Author: Jason Brough

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks

Canucks have a puzzle to solve on the blue line


Jim Benning learned something in his first year as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.

You can never have enough defensemen.

As such, he plans to start next season with eight blue-liners, not just seven, like he did this past season. And he wants even more options down on the farm, in case of injury.

“We’ll start with eight defensemen, but we want to have 11 D capable of playing in the NHL,” Benning told The Province. “That’s something I learned this year from being in the West. The travel wears the team down a bit and it seems to take a toll on your defense.”

Currently, if you had to pick a group of eight Canucks defenders, it might look something like this:

Alex Edler-Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis-Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa-Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton-Adam Clendening

But there’s also young, right-shooting Frank Corrado. The 22-year-old is arguably ready for the NHL. Hence, the speculation Vancouver may try and trade Bieksa.

Of course, trading Bieksa would mean one less defenseman, on a team that wants to have lots of them.

The challenge for Benning is a dearth of waivers-exempt, NHL-capable blue-liners. All nine that have been mentioned above require waivers to be sent to the AHL.

There’s also the mix to consider. The current group, as a whole, failed to create enough offense, and in the playoffs had trouble beating Calgary’s aggressive forecheck.

At the very least, Benning has time to figure out a solution.

“The season doesn’t start for four months,” he said. “If we want to add a certain type of player by trade, it’s something we’d look at. Like, say, a better transition defenseman.”

Related: Despite ‘step in the right direction,’ do Canucks need to alter core?

With chance to finish off Rangers, Lightning need to avoid another ‘letdown’

Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Five

So the Tampa Bay Lightning are headed home with an opportunity to finish off the New York Rangers. A win Tuesday and the Bolts will be off to the Stanley Cup Final.

For their sake, they’d better show a little more killer instinct than they did earlier in these playoffs.

In the first round, the Lightning were fortunate to beat the Red Wings in Game 7, after Detroit outshot them 31-17. In the second round, they had an opportunity to sweep the Montreal Canadiens, only to lose 6-2.

Both those games were at home.

Knowing that, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is hoping his team has learned from the past.

“I think in these playoffs we’ve had a big emotional win, and we’ve kind of had a letdown game,” he said after last night’s big emotional victory in New York.

“I think we’ve learned our lesson pretty quick. Toughest one to win is the fourth one, especially at this time of the year, when it’s to go to the final.”

Remember that there’s a guy in the Rangers’ crease who’s been pretty good in the seventh games of playoff series, so the Lightning could be in tough if they lose Tuesday.

Blackhawks need more ‘quick plays’ to crack Anaheim’s structure


How to get the shot through.

In today’s NHL, it’s one of the major challenges for any offense — even one with as much firepower as the Chicago Blackhawks.

Thursday night, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, the ‘Hawks had 27 of their shot attempts blocked by the Ducks. Only 28 of their attempts ended up on net, and only one went in during the 2-1 loss.

“Just means we’ve got to battle a little bit harder,” said forward Andrew Shaw.

That’s the typical response. It all comes down to hard work. Competing. Paying the price.

But Shaw’s, teammate, Brandon Saad has another suggestion.

“I think last night (we) played a little too much on the perimeter, trying to make too many plays,” Saad said. “I think when we delay the play, wait to find the perfect shot, they get a chance to get in the lane. The more we force it to the net, make quick plays, it’s going to be to our advantage.”

That’s more in line with the “play fast” mentality that most teams strive for, except usually we hear that phrase in terms of moving the puck quickly up the ice, forcing the defenders to turn while taking away their time to get set up in the neutral zone.

By the way, the Blackhawks had a tough time getting through the neutral zone, too.

“They have good sticks, five guys behind center all looking to check,” said coach Joel Quenneville. “I think getting it in sometimes is the best alternative, whether it’s on a net, a rim or a chip. … I think we got to use our speed to get center and get it behind them.”

During the Calgary series, Ducks center Ryan Kesler was asked what it takes to defeat a team with speed, like both the Flames and Blackhawks possess.

“Structure,” Kesler replied, per the Daily Breeze. “I think just playing as a five-man unit out there. … If we play really structurally sound, then they can’t break through us.”

And Thursday night, the ‘Hawks couldn’t.

Benning trying to figure where Markstrom ‘fits in’

Columbus Blue Jackets v Vancouver Canucks

Jim Benning is trying to figure out what he’s got in Jacob Markstrom.

The Canucks GM was in Utica this past week to watch Vancouver’s AHL team, the Comets, advance to the Western Conference Finals, in which they’ll take on the Grand Rapids Griffins (featuring Dylan Larkin).

On Wednesday, Benning saw another good AHL outing for Markstrom, who stopped 35 shots in a 1-0 Game 7 shutout win over Oklahoma City. The 25-year-old now has a .930 save percentage in 12 playoff games this year. His save percentage was .934 during the regular season, earning him second-team all-star honors.

But whether Markstrom can succeed in the NHL is still to be determined. He hasn’t so far, with an .896 save percentage in 50 games with the Canucks and Panthers.

“That’s part of why I’m down here now — to get a good look at Jacob Markstrom and see where he fits in,” Benning told the Vancouver Sun. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. He showed me a lot last night, playing a real good game in a high-pressure situation.”

If Benning believes Markstrom is capable of backing up Ryan Miller next season, it likely means that Eddie Lack, one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, will be traded.

If not, Benning will try and trade Markstrom. (Though that may be easier said than done.)

Related: Canucks ‘know what it’s going to take’ to keep Lack, whose future might be elsewhere

TVR won’t play Game 4, but he’s ‘cleared to participate’

Trevor van Riemsdyk

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville “does not anticipate” defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk stepping into the lineup for Game 4 of the Western Conference Final, a series Chicago now trails 2-1.

Van Riemsdyk was recalled from AHL Rockford today, as questions continue to be asked about a Chicago blue line that’s been acutely reliant on its top-four defenders.

“He’s been ready. He’s cleared to participate,” said Quenneville of van Riemsdyk. “He was out there doing one-on-one drills. We’ll see.”

To be sure, inserting van Riemsdyk, a rookie, into the lineup would carry a healthy dose of risk. Not yet two months removed from wrist surgery, the 23-year-old has not played an NHL game since Nov. 16.

At the same time, it may be worth the risk, given the struggles of 40-year-old Kimmo Timonen.

“Today is the first day,” said Quenneville. “I don’t anticipate [van Riemsdyk] being in tomorrow. He’ll need a few days out here. We’ll get an evaluation and go from there.”

Update: Here’s TVR, who’s going to “take it day-by-day”: