuries devastated the team’s chances. The Kings would continue to chase the playoffs for the next half decade, stumbling into some franchise-altering players along the way.

 

2003-04 Season: The Kings brought back Luc Robitaille before the 2003-04 season, and the team also saw the emergence of Alex Frolov, but the Kings failed to improve and once again missed the playoffs. The team had made a legitimate effort to add veterans like Roman Cechmanek, Jozef Stumpel, and Martin Straka, all at the cost of picks and prospects.

The team even made an effort to improve at the deadline, trading for Anson Carter and Nathan Dempsey, but ultimately they finished ten points out of a playoff spot. The team was by no means embracing a rebuild, but was still rewarded by the post-lockout pick of Anze Kopitar at 11th overall, along with Jonathan Quick in the 3rd round at the 2005 Draft. Their pre-lockout pick of Lauri Tukonen, also at 11th overall in 2004, was much less impressive, but the Kings still exited the lockout much better off than they had entered it.

 

2005-06 Season: The Kings once again loaded up for a playoff run in 2005-06. They added veterans like Jeremy Roenick, Pavol Demitra, and Craig Conroy, and picked up Mark Parrish mid-season. Though Kopitar did not make his debut, Dustin Brown did, and Frolov and Mike Cammalleri continued to breakout. The team still barely improved on their previous season, missed the playoffs by six points, and drafted 11th overall for the third straight year, picking Jonathan Bernier.

 

2006-07 Season: Four years into their playoff drought, the Kings were still not ready to rebuild. LA tried to leach off the Canucks recent moderate success by hiring Marc Crawford as coach and trading multiple second round picks for new starter Dan Cloutier. Rob Blake returned to the team, and Visnovsky, Conroy, and Mattias Norstrom remained as veteran pieces, with the last two in particular representing high character. Brown, Cammalleri, and Frolov all starred in offensive roles. This was the team on which Anze Kopitar made his stellar debut.

Despite all the talent up front, the team employed five goalies over the course of the season, including Yutaka Fukufuji, and dropped to near the bottom of the league. The trade deadline saw the Kings dealing Conroy and Norstrom for returns that included other veterans, as well as trading Brent Sopel for an impressive draft pick haul from Vancouver. The Kings drafted 4th overall, but unfortunately drafted the disappointing Thomas Hickey, although they did pick up Wayne Simmonds in the second.

 

2007-08 Season: The Kings refused once again to embrace any sort of rebuild, and loaded up for 2007-08 with new veteran additions like Ladislav Nagy, Tom Preissing, Michal Handzus, Kyle Calder, and Brad Stuart. Young Jack Johnson arrived in a trade, and Patrick O’Sullivan had a breakout season. Unfortunately, the best goaltending solution the Kings found was Jason Labarbera, and the Kings managed to do even worse, plummeting to last in the West by a whopping eight points. The team made a couple of deadline deals to acquire picks, moving Stuart and Jaroslav Modry.

This would be the Kings’ one season at the bottom of the standings, but they made the most of it by drafting Drew Doughty at 2nd overall. Despite never really giving up on their playoff aspirations, the Kings had wound up in the lottery and acquired a franchise defenseman.

 

2008-09 Season: Doughty made his debut the very next season, as did Quick, and they found themselves on a competitive roster right from the start. Although the team had dealt Cammalleri for draft picks and Visnovsky for Jarrett Stoll and Matt Greene, the team was still bolstered by veterans like Handzus, Calder, Sean O’Donnell, and the mid-season acquisition of Justin Williams.

The Kings are a franchise that managed their age gaps extremely well, as played like Frolov, Brown, Kopitar, and Doughty all hit the league at different times, giving each the ability to get established and help provide a boost for the others when the time came. This is a great example of why teams really do need a range of ages represented on even the youngest of rosters.

The Kings did not make the playoffs this season, either, but improved on the previous season and remained somewhat competitive in a tough division. They made the playoffs the next year, and haven’t looked back since. It only took them four seasons to go from drafting Doughty to lifting the Stanley Cup.

 

Conclusions: The Kings managed to build a long-term contender while never once giving up on season-to-season playoff aspirations. They spread out their acquisition of young talent over a number of seasons, and slowly but surely introduced that talent into an established system of veterans, many of whom were notable for leadership qualities and high character. The perfect example of reinvigoration rather than rebuilding.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins:

The Penguins had a swift downfall brought on by the aging of their core players, including Mario Lemieux. They went to the Conference Finals in 2001, but spent the next four seasons in the cellar of their division. To Canucks fans, this story should have some familiarity. Though the Penguins would fail to cash in on their first foray outside of the playoffs, that would soon change.

 

2002-03 Season: In the 2002-03 season, the Penguins had obviously failed to understand how poorly off their franchise was. It’s easy to understand why this might be, after all, Mario Lemieux was still putting up 90 points a season, and he was backed up by veteran talent like Alexei Kovalev, who was traded mid-season, Martin Straka, and Dick Tarnstrom.

Despite Mario’s heroics, the team’s lack of depth lead them to the bottom of the standings again, and although the Pens traded off Kovalev, Randy Robitaille, Jan Hrdina, and Wayne Primeau throughout the season, the team never dreamed of selling off the true core piece, Lemieux.

After a bit of shuffling on draft day, the Penguins walked away from this season with future starter Marc-Andre Fleury as their 1st overall pick.

 

2003-04 Season: Pittsburgh tread water for the 2003-04 season, likely knowing that their fortunes rested on Lemieux’s health. That ended up being a bad thing as Lemieux played only ten games, leading to another basement-dwelling season and the trading off of Straka along with veterans Drake Berehowsky and Brian Holzinger.

Strangely, Fleury made his debut this season, playing in 22 games and posting putrid stats. This makes for a good example of a young player coming onto a roster that is devoid of a veteran presence, and floundering. The Penguins would not make this mistake with future picks. Speaking of those picks, the Pens celebrated another lottery season with Evgeni Malkin 2nd overall, and then beat the odds in the post-lockout draw to get Sidney Crosby 1st overall in 2005. With two picks, the franchise had been reset.

