Jim Benning

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Canucks confident in GM Jim Benning’s ‘team-building mindset’

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You know, it wasn’t that long ago that the Vancouver Canucks were sitting nicely in a Pacific Division playoff spot. A month ago they were seven points behind the Los Angeles Kings after a three-game winning streak. Then it all began to fall apart.

The Canucks ended December losing nine of 11 games, gaining just five points over that stretch to leave them currently tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 13th in the Western Conference. This puts general manager Jim Benning and Trevor Linden, the team’s president of hockey operations, in an interesting situation with 52 days until the NHL trade deadline.

Benning is one a few GMs around the league who does not have a contract beyond this season.  Injuries and poor goaltending have brought their pursuit of a playoff spot off the rails and put a spotlight on the pending unrestricted free agents on the roster that could net future assets for the continued youth movement.

Forward Thomas Vanek and defenseman Erik Gudbranson likely won’t be with the Canucks beyond Feb. 26. Linden said on Wednesday there haven’t been discussions about extending Gudbranson, instead waiting to see how the next 6-8 weeks shape up.

All this means that Linden is fine with Benning handling the trade deadline despite an uncertain future with the franchise.

“He came into a challenging situation and I think we’re trending in the right direction,” said Linden. “I like the job Jim’s done, but beyond that I think we’re focused on the next couple months and the deadline.”

It all sounds encouraging for Benning, whose teams have made the playoffs once in four seasons as GM, a 101-point year in 2015-16. Since then, it’s been a downhill slide as more youth has been injected into the roster. The futures of Brock Boeser, Bo Horvat, Elias Pettersson and Jonathan Dahlen are exciting as the Sedin twins enter their final years in the NHL.

The Gudbranson acquisition in 2016 was one of Benning’s biggest moves as GM. He gave up Jared McCann and a second- and fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft. It hasn’t worked out as injuries and poor play have seen him bumped down the depth chart to the third pairing. With the direction of the team right now, it’d be wise to move him and let the kids play rather than re-sign him and cement a roster spot with an anchor.

If Linden is confident in Benning handling the trade deadline and continuing to shape the future of the franchise, there should be no concern about who the GM will be next season, right?

“Jim has always been of the mind that, at heart, he’s a guy that has a team-building mindset,” Linden added. “He’s going to continue to have his eye on the future, and that’ll be no different as we head into deadline.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Lack, Markstrom weigh in on trade speculation

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With Canucks GM Jim Benning fielding calls on goaltenders Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom the pair voiced their opinion on being shopped with Vancouver radio station News 1130 on Monday.

“Gonna be an interesting few days, it can’t effect me, I’m working out, come back for next year wherever that is,” Markstrom said.

The 25-year-old appeared in just three games for the Canucks in 2014-15 going 1-1-0 with a 3.08 G.A.A. and an .879 save percentage.

Markstrom also appeared in 32 AHL games with the Utica Comets going 22-7-2 with a 1.88 G.A.A. and a .934 save percentage. He also helped the Comets to a berth in the Calder Cup final with a 12-11 playoff record posting a 2.11 G.A.A. and a .925 save percentage.

“I love Vancouver, goalie coaches are great, throw in the Utica run and you grow closer to the organization,” he said. “It’s a business, hardest league in the world, so many players knocking on the door.”

Markstrom’s two-year, $2.4 million contract is set to expire next week making him a restricted free agent.

Lack appeared in 41 games for the Canucks in 2014-15 posting an 18-13-4 record to go along with a 2.45 G.A.A. and a .921 save percentage. The 27-year-old also made four appearances in the Stanley Cup playoffs going 1-3-0.

“I’m not focusing on it, I know there is a business side of it,” Lack said of the trade speculation. “I can’t do anything about it.

“I don’t want to talk about leaving Vancouver. I don’t think I’m getting traded, if I am, I will deal with it then.”

He has one year remaining with a $1.15 million cap hit before becoming an unrestricted free agent in July 2016.

Canucks fans have voiced their opinion on who they would like to have stick around.

An online petition titled “Keep Eddie Lack!” currently has 47 supporters.

“When we decide which goalie we’re going to keep moving forward, then we’ll act on it and I think we’ll be able to recover a fairly high pick,” said Benning told TSN Radio in Vancouver last week.

The Canucks currently don’t have a second or third round selection for this week’s NHL Draft.

Related: Chiarelli thinks Oilers will probably add a goalie before draft

Miller (knee) set to rejoin the Canucks for practice

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Canucks’ goaltender Ryan Miller, who has been out of action since Feb. 22 due to a sprained knee, is set to rejoin the club.

The Canucks announced on Thursday that Miller was joining the team for practice, which is the next step in his recovery.

“He’s ready to practise. We’ll take it day to day and see where he’s at,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning per the Vancouver Sun’s Iain MacIntyre.

The 34-year-old suffered the injury during a game against the New York Islanders after teammate Jannik Hansen ran into him.

Miller was 28-15-1 to go along with a 2.47 G.A.A. and a .913 save percentage prior to the injury.

Vancouver is 11-6-2 during Miller’s absence.

A report last week suggested Miller won’t be ready for game action before the playoffs.

After concluding their four-game road trip in Winnipeg on Saturday, the Canucks have just three games remaining.

Report: Canucks take Markstrom off the market

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The Vancouver Canucks are no longer interested in trading goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, the club was open to offers on the 24-year-old Swede earlier in the season. Markstrom reportedly asked for a trade after the team inked Ryan Miller last summer and general manager Jim Benning agreed the team was “exploring that option”.

However, Markstrom’s solid play this season has given Canucks’ management a change of heart.

Markstrom is currently second in the AHL in goals-against average (1.92) and save percentage (.934). He was the co-winner of AHL All-Star Game MVP on Monday night after stopping 16 of 18 shots.

In 18 games this season, Markstrom has a 12-4-2 record. He had a solid start to the season nearly setting a new AHL shutout record in October.

LeBrun reports the Canucks now believe Markstrom could be a late bloomer like current Lightning starter Ben Bishop.

Bishop, 28, spent parts of six seasons in the AHL prior to becoming an NHL regular in Tampa.

Markstrom, who is in the second year of a two-year, $2.4 million contract, is a restricted free agent after this season.

Canucks’ Benning on Kassian: ‘He’s got the physicality and size to be a power forward for us’

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Zack Kassian is expected to be in the lineup tonight when the Vancouver Canucks play host to the Detroit Red Wings.

It’ll be Kassian’s first game since Nov. 25. The 23-year-old was originally out with a broken finger, but was a healthy scratch for the Canucks 3-2 to loss to the L.A. Kings on Thursday.

“He’s got the physicality and size to be a power forward for us. He’s going to have to embrace that style of game,” Canucks general manager, Jim Benning, told The Vancouver Province. “That’s how he’s going to help us win.”

Kassian, who has two goals and five points in 17 games this season to go along with a minus-5 rating, is just one season removed from scoring a career-best 14 goals and 29 points in 73 games during the 2013-14 season.

Benning admitted he’s willing to listen to calls from other teams regarding the availability of the former first-round pick.

“With any young player you have to patient, but having said that, if somebody calls us, and we think we can make our team better we’re going to look at that. We’re going to talk about it,” Benning said. “That’s the case with any player.”

Injuries have forced Kassian to miss 18 games this season.

Originally the 13th overall selection of the Buffalo Sabres in 2009, Kassian has 27 goals and 55 points in 173 career games with the Sabres and Canucks.