Benning: ‘Nothing’s set in stone’ as Canucks mull expansion draft options

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Brendan Gaunce or Brandon Sutter?

With the approaching Saturday deadline (5 p.m. ET) for NHL teams to submit their protection lists ahead of the expansion draft, there was quite a debate in Vancouver this week about whether the Canucks should protect the 23-year-old Gaunce and expose the 28-year-old Sutter.

Sutter played in 81 games this season for the Canucks, scoring 17 goals and 34 points. He was highly coveted as a foundation piece by general manager Jim Benning, who acquired Sutter from Pittsburgh in a trade involving Nick Bonino. But he also has a rather pricey contract that still has four years remaining on it and an annual cap hit of $4.375 million.

In addition to Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin and Loui Eriksson tied into no-movement clauses, it appears the Canucks will also be protecting Sutter. He’s never posted more than 40 points in a single season, but beyond an aging Henrik Sedin and 22-year-old Bo Horvat, the Canucks don’t have much going for them up the middle.

Meanwhile, Gaunce didn’t score a single goal this season, playing in 57 games. He did have five assists, playing mostly on the fourth line. He began to carve out a niche as a checking forward, but the Canucks could use more scoring production from the former first round pick and pending restricted free agent.

If Gaunce is exposed, a shoulder operation in April — and the reported four-to-six month recovery period — may make him a less desirable option for Vegas.

Of course, Benning isn’t tipping his hand.

“We have an idea of who we’re going to protect, but I’m not going to let anybody know what those players are because we’re still talking to different teams and we still might make a move,” Benning told Canadian Press. “Nothing’s set in stone until Saturday at 5 o’clock eastern when we have to submit the list.”