For the last four months or so, it’s hard to find a Jim Benning move that wasn’t met with criticism.
It started in April when the Canucks signed Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett to hefty contract extensions and didn’t let up as the likes of Eddie Lack, Zack Kassian and Kevin Bieksa were traded.
Benning was even booed at an event for season ticket-holders when it was revealed that starting goalie Ryan Miller could’ve been traded instead of Lack, a fan favorite who’s not only younger and less expensive but had a higher save percentage than Miller last season.
Most recently, Benning’s claim that Brandon Sutter, acquired in a trade with Pittsburgh, would be a “foundation piece” for the Canucks was mocked by many. The five-year extension that Sutter proceeded to sign got the same treatment.
Suffice to say, the honeymoon is over for Vancouver’s general manager, who’s only been on the job since May of last year.
Benning, throughout it all, has not wavered.
“Sitting in my shoes, and when I talk to my management team, we have to make the decision that’s best for the organization going forward,” he said at the draft when asked about trading a fan favorite like Lack.
“I know if that’s the way we decide to go, I could get criticized. But that’s part of the job. There’s nothing I can do about that.”
Hired in large part for his experience as a scout, it won’t be entirely fair to judge Benning until his draft picks pan out, or don’t.
But there’s no doubt his recent moves have put him under increasing pressure. If Vancouver takes a step back next season — and many expect that to happen — that pressure will only build.
Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Vancouver Canucks.
After a rough season under bench boss John Tortorella, the Vancouver Canucks went into the 2014-15 campaign hoping that new coach Willie Desjardins would prove to be a better fit for their organization.
He certainly got more out of their offense as the Canucks went from averaging 2.33 goals per game under Tortorella to 2.88 last season, which was good for eighth in the league. Their resurgence was thanks in no small part to the Sedin twins as their point totals jumped by more than 20 points each, bringing them up to 73 (Henrik) and 76 (Daniel) points in 2014-15. Newcomer Radim Vrbata also meshed well in Vancouver, recording 63 points including a team-leading 31 goals.
Fellow 2014 free agent signing Ryan Miller didn’t enjoy quite as smooth of a transition. While he did have a 15-3-0 record through Nov. 28, he was more of a mixed bag after that. Complicating matters, Miller suffered an knee injury in late February that kept him out of the lineup for most of the stretch run. That led to Eddie Lack opening the playoffs as Vancouver’s starting goaltender and while he was actually statistically superior to Miller in the regular season, the 27-year-old netminder ran into problems as the first round series against Calgary progressed.
Lack was replaced by Miller in Game 4, but it wasn’t enough as the Flames went on to eliminated Vancouver six games.
Vancouver entered the summer with something of a goaltending logjam as in addition to Lack and Miller, Jacob Markstrom seemed deserving of a roster spot after a dominant season with the AHL’s Utica Comets. However, Canucks GM Jim Benning made the controversial decision to move Lack for a 2015 third-round pick (Guillaume Brisebois) and a 2016 seventh-round selection rather than trading the 35-year-old Miller.
In addition to that trade, Vancouver also sent defenseman Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim for a 2016 second-round pick and acquired Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-rounder from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Nick Bonino, Alex Clendening, and a 2016 second-round selection.
Vancouver sees Sutter as a “foundation piece” and cemented its commitment to him by agreeing to a five-year, $21.875 million contract extension.
In a young man’s league, is the Anaheim Ducks’ window to win the Stanley Cup already closing on them?
The Ducks have a dynamic one-two punch in Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf while the presence of Ryan Kesler gives them a great anchor for their second line. But Getzlaf and Perry are 30 years old now while Kesler will be celebrating his 31st birthday on Aug. 31. To be clear, they’re still very much in their prime, but their long-term deals mean that the Ducks will be paying top dollar for them well into their 30s.
Starting with the 2016-17 campaign, Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler will be consuming approximately $23.8 million in combined cap space and that will persist through 2020-21. In other words, about a third of their cap by the standard of the 2015-16 ceiling will be consumed by just three players and while that’s not inherently a problem, it does mean that those three need to continue to be the team’s stars as the Ducks will have a hard time compensating with their remaining cap space if the trio starts to decline.
Of course, they might prove to be players that can excel into their late 30s, making the length of those contracts a non-issue, but we can’t know that will happen and with every passing year, the risk of diminished returns increases. So while Anaheim might end up being very competitive for the next five or even 10 years, they shouldn’t count on that being the case.
That means that there should be a sense of urgency for the Ducks going into the 2015-16 campaign even if their defense and Frederik Andersen remain relatively young. If they can win the Stanley Cup in the next couple of seasons, then paying for the potential long-term ramifications of Getzlaf, Perry, and Kesler’s contracts will seem like a fair tradeoff given what the trio accomplished together. Otherwise, this era of the Ducks might be remember as one where they came close, but could never seal the deal.