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