Jim Benning’s Trade Deadline Long Game: How 2016’s Disappointment Could Payoff in 2017

I’ve already discussed why becoming a “seller” at the 2017 Trade Deadline is the best course of action for the Vancouver Canucks:

https://hockeytalkie.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/566/

To keep the optimism train going, let’s look at another reason why 2017’s Deadline could be a fantastic one for the Canucks.

The 2016 Trade Deadline was a major let down for the Vancouver Canucks and their fans. The Canucks had no hope of making the playoffs, and were beginning to sink to the very bottom of the standings, but they had a few pieces ready to sell off as deadline rentals, putting them in a very good position to cash in on some prospects and draft picks. Yet, when the day had ended, Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata were still Canucks, and there were renewed calls for Jim Benning to be fired. At the end of the season, both Hamhuis and Vrbata left as UFAs to Dallas and Arizona, respectively, and it seemed like a case of poor asset management. However, the decisions made on that day may finally be paying off on March 1st, 2017, as the Canucks prepare for another Trade Deadline as definitive sellers.

 

What Happened?

The exact events of February 29th, 2016, easily the most boring Deadline Day in recent memory, are still not fully understood. In the case of Radim Vrbata, it has since been intimated by several sports reporters that he purposefully filled his trade list with teams that either wouldn’t want him or wouldn’t pay a high price for him. Faced with nothing but lowball offers, Benning chose to keep a disgruntled winger who everyone knew would flee far, far away from Vancouver in the summer.

When it comes to Dan Hamhuis, it is no secret that he was ready and willing to move and that the Canucks wanted to move him. Hamhuis had a limited preference of potential destinations, and Dallas was likely number one on his list, given that he signed there in the offseason. Dallas was interested in Hamhuis, but they were also looking at Calgary defenseman Kris Russell, and attempted to play the Canucks and Flames against each other. It appears that the Stars used this negotiating tactic to lower their initial offer for Hamhuis, something Benning apparently balked at. After Dallas had acquired Russell, their last reported offer for Hamhuis was a third round pick, which the Canucks outright refused. There may or may not have been some ownership meddling involved on either side. Hamhuis remained in Vancouver, and although there were some hints that he was willing to re-sign at a discounted price, he left for Texas shortly after free agency opened.

 

The Precedent Set For 2017

Fans were annoyed when the Canucks failed to gain any return for Hamhuis and Vrbata, and that’s certainly understandable. Even a third rounder for Hamhuis and a seventh for Vrbata might have seemed better than losing them for absolutely nothing in the summer. In the short term, this is true, as something is undoubtedly better than nothing. However, in flatly refusing to deal his assets for anything less than he thought they were worth, Jim Benning set an important precedent. He drew his line in the sand, and the 2017 Deadline might just be where it starts to pay off.

The Vrbata situation was fairly unique, so let’s focus on Hamhuis for now. Hamhuis was a prize UFA rental, and should have returned at least a first round pick. A third would have been a bargain for the Dallas Stars, so Benning refused to give him up. This establishes the precedence that, when it comes down to it, Benning is willing to hang on to his assets if his prices aren’t met, even if it means later losing said assets for nothing. Benning appears to be a man of principles, one who says you can either pay the full price for my players or find someone else to trade for. Despite costing the Canucks some draft picks in 2016, this hardline tactic puts the team in a much stronger bargaining position for 2017.

 

How It Could Payoff

Other GMs around the league now know that Benning is not going to respond to lowball offers. As teams start to make their pitches for Alex Burrows, Ryan Miller, Jannik Hansen, or Alex Edler, they now know that they will have to either step their offers up to Benning’s standards or shop elsewhere. If Benning requests a second for Burrows, a first for Miller, or more than that for Hansen, other GMs are now fully aware that he would rather hang on to those players than settle for less. There will be no calling of any bluffs, because Dallas tried that last year and it turned out Benning wasn’t bluffing. The man doesn’t bluff. He is bluffless.

This could, of course, still backfire. After all, nothing is stopping the other franchises from shopping around and finding their rentals elsewhere around the league. However, as previously discussed in my last article, the Canucks are shaping up to be one of only a few sellers league-wide at this particular deadline. In a seller’s market, this places the Canucks in an extremely strong position. The message is clear: meet our prices, or go without acquisitions and hurt your playoff aspirations. Someone will capitulate eventually, and it won’t be Benning.

This could definitely pay off when it comes to UFAs like Burrows, Miller, or even the litany of fillers like Michael Chaput or Jack Skille, who might now return a sixth instead of a seventh. However, it will be most noticeable if the Canucks trade any players with term remaining, like Hansen, Edler, or even some less-discussed names like Chris Tanev, Ben Hutton, and Erik Gudbranson. With these players, there is no spectre of potentially losing them in the summer for nothing (Expansion Draft aside), so Benning has even less incentive to sell low. He can simply set his pricetag, wait for someone to meet it, and just hang on to them if the auctioning doesn’t go well. Chances are good, someone will step up and pay up, and the Canucks will be much better off for it.

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