With Canucks crumbling, is this it for Benning, Green?

Could this actually be it for Canucks GM Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green?

For especially weary Canucks fans, that question might feel more like a taunt. With Benning in particular, some may view it as “The Boy Who Cried Sweeping Front Office Changes.”

Fans have shown their discontent in a number of ways. Eventually, they viewed the #FireBenning hashtag as insufficient, and took to the skies after the disappointing 2020-21 season.

Viral hashtags and chants aside, Benning’s persisted as Canucks GM since May 2014. He’s been under pressure more often than a frequent flyer’s eardrums.

During Benning’s reign as GM, the Canucks have only made the playoffs twice in seven seasons. Once again, Benning sacrificed draft picks and cap space to try to win now, even if it meant future pain. Yet, the Canucks are suffering through a four-game losing streak, and face long odds to make the playoffs at 5-9-2.

Fans and media both seem to be teetering toward a breaking point. That said, we’ve seen this movie before, and Benning keeps avoiding disaster as if he’s starring in the worst “Mission Impossible” sequel.

For many, it’s hard to believe this year will be different. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.

Take the temperature in Vancouver, though, and you get the impression someone is on the hot seat. To paraphrase Tobias Fünke, maybe this is the time calls for change will actually work for Canucks fans?

Let’s dive in.

Is Benning running out of chances at Canucks GM?

An owner (or ownership group members) emerging more often doesn’t guarantee doom for a coach or GM. Even so, it’s not that far off from “a vote of confidence” that often feels more like a last chance.

So, seeing key faces around the Canucks inspires some intrigue about the future of Benning and/or Green.

Sometimes, owners simply take time to catch up to fan unrest. At times, there are dramatic turns. Memorably, the Sabres gave Jason Botterill a snooty vote of confidence, then abruptly changed course weeks later.

Benning hasn’t just had plenty of swings as Canucks GM. He’s also swung for the fences. With many whiffs, you wonder when owners might look for someone who can make more frequent contact. Canucks Army’s Chris Faber ranks among those who wonder if Benning is down to his “last strike.”

Faber notes how much of the Canucks’ future Benning’s mortgaged for a team that hasn’t made the elite steps forecasted long ago.

Just over the past two and a half years, Benning has traded away the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick and 2019 third-round pick, and 2021 third-round pick.

All that, and for what? This is a team that once again went for it, yet their playoff chances already look slim.

If attendance starts to drop, then look out.

How much of Canucks’ blame falls on Green?

While Benning is in his eighth season as Canucks GM, Travis Green’s only been coach since May 2017. Understandably, Green inspires less vitriol from Canucks fans — at least for the most part.

Nonetheless, it’s natural to ask: how much of the Canucks’ failures are on Green vs. Benning? Considering the issues Green inherited, it would be absurd to put it all on coaching. But should Green remain if Benning gets fired?

It may be key to mix the immediate situation with larger results.

[Not surprisingly, Canucks show poorly in latest Power Rankings.]

On one hand, the Canucks haven’t looked very competent defensively very often under Green. They’ve been a bottom-five team both in quantity (stats like Corsi For) and quality (expected goals) at 5-on-5 the past three seasons.

No doubt, some of that boils down to Benning and the Canucks’ inability to spot quality defensive talent. But it doesn’t seem like Green’s been able to make lemonade out of could-be lemons, either.

That said, some of the Canucks’ 2021-22 lows point to luck that shouldn’t stay this bad.

The Canucks’ penalty kill might be weak, personnel-wise. Strategically, they might not be making the right moves. But it’s unlikely that unit will remain historically putrid.

Considering the offensive talent available, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canucks’ power play rebound, too. They’re currently ranked eight-worst with a 15.3-percent success rate.

More specifically, it’s tough to imagine Elias Pettersson not bouncing back from a troublingly slow start.

So, chances are, things will look better this season. That goes for whether Green remains Canucks coach, or big changes include their bench boss.

But just because things look better, doesn’t mean they’ll be good enough.

A tough job if someone else took over

Much like the Blackhawks dealing with miscues like the Seth Jones sign-and-trade, a new Canucks GM would need to deal with Benning’s blunders. Think of it as a beleaguered relief pitcher having to survive a bases-loaded situation.

During the 2021 NHL Draft, the Canucks lacked picks in the first, third, and fourth rounds. In 2020, they didn’t make their first choice until round three.

For every bit of good news (Quinn Hughes has his issues, but signing him long-term was a wise gamble), there are worries. Consider these headaches:

  • It’s unclear what key forwards will make on their next contracts. Brock Boeser (contract year), Bo Horvat (two seasons left), and Elias Pettersson (bargain, but only for three years) all could cost a lot more quite soon.
  • Rough defensive spending doesn’t help. Quinn Hughes at almost $8M is a necessary risk. But the Canucks won’t rid themselves of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, or Tucker Poolman anytime soon, which isn’t ideal since they cost $15.76M.

Not easy.

Then again, as tough as this job would be to inherit, consider the alternative. If the Canucks stick with Benning as GM, they risk him trying to cool his hot seat with more dangerous moves.

Once again, this team is a big mess. Should Benning and/or Green get more time to clean up the Canucks?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Stars expect to open camp without unsigned scorer Jason Robertson

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    FRISCO, Texas — Young 40-goal scorer Jason Robertson is expected to miss the start of training camp for the Dallas Stars because the team and the restricted free agent haven’t agreed on a new contract.

    General manager Jim Nill said there’s been steady, ongoing negotiations over the last couple of weeks with Robertson and his representatives. Nill wouldn’t say what has kept the two sides from reaching a deal, adding there have been “very good discussions.”

    The Stars, with new coach Pete DeBoer, open camp Thursday in Cedar Park, Texas, at the home of their AHL team. They have three days of work there before returning to North Texas for their exhibition opener at home on Monday night. They open the regular season Oct. 13 at Nashville.

    “I think he’s disappointed he’s not at camp, we are too,” Nill said before the team departed for the Austin area. “I think it’s very important for a younger player and as you mentioned, the (new) coaching staff. … We do have some time on our side, but we wish he gets here as soon as he can.”

    Robertson had a base salary of $750,000 last season, the end of a $2.775 million, three-year contract. He still has five more years before he has the opportunity to become an unrestricted free agent.

    The left wing turned 23 soon after the end of last season, when he had 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points in his 74 games. Robertson joined Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Modano, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin as the only 40-goal scorers since the franchise moved to Dallas in 1993.

    A second-round draft pick by the Stars in 2017, Robertson has 125 points (58 goals, 67 assists) in his 128 NHL games. He had one goal and three assists in his first postseason action last season, when Dallas lost its first-round playoff series in seven games against Calgary.

    DeBoer said he looks forward to coaching Robertson, but that the forward’s absence won’t change his plans for camp.

    “It doesn’t impact what I’m doing,” DeBoer said. “Listen, I laid awake at night with the excitement of coaching Jason Robertson, 40-plus goals, but he’s not here. So, you know, until he gets here, I can’t spend any energy on that.”

    Nill said the Stars are open to a long-term extension or a bridge contract for Robertson, who was part of the team’s top line last season with veteran Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. They combined for 232 points, the second-most in franchise history for a trio.

    “We’re open to anything. But other than that … I’m not going to negotiate through the media,” Nill said. “As I said, we’ve had good conversations. We’ll see where it goes.”

    Training camps open around NHL after another short offseason

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    Training camps open around the NHL after another short offseason, a third in a row squeezed by the pandemic. That doesn’t bother Colorado Avalanche star Nathan MacKinnon one bit.

    For one of hockey’s best players and his teammates, it’s already time to get back on the ice and defend their Stanley Cup title, less than three months since they knocked off the back-to-back champion Tampa Bay Lightning.

    “I still feel like I just was playing,” MacKinnon said. “I took two weeks off, and then I started skating again. It’s just fun. I enjoy it, and I like the short summer. It feels like the season’s just kind of rolling over again.”

    The NHL rolls into fall coming off an entertaining playoffs and final with the chance to finally get back on a normal schedule. That means full camps for teams that got new coaches and the benefits of a regular routine.

    That means a mere 88 days between Game 6 of the final and the first-on ice practice sessions.

    “We’re kind of used to it now,” Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said after he and the Lightning lost in the final for the first time in three consecutive trips. “It’s a little harder, of course, because you don’t have that much time to rest. It’s basically a few weeks and you have to get back at it. But, yeah, I can’t complain. You want your summers to be short every year.”

    It was a little longer for Connor McDavid and the Oilers after losing to Colorado in the West final. Despite the lack of downtime, McDavid “wouldn’t trade that in for anything” and aims to make it even further since Edmonton shored up its goaltending situation by adding Jack Campbell.

    A few spins of the goalie carousel ended with the Avalanche acquiring Alexandar Georgiev from the New York Rangers and Cup winner Darcy Kuemper landing with Washington. Joining new teammates, many of whom hoisted the Cup in 2018, Kuemper is not worried about less time off.

    “It was definitely a very unique summer,” Kuemper said. “With how short it was, you start getting back into the gym and you’re kind of a little bit worried that your training’s going to be so short. But you kind of felt like you weren’t getting back into shape. You were already there.”

    NEW COACHES

    The Oilers are one of several teams settling in for training camp under a new coach. Jay Woodcroft took over as interim coach in February but has the full-time job now.

    “Looking forward to a camp with him,” McDavid said. “He did a great job coming in during the middle of the season, but it’s never easy on a coach, for sure. I’m sure there’s things that he wanted to touch on that you wasn’t able to kind of in the middle of the year, so he’ll be able to to touch on all of it this year.”

    The same goes for Bruce Boudreau in Vancouver, 11 months since being put in charge of the Canucks. Philadelphia’s John Tortorella, Boston’s Jim Montgomery, Vegas’ Bruce Cassidy, Dallas’ Peter DeBoer, Florida’s Paul Maurice, Chicago’s Luke Richardson, Detroit’s Derek Lalonde and the New York Islanders’ Lane Lambert are all starting the job fresh.

