For Vancouver GM Jim Benning, it became clear early last season that speed was an issue for his team.
Specifically, the Canucks didn’t have enough of it.
And that’s a pretty big problem in today’s NHL.
Fast forward to when Vancouver was eliminated by Calgary in the first round of the playoffs and it was the Flames’ ability to “get in on the forecheck” (an oft-used phrase by Benning) that proved a deciding factor.
And so Benning made changes. He traded aging defender Kevin Bieksa and slow-footed forward Nick Bonino. He acquired Matt Bartkowski, an excellent skater, and Brandon Sutter, also a good skater.
But most importantly, Benning committed to a younger roster. Last night in Calgary, the Canucks earned a 5-1 victory with a lineup that featured Sven Baertschi, 23, Ben Hutton, 22, Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19.
All four can skate.
So can Jake Virtanen, 19, who was a healthy scratch.
Add Jannik Hansen and Derek Dorsett, arguably their fastest veteran skaters, to the equation and all of a sudden Vancouver didn’t look so slow anymore.
“The Canucks were much better than us,” said Flames coach Bob Hartley. “We got what we deserved. They kicked our butts.”
Granted, it was only the first of 82 games. Who knows if kids like McCann and Hutton can maintain their level of play for an entire season.
But last night?
That wasn’t the same Vancouver team as last year.
Benning made sure of that.