 

2005-06 Season: There is such a stark difference when looking at the roster in 2005-06 compared to the previous season. Crosby made his excellent debut, but he had support from countless experienced players, including newly acquired Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi, John Leclair, and Ziggy Palffy. Lemieux managed to play a quarter of a season, and Crosby got to spend the year living with his new mentor.

Fleury won the starting job, and other youngsters like Colby Armstrong, Ryan Malone, and Max Talbot got their starts amongst a veteran-laden roster. While Crosby earned his minutes right away, all of these players benefitted from not being asked to do too much upon their arrival in the NHL. The team once again sank to the bottom of the standings and was rewarded with Jordan Staal at 2nd overall, but they were much more competitive than they had been in recent seasons, and only dealt Recchi at the deadline. The next year, Malkin would make his debut and the team would make the playoffs. The year after that, they made the finals, and the year after that they won the Cup.

 

Conclusions: This situation has some obvious parallels to the Canucks. The Penguins saw their downfall come as a result of the aging of previous franchise players, but kept Lemieux around to welcome in the next wave of talent to the league. The Penguins obviously had some extreme luck when it came to the lottery, but they made sure to make the most of it by immediately surrounding that talent by quality, high-character veteran experience. This was a handing off of the torch, as much a reinvigoration as a retool.

 

Tampa Bay Lightning:

The Tampa Bay Lightning took a little longer than other teams to stumble from greatness, making the playoffs in the two seasons after their Cup championship, before a brief trip to the cellar.

 

2007-08: This was the first awful season for the Lightning, but it wasn’t intended to go that way. The Lightning spent the off-season bolstering the roster with additions like Filip Kuba and Chris Gratton, acquired for a 2nd round draft pick. (at this point, it’s hard not to notice that each of the teams discussed seemed to deal 2nd rounders even when at their worst, something Benning has been heavily criticized for.)

Still, despite solid performances by Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, and Brad Richards, the Lightning were so out of the picture by the deadline that they dealt Richards and Vinny Prospal in separate deals. It appears that goaltending was the major weakness that led to this drastic decline, along with a loss of faith in coach John Tortorella.

It seems silly for a team to get the 1st overall pick when their roster already features a 27-year old prime Lecavalier, but that’s what happened when the Bolts picked Steven Stamkos in the summer of 2008.

 

2008-09: Stamkos made his debut the next year, and the team immediately moved to add some character veterans to the mix by reacquiring Prospal and picking up Gary Roberts, who would go on to train Stamkos in the summers. The team also added Ryan Malone and Mark Recchi as free agents. The team did deal Dan Boyle and Filip Kuba in the off-season, but compensated a bit by picking up Andrei Meszaros and Lukas Krajicek. Overall, it seemed like the focus was on insulating Stamkos up front at the cost of a weakened blueline.

Like Crosby and Kane before him, Stamkos dazzled in his debut after a slow start, but he was never asked to carry much of the offensive load, as St. Louis and Lecavalier still had strong seasons. The team once again finished near the bottom, and picked up Victor Hedman 2nd overall in the summer.

 

2009-10: Hedman, too, made the NHL right away, and the Bolts took further steps to ensure he stepped onto a competitive roster. Hedman was provided with a veteran Swedish partner in Mattias Ohlund, and the team also added Alex Tanguay.

Once again, St. Louis and Lecavalier were around to provide veteran support as Stamkos overtook the team scoring lead and the title of franchise player. The team still missed the playoffs, but improved greatly, finishing third in their division. Their draft pick that year, Brett Connolly at 6th overall, was a bust, but the team was well on their way to becoming a powerhouse. The team would go to the Conference Finals the very next year, and after stumbling for a couple years, continues to be an Eastern powerhouse.

 

Conclusion: The Lightning may be the closest mirror to the Canucks’ current situation. The presence of aging-yet-still-effective veterans Lecavalier and St. Louis is similar to the presence of the Sedins in Vancouver, and the hope is that the Sedins can mentor incoming young players like Lecavalier and St. Louis did for Stamkos and Hedman. The Lightning avoided a complete rebuild and reinvigorated the franchise while still hanging on to the previous franchise cornerstones.

Measuring the Canucks Experience (now includes coaches)

It has been a stated goal of the Jim Benning regime to supplement the team’s influx of young talent with experienced veterans that are high in character. While character is an intangible product that is impossible to quantify, experience, on the other hand, is quite easy to judge. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winning experience that the Canucks now possess on their roster. I’ve decided to include Stanley Cup experience (as well as Finals appearances), Calder Cups, Memorial Cups, Frozen Four championships, and Gold Medals in the Olympics, World Cups, World Championships, and World Junior Championships. At this point, I’m snubbing the various European League championships.

 

Stanley Cup Winners: 0

The Canucks have no players that have won the Stanley Cup in the organization.

 

Stanley Cup Finalists: 7

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev-

All six players went to the Finals with Vancouver in 2011, although Tanev barely played.

 

Derek Dorsett-

Dorsett went to the Finals with New York in 2014.

 

Calder Cup Winners: 2

Chad Billins-

New signing Billins won the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids in 2013.

 

Michael Chaput-

New signing Chaput won the Calder Cup with Lake Erie in 2016.

 

Not winners, but Sven Baertschi, Alex Biega, Brendan Gaunce, Alex Grenier, Jake Virtanen, Jacob Markstrom, and Mike Zalewski all went to the Final with Utica in 2015.

 

Memorial Cup Winners: 3

Michael Chaput-

Chaput also won the Memorial Cup with Shawinigan in 2012, and was named MVP.

 

Cole Cassels-

Cassels won the Memorial Cup with Oshawa in 2015.

 

Olli Juolevi-

Juolevi just won the Memorial Cup with London in 2016.

 

Frozen Four Winners: 2

Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher:

Boeser and Stecher won the NCAA championship together in 2016.