    CAMP TRYOUTS

    Roughly 40 players are attending a camp on a professional tryout agreement with the chance to earn a contract for the season. James Neal has that opportunity with the Blue Jackets, and Derek Stepan returned to Carolina to seek a job with the Hurricanes.

    The most intriguing situation involves 37-year-old center Eric Staal, who agreed to the tryout with Florida the same time brother Marc signed a one-year contract. Younger brother Jordan was with Eric and Marc on the 18th green at Pebble Beach to witness the occasion.

    “They’re both just super pumped, as was I,” said Jordan Staal, who is the captain of the Hurricanes. “Eric is excited about the opportunity and Marc, as well. Really cool. Really cool thing.”

    EARLY START

    Before the puck drops on the NHL season in North America on Oct. 11, the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks play twice in Prague on Oct. 7 and 8. And those are not exhibitions.

    “We still play two important games,” said Sharks forward Tomas Hertl, who is a native of Prague. “It’s not just preseason where you coming here to warm up.”

    Colorado and Columbus will also play two games in Tampere, Finland, on Nov. 4-5 as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

    And just as the league gets used to a regular schedule, work is ongoing between the league and NHL Players’ Association to stage a World Cup of Hockey in February 2024, which is popular among players even if it knocks the calendar off kilter again.

    “I think they missed out on a huge, huge portion of the international game that’s really going to be missed,” McDavid said. “We need to figure out a way to get an international tournament in as quickly as possible.”

    Matthew Tkachuk, Panthers ready for 1st training camp together

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    CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Aleksander Barkov was sound asleep at his home in Finland when the trade that brought Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers was finalized, which isn’t surprising considering it was around 4 a.m. in that part of the world.

    He woke up and read texts from friends reacting to the deal.

    And it wasn’t too long before he got a message from Tkachuk.

    “The first message was `(expletive) right’ and how he was excited to come to Florida,” Barkov, the Panthers’ captain, said at Florida’s media day. “`Let’s take this next step, let’s be a winning team for many years to come.’ That’s who he is. He wants to win. He wants to bring that character to this organization. And I think he’s done some damage already.”

    With that, Barkov was sold.

    And after a few weeks of informally skating with one another, the Panthers start the process of officially seeing what they have in Tkachuk when the team’s training camp – the first under new coach Paul Maurice – opens.

    “We’ve basically had everybody here for a few weeks,” Tkachuk said. “I feel like I’ve been in training camp for a couple of weeks. So today doesn’t feel that new to me. I’ve gotten to know everybody … so let’s get these games going. I’m sick and tired of just practicing and working. I want to start playing some games. I think everybody feels the same way.”

    Maurice was hired over the summer as well, inheriting a team that won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and went to the second round of the playoffs — the first series win for Florida since the run to the Stanley Cup Final in 1996.

    He’s as eager as the players are for the first formal practice, calling it “our first Christmas.”

    “The house is bought. Most of the boxes are unpacked,” Maurice said. “I’ve got two kids that kind of came with me; one’s in Coral Gables, one’s in Estero. Their places are unpacked. They’re out of our house. Once you get down here, for me, you spend most of your days at the rink. So, experiencing all of South Florida, we haven’t gotten to that yet.”

    As part of the deal that went down on July 22, the 24-year-old Tkachuk signed a eight-year, $76 million contract. That’s not the only big cost that the Panthers had to agree to while executing the trade; they also sent Jonathan Huberdeau, the franchise’s all-time scoring leader, and defenseman MacKenzie Weegar to the Calgary Flames in exchange for a left wing who had career bests of 42 goals, 62 assists and 104 points last season.

    “I wish all the best to Huby and Weegs,” Barkov said. “They’re great. Everyone loved them. Only good things to say about them. It happens, and for sure, it was best for the team and organization to do this. We move on, and we’ll get ready for a new season.”

    BOBROVSKY’S SUMMER

    Panthers goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, still makes his home in St. Petersburg, and went there for the bulk of his offseason.

    He said it was not logistically difficult to travel there (or return to the U.S.) this summer, even as the war that started when Russia invaded Ukraine continues. Bobrovsky said last season that he was not trying to focus on anything but hockey, and when asked if it was difficult to be back in Russia as war continues he kept the same approach.

    “I had a good summer,” Bobrovsky said. “I saw friends, I saw family. It’s all been fine. I don’t want to talk about what’s going on. I’m not involved in that stuff.”

    CAMP ROSTER

    Florida is opening camp with 56 players – 31 forwards, 19 defensemen and six goalies. That group includes brothers Eric Staal and Marc Staal; Marc Staal signed as a free agent in July; Eric Staal is with Florida on a tryout contract.

    Coyotes sign Barrett Hayton right before training camp

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    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The Arizona Coyotes signed forward Barrett Hayton to a two-year contract right before the start of training camp.

    Terms of the deal were not released.

    The 22-year-old Hayton was a restricted free agent and not initially listed on Arizona’s roster for camp.

    Hayton had 10 goals and 14 assists in 60 games with the Coyotes last season, all career highs.

    Arizona drafted the Peterborough, Ontario native with the fifth overall pick of the 2018 NHL draft. He has 13 goals and 18 assists in 94 career games with the Coyotes.