Under Pressure: Jim Benning

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

It was only an online survey, and barely 200 people responded. But the results did not flatter Vancouver general manager Jim Benning. Out of all 30 NHL teams, readers of The Hockey News had the least confidence in the front office of the Canucks.

It did not help that the survey’s findings were released just a few days after the Canucks had been fined for tampering. At the draft in Buffalo, Benning had spoken about Vancouver’s interest in Steven Stamkos and P.K. Subban, two players who were property of other NHL clubs. While the league accepted that Benning had “intended no harm with his comments,” it still cost the club $50,000, not to mention a good amount of embarrassment.

Of course, Benning’s biggest sin, if you ask his critics, has nothing to do with talking too much. No, his biggest sin is an unwillingness to accept that the Canucks are no longer a playoff team. An unwillingness, essentially, to tank.

Since Benning arrived in the summer of 2014, Vancouver has not gone through a tear-it-down rebuild like we’ve seen in places like Toronto and Buffalo. Instead, the Canucks have tried to remain competitive while getting younger at the same time.

And though they were far from competitive last season, finishing 28th overall — their worst season since the Mike Keenan era — Benning insisted that injuries were the biggest reason for all the losing.

“In my heart, I really believe if we’d had Brandon Sutter the whole year and Alex Edler didn’t get hurt, we’d be right there,” he told the Vancouver Sun in late February, at which point the Canucks were all but officially eliminated.

And so Benning went to work. His two biggest offseason moves were acquiring defenseman Erik Gudbranson in a trade with Florida and signing winger Loui Eriksson in free agency.

While Gudbranson is still young, just 24 years old, and Benning has said he expects the former third overall draft pick to be in Vancouver for the next decade, the fact the Canucks surrendered well-regarded 20-year-old forward in Jared McCann plus the 33rd overall pick in the 2016 draft was more evidence of the club’s reluctance to bottom out.

“I come from a scouting background, so to trade second-round picks away, it kills me,” Benning said. “But where we’re at right now, I think we owe it to our fans to try to field the most competitive team that we can right now.”

The key phrase there: “right now.”

Certainly, Eriksson was not signed for three or four years down the line. He just turned 31 and is expected to skate with the Sedin twins, who turn 36 in September and have two years left on their contracts. The decision to not trade a player like Jannik Hansen, who just turned 30, is another one that a rebuilding club might not make.

“We’re not moving Jannik,” Benning told The Province recently. “I thought he was excellent for us last year and with the way the game is going with speed and skill, he fits that description perfectly. And we have him under a good (cap) number the next couple of years, so we’re not looking to do anything.”

Whether you agree or disagree with the direction that Benning has chosen (and there’s something to be said for trying to maintain a culture of winning), there’s no denying he’ll be under considerable pressure next season. If the Canucks don’t improve — and they’ll need to improve rather dramatically to get back into the playoffs — it will be a lot harder to justify his “right now” moves.

At least with tanking, losing is part of the plan.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.