 

Olympic/World Cup Gold Medal Winners: 2

Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin-

Henrik and Daniel both won the Gold with Sweden in 2006.

 

World Championship Gold Medal Winners: 7

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Edler, Jacob Markstrom, and Loui Eriksson-

Eriksson, Edler, Markstrom and the Sedins with Gold for Sweden in 2013.

 

Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev-

Tanev and Hutton won Gold with Canada in 2016.

 

World Junior Championship Gold Medal Winners: 2 

Brandon Sutter-

Sutter won Gold with Canada in 2008.

 

Jake Virtanen-

Virtanen won Gold with Canada in 2015.

 

Overall, the amount of experience currently on the Canucks may seem a little underwhelming. Having no Cup winners within the organization seems like a problem that should be fixed at some point, but it does look like championship experience has been added at the AHL level with Michael Chaput and Chad Billins, which should help the development of prospects.

 

In terms of the coaching staff, however, the Canucks have quietly assembled a team with experience winning championships at almost every level of hockey.

Doug Jarvis won four Stanley Cups as a player and two as an assistant coach.

Willie Desjardins won a World Junior Gold as an assistant and a Calder Cup with Texas as head coach, and also won a WHL championship with Medicine Hat.

Doug Lidster spent time coaching the highly successful Canadian National Women’s Team in 2010, which won Olympic Gold among other championships.

Perry Pearn won the World Junior Gold Medal as head coach of Canada in 1993.

Heck, even new goalie coach Dan Cloutier won a Memorial Cup (as a backup).

Travis Green hasn’t won much in hockey, but has won over $345,000 playing professional poker.

Potential Professional Tryout Invites for the Vancouver Canucks

Every year, most NHL franchises bring in a number of players on Professional Tryout Contracts during training camp and the exhibition schedule. Notable PTOs in recent Canucks history have included Brendan Morrison, Owen Nolan, Peter Schaefer, and the great Todd Fedoruk.

This season, the World Cup of Hockey runs concurrent to the NHL’s preseason, which means that a lot of teams are going to be short of bodies. This is as true for the Canucks as it is for anyone, with six of their players scheduled to take part in the tournament. That means that PTOs will be in vogue around the league like never before, so let’s take a look at who Vancouver might invite. As the team is set in goal and overloaded on defense, we’ll focus solely on forwards.

 

Steve Bernier, RW, 31

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
47 8 7 15
67 16 16 32
24 1 5 6

Pros: Bernier is huge, and sometimes plays a physical game. He has some scoring pop to go along with it, although he’s very streaky. Bernier has played all over various lineups, so he has versatility.

Cons: Strangely, Bernier has never regained the heights of his rookie season, where he got 27 points in 39 games. He’s only topped those totals twice, both times with a lot more games played. Bernier is just not that good offensively, and fairly average everywhere.

Intangibles: Bernier went to the Finals with the Devils. That’s good. He also pretty much single-handedly lost them Game 6. That’s bad. Other than that, Bernier has experience with the organization, and seemed to be well-liked during his time with the team.

Final Say: MAYBE INVITE. Since he’s familiar with the organization, maybe Bernier would be amenable to trying out for an AHL spot, too. If that’s the case, he seems like a non-intrusive camp invite.

 

Brad Boyes, 34, RW

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
78 21 15 36
78 14 24 38
60 8 16 24

Pros: Boyes is obviously on the downside of his career, but he’s remained remarkably consistent, ending up on pace for around 40 points nearly every season since turning 30. By bouncing around a lot, Boyes has proven that he can mesh with a variety of players.

Cons: Boyes isn’t very fast, and the modern game can leave him behind at times. His defensive game is adequate, but nothing special, and he adds next to nothing physically. It’s questionable if Boyes is anything more than a complementary piece at this point in his career, and he wouldn’t be elevating any linemates’ games.

Intangibles: Boyes has been all over the league, and he seems to be well-liked everywhere. Boyes also has a proven track record of returning assets at the trade deadline.

Final Say: INVITE. For a player like Boyes, every new season could be the season he’s no longer able to keep up with the NHL game. Still, no harm in trying Boyes out in training camp to see if he finds chemistry anywhere.

 

Steve Downie, RW, 29

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
62 4 20 24
72 14 14 28
26 3 3 6

Pros: Downie can hit like a truck, which means hard but frequently illegally. He’s occasionally shown scoring ability, but not for awhile. At this point, he is what he is, a pest who can provide energy.

Cons: Downie is simply undisciplined. His penalty totals are always high, and his antics have painted a target on his back for refs and opponents alike. He is also questionable defensively for a bottom-6 forward.

Intangibles: Downie is a former World Junior star and has a truly tragic life story, but he’s also a total jerk on the ice. A player like him can be an outright distraction.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. We’ve seen what Downie is willing to do when he has an NHL spot locked down. I don’t want to see what he’s willing to do when a contract is on the line. Avoid this potential PR disaster completely.

 

Tomas Fleischmann, LW, 32

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
80 8 20 28
66 8 19 27
76 14 11 25

Pros: Fleischmann is a proven playmaker, topping 20 assists in almost every full season he’s played, with last year being a notable exception. He can also score goals, having put up some pretty impressive totals during his prime. He carries a diverse offensive skillset.

Cons: Fleischmann is one of those “top-6 or bust” sorts of players. He doesn’t have the defensive skills to play lower in the lineup, as evidenced by his playoff healthy scratches last year. He is a very streaky scorer, which means he’ll be putting in a lot of nearly useless performances.

Intangibles: Fleischmann has seemed to fit in well on most teams that he’s played on, and generally sticks around for awhile with each franchise. Overall, he seems like a mild-mannered guy who could fit in to most dressing rooms.

Final Say: INVITE. While the Canucks would probably prefer someone with more impressive recent goal totals, Fleischmann’s ability to go on scoring streaks is a fine enough reason to give him a try. If he finds chemistry somewhere in the lineup and lights it up in the preseason, it’s a free asset.

 

Paul Gaustad, C, 34

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
75 10 11 21
73 4 10 14
63 2 4 6

Pros: Was once traded for a first round pick, so that’s something. Other than that, Gaustad is a 4th line center with size, checking ability, and faceoff prowess. Used to fight lots, although he doesn’t much anymore.

Cons: Gaustad’s game has deteriorated rapidly, and that’s especially true of his speed. Gaustad was never particularly quick to begin with, and he has struggled to keep up with the now faster NHL. Recent goal totals of four and two tells the story.

Intangibles: Gaustad is known as a high-character guy and a good teammate. He is someone that Nashville specifically targeted for his intangibles, which were apparently tangible enough to warrant, again, a first round pick.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. Gaustad just can’t keep up anymore. The Canucks would be much better off with Markus Granlund or Mike Zalewski playing 4th line center.

 

Cody Hodgson, C/LW, 26

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
72 20 24 44
78 6 7 15
39 3 5 8

Pros: Once considered the greatest player in junior hockey, Hodgson would go on to put up some pretty impressive point totals at the NHL level. Hodgson had a well-rounded offensive game, even though it apparently fell off a cliff at some point.

Cons: Hodgson’s speed and defensive play have always been questionable at the NHL level, and the flaws in his game have become impossible to ignore now that his production has completely disappeared. Often a complete non-factor.

Intangibles: At one time, it looked like Hodgson was the captain of the future for the Vancouver Canucks. Unfortunately, nobody believed that more than Hodgson, except for maybe his dad.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. At this point, Hodgson is Anakin Skywalker at the end of Episode III, and we’re Obi Wan. We want to believe he’s still the chosen one, somewhere deep inside, but we know he’s gone. He’s now more bust than man.

 

Tyler Kennedy, RW, 30

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
67 4 13 17
38 6 8 14
50 3 13 16

Pros: Kennedy is one of those players that can play anywhere in the lineup. He’s usually an adequate grinder, but has proven that he can keep up with more skilled linemates when called upon.

Cons: Any consistent offensive production is long gone. Kennedy hasn’t cracked double-digits in goals in half a decade, and the days of riding shotgun with Crosby are firmly in the rearview mirror. Not a player that will make a significant impact.

Intangibles: Kennedy has championship experience with the Penguins, and has always seemed to be a popular teammate. Willing to go to the wall for his team.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. The Canucks have plenty of players that can grind and play in the bottom-6. At this point, they have no reason to invite a player unless they have some sort of offensive potential.

 

Lauri Korpikoski, LW, 30

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
64 9 16 25
69 6 15 21
71 10 12 22

Pros: Korpikoski isn’t too far removed from a couple of 40 point seasons in Arizona. Like many Finns, he’s decently gritty, and has solid if not spectacular defensive acumen. Korpikoski is comfortable moving up and down the lineup. Was selected for Finland’s World Cup team.

Cons: Korpikoski likely isn’t going to create much offense at this point, and will probably required talented linemates to put up any sort of totals. Adding 10 goals to the team isn’t a huge draw, at the end of the day. It’s doubtful that Korpikoski can offer anything that Emerson Etem or Markus Granlund won’t.

Intangibles: Korpikoski seems to be well-liked everywhere he goes. His work ethic seems to be respectable, and his presence on a national team is impressive.

Final Say: INVITE. Korpikoski might be worth taking a look at in training camp. Under the right circumstances, with the right linemates, Korpikoski could shine again, and the Canucks have enough roster flexibility to give it a chance.

 

David Legwand, C, 36

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
83 14 37 51
80 9 18 27
79 5 9 14

Pros: Legwand is a long-time pro who was pretty consistent throughout his career, and although his production has slowed down, he remains cagey enough to be effective. Legwand is strong defensively and is always a major part of his team’s penalty kill.

Cons: Legwand is definitely not capable of filling the top-6 role he once did, and is probably not going to crack double-digits in goals ever again. Don’t expect much offense at all out of Legwand, and don’t expect much physicality either.

Intangibles: Legwand is a trusted veteran who usually wears a letter wherever he goes. Teams have frequently looked to him for steady play and leadership. Willing to do whatever his team needs.

Final Say: MAYBE INVITE. If the team is going to invite anyone to challenge Granlund and Zalewski for the 4th line center role, it should be Legwand. It might not be a necessary move, but he could more than capably fill that position.

 

Dominic Moore, C, 36

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
73 6 12 18
82 10 17 27
80 6 9 15

Pros: Moore is great defensively, and usually performs well in the faceoff dot. In many ways, he’s a prototypical 4th line center, who has recent experience going on a long playoff run.

Cons: Moore has put up some decent point totals, but at his age, those totals are firmly on the decline. Moore doesn’t really have much size or physicality to offer, either.

Intangibles: For some weird reason, I feel like there’s an obvious reason that Moore wouldn’t fit in Vancouver, but it just hasn’t hit me yet. It feels like I’m missing something, but I’m sure it will sneak up and grab me eventually.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. Over-the-top sarcasm aside, inviting the brother of the victim of the worst thing ever done by a Canuck is terrible PR. Why invite the dozens of unnecessarily negative news stories if you don’t have to?

 

Eric Nystrom, LW, 33

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
79 15 6 21
60 7 5 12
46 7 0 7

Pros: A gritty player who has occasionally shown signs of offensive potential, usually in limited scoring bursts. Nystrom can hit hard and fight when necessary, so he plays a role when he’s not scoring, which is most of the time.

Cons: Nystrom has never once cracked 20 goals in a season, so any hope of him playing on a top-6 line is a longshot. He’s still a better goal scorer than he is a playmaker, and his assist totals are generally mediocre.

Intangibles: Nystrom’s father, Bob, won four consecutive Stanley Cups, so winning is in his blood. Eric’s 14 career playoff games suggest that it’s buried pretty deep in there, however.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. There’s nothing Nystrom can bring that Derek Dorsett or even Alex Grenier can’t do better. No need to add more grinders to the lineup unless they have a history of offense, which Nystrom just doesn’t.

