With the insanity of another Entry Draft and Free Agent Frenzy in the rearview mirror, we are again reminded of the media’s proclivity to rate teams as “winners” and “losers” before any of their recent acquisitions have actually hit the ice. As fans of the Vancouver Canucks, we’re all pretty familiar with being on the “loser” side of that prognosticating, especially since the media appears to have a fascination with belittling Jim Benning. Canuck fans must bear the slings and arrows of hockey “luminaries” like Jeff O’Neill, who proclaims the Canucks as “losers” because he doesn’t understand what they’re doing, despite a lack of evidence that Jeff O’Neill has understood anything, ever.
However, more seasoned hockey fans realize that drafts, free agency, and trading are not the sort of things that can be judged instantaneously. We must wait a number of years before actually determining whether a GM’s roster movements were positive or negative. Three years seems like the bare minimum waiting period before serious assessment can begin and, coincidentally enough, that’s exactly how long Jim Benning has now been on the job.
We’ll be taking a look at Benning’s first offseason as GM of the Vancouver Canucks, and trying to assess how well his various moves worked out, with the benefit of three years’ hindsight. The picks, signings, and trades will be graded based on how they turned out relative to expectations. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to ignore purely AHL moves, like the signing of Cal O’Reilly or the trade of Kellan Lain for Will Acton.
At The Draft:
In Jim Benning’s first draft with the Vancouver Canucks, the franchise selected seven players.
Jake Virtanen, RW, 6th Overall
Virtanen still has a few more chances to burn before he is considered a total bust, but early returns are not exactly promising. Virtanen’s accomplishments are especially suspect when compared to those drafted shortly after him, like William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers.
Jared McCann, C, 24th Overall
McCann isn’t an absolute steal at 24th Overall, but anytime a player can step into the league shortly after being drafted late in the First Round, it has to be considered a win. McCann might be playing for a different organization now, but it looks like he’ll be an NHL player for a long time.
Thatcher Demko, G, 36th Overall
Goalies progress slower than other prospects, so it’s hard to call the drafting of Demko a total success yet, but the early indicators are that he will be very, very good. Demko is considered one of the top goaltending prospects in the world.
Nikita Tryamkin, D, 66th Overall
Russian defections aside, Tryamkin has already demonstrated the ability to play top-four defense at the NHL level, and he brings some truly unique physical attributes. That’s quite a valuable player to pick up with a 3rd Round Pick.
Gustav Forsling, D, 126th Overall
Forsling is already a solid, if unspectacular, NHL defender. Unfortunately, he’s doing that defending for the Chicago Blackhawks, but that doesn’t change the fact that he represents excellent value for a 5th Round Pick.
Kyle Pettit, C, 156th Overall
It looks as though Pettit isn’t even going to earn an AHL contract, making him an outright bust. That’s not unexpected with a 6th Round Pick, but he’s still this draft’s biggest failure.
Mackenze Stewart, 186th Overall
Stewart at least signed an NHL contract and spent some time in the AHL, which is more than plenty of 7th Round Picks can say. However, that signing does seem to be a case of Benning being overly generous, so it’s hard to call this a good pick.
At Free Agency:
Signed Ryan Miller, G, to 3-Yr Contract @ $6mil cap hit-
Miller’s contract was a fair one, which isn’t always true for UFA deals. Miller was paid exactly what he should have been as a mid-calibre starting goaltender, and he played that role consistently in his three years with Vancouver. Miller gave some terrible teams more of a chance to win than they deserved, and was a good signing.
Signed Radim Vrbata, RW, to 2-Yr Contract @ $5 mil cap hit
If this signing were graded after only one year, it would be an easy A+. However, Vrbata’s excellent first season with the Canucks was followed by a disappointing poutfest. Still, signing a top-flight UFA for only two years, and having one of those years turn out to be fantastic value, is a better result than most GMs get on July 1st.
Traded Jason Garrison, D, and Jeff Costello, F, to Tampa Bay for 2nd Round Pick in 2014
Time has shown that Jason Garrison’s contract was not a great one, with Tampa Bay having to pay Vegas to take it during this year’s expansion draft. Therefore, getting a 2nd Round Pick in return for Garrison wasn’t a bad deal at all, even if it seemed a bit cheap given his performance level at the time.
Traded 2014 3rd Round Pick to New York Rangers for Derek Dorsett, RW
Dorsett has never performed as anything more than a fourth liner for the Canucks, which means that a 3rd Round Pick is a little rich for his acquisition. However, Dorsett has also been a valuable character asset that has been a big part of the team culture for the past three years. Without his contract extension, which would come later, Dorsett was an ideal fourth line presence.
Traded Ryan Kesler, C, and a 3rd Round Pick in 2015 to the Anaheim Ducks for Luca Sbisa, D, Nick Bonino, C, and 1st and 3rd Round Picks in 2014-
The context is important in this one. Benning was put into an extremely tight spot by Kesler’s incredibly specific trade demands, so getting any sort of value out of this trade was a win. Sbisa was not a great asset despite some okay performances, but Bonino sure was. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Bonino’s best years would come as a Penguin. The addition of a 1st Round Pick makes this trade more even, but Kesler remains an elite talent in the league, and it would have been nice for the Canucks to cash in more on him.
Traded a 2nd Round Pick in 2014 to Los Angeles for Linden Vey, C-
Taking a gamble on Vey was a reasonable move, given his AHL success and history with Willie Desjardins. Unfortunately, that gamble did not pay off, and Vey doesn’t look like a player with a future in the NHL. He definitely wasn’t worth a 2nd Round Pick, especially given Benning’s talents at the draft table.
Traded Alexandre Mallet, C, and a 3rd Round Pick in 2016 to New York Islanders for Andrey Pedan, D
Mallet was a complete bust, but a 3rd Round Pick in 2016 was a considerable price to pay for someone in Pedan who has yet to crack the NHL. Pedan has shown glimpses of potential, and remains a valuable AHL asset, but the Canucks probably would have been better off with the draft pick.
Overall Grade: B
Excellent drafting, minus the first pick, and great value free agent signings help boost Benning’s grade against mostly mediocre trades. Not a bad first year for a team looking to add youth and restock barren prospect cupboards.