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.
The Canucks believe recently acquired Brandon Sutter is a “foundation piece” and now they’ve ensured that he’ll be spending his prime years with the team.
Vancouver announced that Sutter has agreed to a five-year, $21.875 million contract extension. He still has a season remaining on his two-year, $6.6 million deal, so Sutter is now under Vancouver’s control through 2020-21.
Sutter, 26, is a two-way center that scored 21 goals and 33 points in 80 contests with Pittsburgh last season while playing primarily on the Penguins’ third line. He has 98 goals and 185 points in 495 career games.
The Canucks acquired him on July 28 along with a third-round draft pick in exchange for forward Nick Bonino, defenseman Adam Clendening and a second-round pick.
In Vancouver, Sutter is projected to play on the second line so that 20-year-old Bo Horvat is facing less pressure.
Statistically speaking, the last two seasons have been among the worst in Buffalo’s history, but Sabres owner Terry Pegula sees great value in those painful years. In fact, he would list them as “two of the most successful seasons we’ve ever had,” per the Associated Press.
Obviously, those losing records allowed the Sabres to draft second overall in back-to-back years (having lost the draft lottery both times). They used those picks to select Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, but general manager Tim Murray was also able to get plenty of other pieces for the rebuild over that span. He also acquired the likes of Evander Kane, Ryan O’Reilly, and Robin Lehner in trades while moving other players like Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek to get future assets, including first round picks.
A couple rough seasons in the service of a long-term goal can make sense, but the success of the Sabres’ rebuilding effort will be measured by how they do going forward. They don’t have to look any further than the Edmonton Oilers to know how hard it can be to transition from a rebuilding phase to a competitive one. Having a generational talent like Eichel on the roster certainly helps, but he and the Sabres have a lot to prove.
Given that, we can’t call the last two seasons successful for Buffalo in terms of on-ice accomplishments, we’ll have to let history judge if the off-ice moves are as beneficial as Sabres fans hope.
Related: Gionta: Sabres’ offseason ‘excites guys in the locker room’
Jim Benning wasn’t kidding when he called Brandon Sutter a “foundation piece.”
Just days after acquiring Sutter from Pittsburgh in a multi-player trade, the Canucks GM is reportedly close to inking the 26-year-old to a fairly large extension, per Sportsnet:
If accurate, the extension — which would kick in for 2016-17 — will make Sutter one of just two players on the active roster signed until 2020, the other being defenseman Chris Tanev. The estimated cap hit would also make Sutter one of the highest-paid forwards on the team next season, behind the Sedins ($7M each) and Alex Burrows ($4.5M).
Sutter’s two-year, $6.6M deal expires at the end of this season.
Given the reported money and term, it’s pretty clear Benning sees Sutter as the fix to Vancouver’s second-line center problem. Nick Bonino, part of the package sent to Pittsburgh for Sutter, looked over his head at times last year as the No. 2, and the club isn’t keen on rushing promising prospect Bo Horvat into the role.
“Horvat, the last half the year, played really well for us,” Benning said on Tuesday. “We don’t want to put pressure on him to be somewhere in the lineup that he can’t handle it going forward. We want to make sure that he keeps developing as a player.”
Whether Sutter can fill the No. 2 role remains to be seen. He was largely a No. 3 guy throughout his time in Pittsburgh, though some of that had to do with being stuck behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the depth chart.