Author: Mike Halford

Vancouver Canucks ’15-16 Outlook


It was another eventful offseason in Vancouver, the second under GM Jim Benning, and it left both fans and media asking the same question:

What exactly are the Canucks doing?

To hear Benning explain it, the plan is simple in theory, yet difficult to execute — rebuild while staying competitive, giving young players a winning environment in which to grow.

“From the time I took the job (14 months ago) until 10 days ago, I went at it hard,” Benning explained, per the Vancouver Sun. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ll admit it — it’s been hard. I’ve had to make hard decisions to try to remain competitive while building for the future. It’s not an easy thing to do.”

“But for the most part, we’ve been able to accomplish that this summer.”

Some will argue with that last remark.

This summer, Benning took heat for a variety of his moves, most notably his trade of popular (and relatively successful) backup goalie Eddie Lack to Carolina for a third-round pick, which many saw as a middling return. After tiring of the Zack Kassian experiment, the Canucks cut bait and got what they could in exchange — 31-year-old Habs tough guy Brandon Prust — then paid a tidy sum to acquire third-line Pittsburgh center Brandon Sutter, paying him an even tidier sum to be their second-line center ($21.875 million over five years, specifically).

In the end, it’s tough to say the Canucks got any better this summer. It’s tough to say they stayed even. Most say they got worse.

And that makes next year’s outlook kinda bleak.

Sure, the same old suspects remain — the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Radim Vrbata, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler — but they’re all a year older, and now surrounded by kids. Bo Horvat, 20, projects to be the No. 3 center while winger Sven Baertschi, 22, will get a shot at the top-six. Former first-round pick Jake Virtanen (18) figures to get a long look in training camp, and Frank Corrado (22) will likely be in on defense. Other prospects like Hunter Shinkaruk, Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce and Jared McCann could all get looks, too.

Which makes for an odd dynamic, especially since the Canucks were competitive last year, registering 101 points and a playoff spot. But their opening-round loss to Calgary only confirmed what most suspected — Vancouver was a flawed team, nowhere close to contending.

Now, the club heads into this season minus the services of veteran contributors like Kevin Bieksa, Shawn Matthias and Brad Richardson — jobs that will be filled by (the aforementioned) inexperienced players. And should injuries strike the team’s aging core, it could be grim; at no position is this more concerning than in goal, where 35-year-old Ryan Miller, who missed extensive time with a knee injury last season, is backed up by a total wildcard in Jacob Markstrom.

Oh, and lest we forget, the Canucks play in a tough Pacific Division in which the Ducks, Kings, Flames and Oilers all made significant upgrades this summer.

If you believe Benning, though, his moves weren’t designed to make the Canucks less competitive.

The way he sees it, the club is more versatile than ever.

“What we’re trying to do is build a team that can play whatever style the game dictates,” he explained. “So we’ve made some changes this summer. I thought maybe in the playoffs we didn’t play with the intensity and emotion to step up in a playoff series and win.

“We’ve got some good, young, skill players coming up. But we want to surround them with players who fit.”

Coyotes re-sign former first-rounder Gormley

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Arizona has re-upped with young blueliner Brandon Gormley on a one-year, two-way deal, the club announced on Thursday.

Gormley, 23, has spent his entire professional career with the Coyotes after they took him 13th overall at the 2010 draft. A former junior standout — he was named Top Defenseman at the ’12 Worlds — Gormley has yet to make his mark at the NHL level; as an illustration, consider that the defenseman taken one spot ahead of Gormley, Cam Fowler, has already appeared in 345 career contests.

Gormley, meanwhile, has played just 32.

Despite that, it looks as though he’ll have a good shot at extended minutes in Arizona this season. Gone from last year’s blueline are the likes of John Moore and Andrew Campbell but, that said, GM Don Maloney did bring in a pair of veteran presences this summer by re-signing Zbynek Michalek, and adding Nicklas Grossmann via trade.

Isles draftee Song named ambassador for Beijing’s Winter Olympic bid

2015 NHL Draft - Portraits

Last month, Andong Song made history when he was picked by the Isles in the sixth round of the draft, becoming the first-ever Chinese-born NHL draftee.

And now, he’s kinda famous.

Song has been named an ambassador for Beijing’s 2022 Winter Olympics bid, per CCTV, and this week was in Kuala Lumpur to promote the bid along with another fairly famous Chinese athlete — former NBAer Yao Ming.

“After hearing the idea I was very excited. It’s a dream for any athlete to compete in Olympics, and it’s a special honor to be able to do it in your country and the city you grow up,” Song said. “So when I first heard the idea that China will put in a bid, especially Beijing, I was really excited and I felt I have the opportunity.”

A native of Beijing, Song moved to North America at age nine and was picked by New York after he captained the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey during his senior campaign.

He also captained the Chinese team at the 2015 U-18 World Jr. Championships (D-II).

It’s not surprising he was looped into the Beijing bid. NHL participation for future Winter Olympics is hardly a sure thing — NHLPA boss Donald Fehr did say recently that players want to go to Pyeonchang in 2018 — and hockey in China become increasingly popular in recent years.

This spring, CCTV (the Chinese state broadcaster) sent a seven-man crew to cover the Chicago-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final.