 

Mike Richards, C, 31

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
82 11 30 41
53 5 11 16
39 2 3 5

Pros: At one time, Richards easily had the most talent of anyone on this list. He’s only a couple of years removed from 0.5 point-per-game hockey, and has always been sound defensively. Was once one of the most touted prospects in hockey.

Cons: Injuries have taken their toll on Richards’ ability to keep up with NHL play. Not only has this hurt his production, but it has hampered his ability to take on tough checking assignments like he used to.

Intangibles: 10 years ago, it would have been insane to question Mike Richards’ intangibles. He was Mr. Intangibles before Toews hit the scene. Not so much, anymore. While I personally think the issue regarding Richards’ arrest was overblown, questions about his character had been raised before he even left Philadelphia. Not a personality worth bringing around the youth movement.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. Not worth the risk, as there’s little actual potential remaining. Let somebody else give Richards another chance.

 

Jarret Stoll, C, 34

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
78 8 19 27
73 6 11 17
80 4 5 9

Pros: Stoll has a long history of playing an important role on a winning team. His offense is long gone, although he used to put up 20 goals fairly consistently. Great on faceoffs, and responsible defensively. Booming shot.

Cons: Stoll’s point totals have been in absolute freefall, and the trend is pretty unlikely to reverse. He can undoubtedly still play a role in the NHL, but it would have to be a limited one.

Intangibles: Dated Stacey’s mom. That’s good. She also dated Rod Stewart and Sean Avery. That’s bad. Jokes aside, Stoll is similar to Richards in that he’s had a drug-related arrest and was specifically identified as part of the culture problem in LA. Championship experience doesn’t make up for that.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. Basically the same deal as Richards. High risk, low reward, why bother?

 

Alex Tanguay, LW, 36

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
16 4 7 11
80 22 33 55
70 8 27 35

Pros: Tanguay has a long history of providing offense at the NHL level, and has continued to do so even in his twilight years. 8 goals last season doesn’t look too great, but Tanguay has maintained a 0.5 PPG or better. From a purely offensive standpoint, he can obviously add to a team’s stat totals and help out on the powerplay.

Cons: Tanguay’s offensive totals may be a bit inflated due to him receiving sheltered minutes in the past few seasons. Tanguay was never a speedster, but his skating has slowed down dramatically, and his defensive game has similarly deteriorated. Despite continuing to put up points, when he’s not scoring, Tanguay barely looks like an NHL player.

Intangibles: Tanguay was once a part of the Avalanche dynasty, and has been around the NHL for a long time. No reports of character issues have been attached to his name, and the Avalanche thought highly enough of him to bring him back in a mentorship role.

Final Say: DON’T INVITE. Tanguay’s shortcomings make him a liability that must be supported by his teammates. A young team like the Canucks needs a player that can support its newer players, not the other way around.

 

 

Since we’re on the subject of scoring wingers, why not take a look at the most discussed potential trade target?

Evander Kane, LW, 25

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
63 19 22 41
37 10 12 22
65 20 15 35

 

Pros: Evander Kane has talent. The former 5th overall pick brings a rare combination of size, speed, and scoring ability. When he wants to, Kane can play with an edge and physicality that makes him a multi-level threat. Kane has scored 30 goals once before, and has been on pace for totals like that on other occasions. At age 25, there’s reason to believe he can return to those heights.

Cons: Kane has a massive injury history for someone so young. Even when he’s been able to play, Kane has been quite inconsistent. His one 30 goal season featured a higher shooting percentage than his career average, which suggests it may have been an anomaly. Since then, Kane has been in constant decline. His defensive game is fairly weak, he takes plenty of penalties, and struggles with on-ice discipline.

Intangibles: Oof, where to start? Rumours of attitude issues surrounded Kane even before he was drafted, and have continued since, resulting in him practically being ran off of Winnipeg by his teammates. His antics on social media were a source of amusement for many NHL observers, but on several occasions he acted downright disrespectfully to Winnipeg fans. Legal issues are never a good thing, but the allegations that Kane is facing are disgusting, if true, and make him a negative asset in terms of public relations and team morale.

Final Say: DO NOT ACQUIRE. Kane’s potential is great, but his shortcomings are too many to ignore. Even his offensive skill appears to be overrated, and that’s his major draw. The off-ice issues would damage the team in myriad ways. On top of all this, unlike the other players on this list, Kane is not a free agent, and would cost at least some assets to acquire.

 

Bonus Content: As evidence that I started working on this article awhile ago, here’s two entries on potential free agent signings that are no long on the free agent market. I thought these guys merited actual contract offers rather than PTOs, but Hudler signed in Dallas, and Pirri signed in New York. Oh well!

 

Jiri Hudler, C/RW, 32

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
75 17 37 54
78 31 45 76
72 16 30 46

Pros: While Hudler’s career season in 2014-15 was probably an anomaly, Hudler has consistently provided 15-20 goals and 40-50 points. He brings experience from the vaunted Detroit system, and has a proven ability to mesh well with young players. As much offense as Evander Kane would provide, stronger defensive skills, and none of the baggage.

Cons: Hudler is incredibly inconsistent from year-to-year, so you never know what you’re going to get. Streakiness is to be expected in most players, but Hudler has had his work ethic called into question before, which can make for a frustrating player. Hudler is also a very soft player, which isn’t optimal for the Pacific Division.

Intangibles: Former coach Mike Babcock reportedly clashed with Hudler over his work ethic, although it did not seem to be as much of a problem in Calgary. Hudler had a positive impact on Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, helping each take an offensive step forward in their careers.

Final Say: MAYBE SIGN. The worry is that Hudler will be overpaid based on his 2014-15 stats, rather than the career average totals he went back to in 2015-16. At this point in the offseason, however, Hudler may be willing to compromise on his salary demands. If he’s willing to sign something with a low amount of term and a salary around $3 million, it’s a win.

 

Brandon Pirri, C/LW, 25

Last Three Seasons:

Games Played Goals Assists Points
49 13 12 25
49 22 2 24
61 14 15 29

Pros: Pirri has managed to put up points every time he has been given a chance. As the 22 goal, 2 assist season shows, Pirri is more of a goal scorer than a playmaker, which would make a good match for the Canucks and their many playmaking centers. Already averaging about 0.5 PPG, at age 25, Pirri may still have untapped upside.

Cons: Injuries and inconsistency have plagued Pirri’s young career. He’s also a very one-dimensional player, adding little on the defensive or physical sides of the game. His size prevents him from winning puck battles at times, and contributes to his frequent injuries. When he’s not scoring, Pirri might as well not be on the ice.

Intangibles: Pirri doesn’t have too much of a reputation one way or another when it comes to intangibles. That former Chicago GM Dale Tallon sought to reacquire Pirri in Florida speaks positively.

Final Say: YES, SIGN. Pirri should be a cheap signing, and might seek out a team like Vancouver that has a spot open for him in the top-6. With a contract around $1-2 million, Pirri would be an easily moveable asset if he doesn’t pan out. Low risk, high reward.

The Best Canucks Fights of the Salary Cap Era

Here it is, folks, my collection of the best fights from each Canucks season, starting with 2005-06, since that was the first season where all clips are available on hockeyfights.com

I’ve included a link to watch each fight on hockeyfights.com, as well as a little blurb about why I picked it. Feel free to add your own!

 

2005-06

 

Jarkko Ruutu vs Byron Ritchie

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/14314

-It was always fun to watch Jarkko essentially get away with his antics due to his surprising fighting skills.

 

Kevin Bieksa vs Byron Ritchie

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/15920

-The debut of Juice was a mighty one, with a one-sided beating that announced him as a true badass.

 

Ryan Kesler vs Jarome Iginla

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/17078

-Also known as the night Ryan Kesler became a man. Young Kesler, sporting the number 20, took on the bigger and much more experienced Iginla, and more than held his own.

 

Dishonourable Mention:

Ed Jovanovski vs Sean Avery

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/15827

-How exciting was it to see the Jovocop get his hands on the much-hated Avery? How utterly disappointing was it to then see Avery do surprisingly well, with Jovo unable to land anything of significance.

 

2006-07

 

Rick Rypien vs Ian Laperriere

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/29089

-Could there be a better first shift in the NHL? Rypien lays a big hit, beats up a veteran scrapper, and shows off his ability to switch hands.

 

Kevin Bieksa vs JF Jacques

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/29172

-I knew Jacques from my time following the AHL closely during the lockout. He was a pretty serious scrapper who had taken on heavyweights. When I saw Bieksa drop the gloves with him, I was worried…for about five seconds, at which point Bieksa began to pummel him mercilessly. The first taste of Juice’s ability to punch well above his weight class.

 

Willie Mitchell vs Jarome Iginla

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/32938

-For awhile there, it seemed like the preferred way to become a Canuck fan favourite was to get in a fight with Jarome Iginla. Willie passed the test big time with this marathon bout.

 

2007-08 (68 fights total, most on record)

 

Taylor Pyatt vs Raitis Ivanans

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/36999

-Pyatt proved he was more than just a pretty face by defending a Sedin, taking on one of the toughest heavyweights in the league, and actually winning!

 

Mike Weaver vs Curtis Glencross

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/41356

-During an Oilers-Canucks slugfest, how inspiring was it to see miniature, balding Mike Weaver coming back to land some bombs on notorious ratface Curtis Glencross? Bonus points for Luc Bourdon (RIP) tying up Zack Stortini to protect Trevor Linden.

 

Rick Rypien vs OK Tollefsen

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/41907

-This one was personal for me. On the old hockeyfights forums, there was a poster who claimed to have personally trained Tollefsen in Norway, and professed that he was tougher than any NHLer, including Georges Laraque and Donald Brashear. I had endless arguments with this buffoon. Watching my new favourite, Rick Rypien, lay a whooping on Tollefsen was cathartic.

 

2008-09 (62 total, another big year for fights)

 

Rick Rypien vs Brandon Prust

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/47536

-This fight is retroactively more enjoyable after Prust’s failures in Vancouver. Rypien showed just how badly he could beat someone when he actually fought in his own weight class.

 

Jannik Hansen vs Matt Cooke, Alex Burrows vs Brooks Orpik, Ryan Kesler vs Tyler Kennedy http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/49992

-The short-lived “kid line” of Hansen, Burrows, and Kesler brought a ton of energy to the lineup, and it’s expressed symbolically here as they team up to take on the old guard’s sparkplug, Matt Cooke.

 

Rick Rypien vs Zack Stortini

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/63877

-This was the first time Rypien had taken on a legitimate enforcer, and once again I was worried for about five seconds until the punches started raining down. One of many beatdowns Stortini would receive at the hands of Rypien.

 

2009-10 (62 total again. Cappingoff the fightingest period in recent Canucks history)

 

Rick Rypien vs Hal Gill

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/86801

-Okay, so Rypien could handle middleweights and heavyweights, but he couldn’t fight players that were literally a foot taller than him, could he? You bet he could. The legend of Rypien continued to grow.

 

Kevin Bieksa vs Mike Richards

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/89540

-Two words: Superman punch. I loved the little mini-rivalry Bieksa and Richards had.

 

Rick Rypien vs Boris Valabik

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/89680

-Look at Valabik literally looking down on Rypien and laughing at him. What sweet justice to see Valabik on his hands and knees turtling less than a minute later.

 

Rick Rypien vs Cam Janssen

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/90662

-In Cam Janssen, Rypien was perhaps facing his biggest test yet. Janssen might not have the size of some of Rypien’s previous opponents, but he was renowned as one of the best technical fighters in the league. The result was an all-time classic slugfest that lasted way too long, which Rypien of course came out on top of.

 

Props For Trying:

Alex Bolduc vs John Scott

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/91162

-See people? It is possible to hate John Scott. Bolduc had guts to even attempt fighting Scott, but it was incredibly demoralizing to see him get absolutely destroyed right in front of the benches.

 

2010-11

 

Tanner Glass vs Brad Mills

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/98269

-No, this isn’t Glass vs Liam Neeson in taken, but it is a great scrap by a player that I think takes too much flak from Canucks fans (and Rangers fans, currently).

 

Kevin Bieksa vs Aaron Voros

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/99682

-Voros wants this fight so bad, and then he really, really doesn’t. An almost scary beating by Bieksa.

 

Tanner Glass vs Matt Martin

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/100852

-Martin is a tough dude who always influences the game with his physicality, so it was both rewarding and surprising to see Glass put him down.

 

2011-12

 

Aaron Volpatti vs Andy Sutton

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/105702

-Volpatti had a great opening run of fights, including this doozy against long-time dirty-hit-thrower Andy Sutton, who now knows that Volpatti is an expert.

 

Dale Weise vs Nathan Horton

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/108564

-Everyone was waiting for this game. You could cut the tension with a knife, and even though nothing major really came of it, this near-brawl featuring Weise’s frantic fight definitely needed to happen.

 

David Booth vs Mark Olver

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/111232

-Booth looks like the only thing he ever fights are killer waves, but when push came to shove, he managed to throw some absolute bombs in this bout. To be totally fair, Olver is about three inches shorter and 60 pounds lighter than Booth. Still, he started it.

 

2012-13

 

Aaron Volpatti vs Matt Beleskey

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/115251

-Volpatti and Beleskey play rock ‘em sock ‘em robots for awhile, and then Beleskey’s head pops off.

 

Zack Kassian vs Antoine Roussel

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/116133

-Kassian looked like an animal in this mauling of superpest Roussel. If only we saw more of this Kassian.

 

Tom Sestito vs Jordan Nolan

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/116432

-Jordan Nolan has quietly made more of a negative impact against the Canucks than almost any enforcer in the league, so it was nice to see Tommy Boy give him a smackdown here. There’s more Nolan beatings to come.

 

2013-14

 

Kevin Bieksa vs Brian Boyle

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/120258

-I believe this is the biggest player Bieksa has ever fought. It doesn’t seem to make much of a difference, as Bieksa walks away the easy winner again.

 

Tom Sestito Jumps Jordan Nolan

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/121503

-I know this will be divisive, but I loved this. If you’re going to bother having an enforcer on the team, they might as well do stuff like this when the Sedins are targeted. Nolan knew what was up, and had plenty of opportunity to defend himself. He chose to draw a penalty instead, and ate some punches. Good.

 

Ryan Kesler vs Dustin Brown

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/121504

-If you’re anything like me, your anger at Kesler over his trade demands are slowly dissipating while watching some of these fights. Kesler was the heart and soul of the team, and taking on Big Bad Dustin Brown, who had been throwing Canucks around, was just awesome.

 

The Brouhaha, Tortorella vs Sanity

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/121618

-None of the fights in this brawl were particularly great, but you have to include it for its sheer uniqueness. I always wonder though, why Jason Garrison? If Torts knew what was going down, Garrison was never much of a fighter. Why not throw a forward back on D or something?

 

2014-15

 

Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/124728

-If you were taking bets on the first fight of the season for the Canucks, it’s safe to say nobody would go home with any money. What a random fight that turned out to be pretty entertaining.

 

Kevin Bieksa and Wayne Simmonds

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/127187

-Sometimes being “Casual Kev” could be scary. The way Bieksa nonchalantly drops the gloves here before taking on a premier power forward is practically cinematic.

 

Derek Dorsett vs John Scott

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/128642

-Like Bolduc, Dorsett deserves massive props for even bothering to take on John Scott. Unlike Bolduc, he manages to avoid completely embarrassing himself. There’s no way Dorsett’s teammates don’t respect the hell out of this.

 

Derek Dorsett vs Deryk Engelland x2

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/129458

-A double fight, what does it mean?! Dorsett does so many cool things in this sequence. He ties up Engelland and prevents him from interfering in Richardson and Stajan’s fight, which allows Richardson to engage in the ground-and-pound. Dorsett then battles with the much larger Engelland for awhile, before Hamhuis somewhat bizarrely intervenes. Dorsett then sticks around, tying up Engelland and preventing him from landing anything significant on Hamhuis. After it’s all broken up, Engelland shoves Hamhuis, so Dorsett comes flying back in for Round Two, leading with a great right. What a boss.

 

Kevin Bieksa Jumps Michael Ferland

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/129476

-Some people won’t like this one either, but whatever. Ferland totally deserved it, and this was a fine swan song for Bieksa in a Canucks uniform.

 

2015-16

 

Andrey Pedan vs Jordan Nolan

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/131672

-Pedan could certainly have picked a worse way to introduce himself to the Canuck faithful than by beating up Nolan.

 

Jake Virtanen vs Filip Forsberg

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/133231

-Virtanen hasn’t shown himself to be the best fighter in the world, but at least he beat up fellow youngster Forsberg, which is a bit of symbolic payback for Peter Forsberg stealing the scoring title from Naslund. Yes, I know they’re not even related, that’s why it’s symbolic.

 

Andrey Pedan vs Michael Haley

http://www.hockeyfights.com/fights/133566

-Haley is a bit of a doofus who seems to only get called up to cause trouble and go after people, so it was nice to see Pedan put him in his place. It’s also kind of funny to watch Haley’s thought process here. “Oh, Pedan’s going to crush my teammate. I better get over there and fight him. Oh, he let up on the hit and it wasn’t much of anything at all. Oh well, I’m gonna fight him anyway.”

 

 

That’s all, folks. Hope you enjoyed! I’ll keep this hosted at https://hockeytalkie.wordpress.com if you ever want to watch through again.

Measuring the Canucks’ Winning Experience

It has been a stated goal of the Jim Benning regime to supplement the team’s influx of young talent with experienced veterans that are high in character. While character is an intangible product that is impossible to quantify, experience, on the other hand, is quite easy to judge. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the winning experience that the Canucks now possess on their roster. I’ve decided to include Stanley Cup experience (as well as Finals appearances), Calder Cups, Memorial Cups, Frozen Four championships, and Gold Medals in the Olympics, World Cups, World Championships, and World Junior Championships. At this point, I’m snubbing the various European League championships.

 

Stanley Cup Winners: 0

The Canucks have no players that have won the Stanley Cup in the organization.

 

Stanley Cup Finalists: 7

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Burrows, Jannik Hansen, Alex Edler, and Chris Tanev-

All six players went to the Finals with Vancouver in 2011, although Tanev barely played.

 

Derek Dorsett-

Dorsett went to the Finals with New York in 2014.

 

Calder Cup Winners: 2

Chad Billins-

New signing Billins won the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids in 2013.

 

Michael Chaput-

New signing Chaput won the Calder Cup with Lake Erie in 2016.

 

Not winners, but Sven Baertschi, Alex Biega, Brendan Gaunce, Alex Grenier, Jake Virtanen, Jacob Markstrom, and Mike Zalewski all went to the Final with Utica in 2015.

 

Memorial Cup Winners: 3

Michael Chaput-

Chaput also won the Memorial Cup with Shawinigan in 2012, and was named MVP.

 

Cole Cassels-

Cassels won the Memorial Cup with Oshawa in 2015.

 

Olli Juolevi-

Juolevi just won the Memorial Cup with London in 2016.

 

Frozen Four Winners: 2

Brock Boeser and Troy Stecher:

Boeser and Stecher won the NCAA championship together in 2016.

 

Olympic/World Cup Gold Medal Winners: 2

Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin-

Henrik and Daniel both won the Gold with Sweden in 2006.

 

World Championship Gold Medal Winners: 7

Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Alex Edler, Jacob Markstrom, and Loui Eriksson-

Eriksson, Edler, Markstrom and the Sedins with Gold for Sweden in 2013.

 

Ben Hutton and Chris Tanev-

Hutton and Tanev won Gold with Canada in 2016.

 

World Junior Championship Gold Medal Winners: 2 

Brandon Sutter-

Sutter won Gold with Canada in 2008.

 

Jake Virtanen-

Virtanen won Gold with Canada in 2015.

Three Ideas For NHL Suspension Reform (and How It Might Be Achieved)

The middle of summer, in the depths of the offseason, may seem like a strange time to talk about suspension reform. However, the offseason might just be the best time to talk about it, as we are free of any recent incidents to tinge our perspectives and incite our emotions.

I believe that most NHL fans would label themselves as dissatisfied with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Lack of consistency, overly soft suspensions, and apparent double-standards are among the most common complaints. However, one rarely hears actual proposals of concrete changes that could bring about meaningful reform. Instead, talk usually consists of generic “cracking down” and nothing more. With that in mind, here are three ideas for changes that could bring about NHL suspension reform, and a note at the end on how these changes must be achieved.

 

Intent Over Injury

Currently, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety appears to weigh injury much more heavily than intent. Players committing nearly identical acts can receive wildly different punishment depending on how badly their victim is injured. Oftentimes, however, whether a player is injured on a play is more a matter of luck and circumstances than the severity of the offending player’s actions.

Instead, focusing on the intent behind a play more than the resulting injury would send the message that the NHL wants to eliminate ALL dangerous plays, not just those that have severe results. If a player knew that they would be judged almost as harshly for a hit-to-the-head that barely connected as they would for one that knocked an opponent clean out, they would be much more careful to avoid such a play at all costs.

 

No Double-Standards

This one is much trickier to establish, because the NHL will never actually admit that it has a double-standard that needs fixing. However, any long-time observer of the league knows that star players can commit egregious acts and get away with a slap on the wrist, while 4th liners are often made examples of with comparably lengthy bans. A two-tier system of acceptable acts is no recipe for a safe league.

It’s easy to see the league’s motivation to have such a double-standard. Star players sell tickets and move jerseys, and 4th liners generally don’t. The league takes a financial hit when a star player misses time, and so they have a vested interest in keeping them on the ice. In my endnote, I will discuss how fans can play a role in changing this.

 

Mandatory Minimums

This one is perhaps the biggest stretch, but it may be necessary if the NHL wants to truly eliminate certain acts, such as hits-to-the-head and hits on players in vulnerable positions. The NHL could explore setting mandatory minimum suspensions for the acts that it deems most worthy of outright elimination. No doubt this would lead to immediate controversy, especially when an important player earns a suspension for a play that seemed relatively harmless and did not result in an injury. However, it is almost certain that this would put a near complete stop to these plays within a season.

Part of the mandatory minimum system would have to include something involving repeat offenders. A mandatory and escalating series of additional suspensions that are automatically tacked on to any punishments received by repeat offenders could quickly add up. This would really go a long way towards eliminating serial offenders from the game, and keeping the league safer for everyone.

 

Endnote on Fans’ Role in Enacting Change

Ultimately, the NHL isn’t going to make major changes to their suspension system without some sort of external pressure. In the past, bad PR from brutal injuries and horrific acts have forced the NHL to make changes, but this isn’t exactly the optimal path for improvement. After all, in order for this to happen, somebody needs to get hurt first.

An alternative external factor to motivate the NHL is fan pressure. Right now, the NHL knows that it will lose money if it suspends major stars for lengthy periods, but fan pressure and campaigning could help send the message that fans would rather have a safe league than one where star players have immunity. If it comes down to it, boycotts in the cases of inconsistent or inadequate suspensions may send the strongest message of all. It’s always a challenge to convince fans to deprive themselves of league content, but ultimately, fans are at their strongest when they vote with their wallet.