Canucks have a puzzle to solve on the blue line


Jim Benning learned something in his first year as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks.

You can never have enough defensemen.

As such, he plans to start next season with eight blue-liners, not just seven, like he did this past season. And he wants even more options down on the farm, in case of injury.

“We’ll start with eight defensemen, but we want to have 11 D capable of playing in the NHL,” Benning told The Province. “That’s something I learned this year from being in the West. The travel wears the team down a bit and it seems to take a toll on your defense.”

Currently, if you had to pick a group of eight Canucks defenders, it might look something like this:

Alex Edler-Chris Tanev
Dan Hamhuis-Yannick Weber
Luca Sbisa-Kevin Bieksa
Ryan Stanton-Adam Clendening

But there’s also young, right-shooting Frank Corrado. The 22-year-old is arguably ready for the NHL. Hence, the speculation Vancouver may try and trade Bieksa.

Of course, trading Bieksa would mean one less defenseman, on a team that wants to have lots of them.

The challenge for Benning is a dearth of waivers-exempt, NHL-capable blue-liners. All nine that have been mentioned above require waivers to be sent to the AHL.

There’s also the mix to consider. The current group, as a whole, failed to create enough offense, and in the playoffs had trouble beating Calgary’s aggressive forecheck.

At the very least, Benning has time to figure out a solution.

“The season doesn’t start for four months,” he said. “If we want to add a certain type of player by trade, it’s something we’d look at. Like, say, a better transition defenseman.”

Related: Despite ‘step in the right direction,’ do Canucks need to alter core?

Canada thumps Austria, remain undefeated at Worlds

Jason Spezza and Matt Duchene each had two goals and two assists as Canada thumped Austria 10-1 on Tuesday at the World Hockey Championship.

Mike Smith made 14 saves in the victory.

With the win Canada finished the round robin a perfect 7-0 while scoring 45 goals and is the top seed in Group A.

The Canadians will now play Belarus on Thursday in the quarterfinals.

Canada elected to rest captain Sidney Crosby for the game and defenseman Dan Hamhuis wore the ‘C’ as the team’s captain.

Duchene, Tyson Barrie, Taylor Hall and Aaron Ekblad scored first period goals giving Canada a 4-0 lead after 20 minutes.

Spezza and Jordan Eberle made it 6-0 after two periods.

Dominique Heinrich spoiled Smith’s shutout bid early in the third getting Austria on the board.

Spezza, Duchene, Nathan MacKinnon and Brayden Schenn added third period goals for Canada.

Thirteen members of Canada’s roster had at least a point in the win.

Columbus’ Bjorkstrand named WHL Player of the Year


It’s been quite the year for Oliver Bjorkstrand.

Bjorkstrand, Columbus’ third-round pick (89th overall) at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, capped off a banner 2014-15 campaign by winning the WHL’s Player of the Year award, becoming just the second European player to ever capture the trophy.

(Past WHL POY winners include Sam Reinhart, Jordan Eberle, Karl Alzner, Dan Hamhuis and Jarome Iginla.)

The 20-year-old Dane scored a whopping 63 goals and 118 points in just 59 games this season. He also set some league history by scoring 50 goals in 50 games, becoming the first WHL player to accomplish the feat since Anaheim forward Emerson Etem did it for Medicine Hat in 2011-12.

Bjorkstrand participated with Columbus in training camp and the preseason before being returned to Portland, and also logged time with the Danish team at the 2015 World Juniors. There, he led the Danes to their first-ever win in tourney history, scoring five points in five games.

He’s currently participating with Denmark’s national team at the World Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic, and will (presumably) get a good look at cracking the Blue Jackets roster this fall.

Crosby to captain Canada at Worlds


Sidney Crosby will once again wear the “C” internationally — on Thursday, it was announced that Crosby will captain Team Canada at the upcoming World Hockey Championships in the Czech Republic.

Dallas’ Jason Spezza and Vancouver’s Dan Hamhuis will serve as alternates.

Crosby, 27, previously captained Canada to gold at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. He’s also twice served as an alternate for his country — once at the Worlds in 2006 (when he scored 16 points in nine games, becoming the youngest scoring champ in tourney history) and again at the ’10 Olympics in Vancouver, where he was part of a leadership group that included captain Scott Niedermayer, and fellow alternates Chris Pronger and Jarome Iginla.

Crosby famously scored the “golden goal” for Canada at those Vancouver games, potting the OT winner in the tournament finale against the United States.

Despite ‘step in the right direction,’ do Canucks need to alter core?


Should the Canucks stick with the same core of veterans that hasn’t been past the first round of the playoffs since nearly winning the Stanley Cup in 2011?

That was the big question today in Vancouver, as said core was grilled by reporters following a six-game loss to Calgary.

“When you don’t win, everything’s probably up for questioning,” said veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who, like d-man Kevin Bieksa, has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent.

“It seems to be a popular question we keep getting all the time. I think our core’s been good. It’s a solid group of guys. I still think there’s lots of years ahead of us.”

Hamhuis, 32, and Bieksa, 33, were each asked if they’d be willing to waive their no-trade clauses.

Hamhuis, appearing somewhat taken aback by the question, replied, “That’s not something I’ve ever really thought of. I’m not really prepared to give an answer on that. That’s something I’ll think about if that were to happen, but probably more something to talk with [general manager Jim Benning] about.”

Bieksa said the same went for him: “I’ve never had to cross that bridge before, haven’t heard it brought up by anybody in the organization. I know you guys are poking around; that’s your job.”

Benning will face the media on Wednesday, and will likely say many of the same things that the players did today — that the Canucks still have a solid core, but like any team, they need younger players to keep stepping up, like rookie Bo Horvat did this year.

“You always need young players to come in and surprise,” said winger Chris Higgins. “Next year, who knows who’s going to be the young guy to show up in camp and have a great camp and make an impact on this team? You look at every team that’s successful; they have young guys that come in and surprise every year. This team’s looking for guys like that as well.”

As for the Sedins, who turn 35 in September, they still anticipate having a big role for years to come.

“We have no plans of getting any worse,” said Henrik Sedin. “We’re not young anymore, but I think we showed this year that we can still be a big part, and we can be productive, and we can play well. I don’t see that changing in the next couple of years. With the young guys coming up, it looks good for this organization.

“I haven’t planned to get any worse, as a team. I think our focus is to make the playoffs each and every year and giving ourselves a chance to win.”

The Canucks do have some intriguing forward prospects in the likes of Sven Baertschi, Jake Virtanen, Cole Cassels, Jared McCann, plus a handful of others. At least one or two should be able to push for a spot next season, without rushing those that need more time to develop in the minors.

But it was the defense group that came under the most fire in the playoffs, with turnovers becoming a major factor against an aggressive Flames’ forecheck.

Everyone knows that a team that can’t move the puck out of its own end is a team with little of hope of success in the NHL.

The conundrum for management is that the Canucks do not have a blue-chip defensive prospect waiting in the wings. In fact, Vancouver hasn’t drafted a d-man in the first round in over a decade. That 25-year-old Luca Sbisa was given a three-year commitment at a cap hit of $3.6 million was testament to the club’s lack of young options on the back end (Adam Clendening and Frank Corrado are the most NHL-ready.)

Certainly, the blue line is an area that Benning will need to address if the Canucks are going to build on what was actually a surprisingly successful season, save for the playoff disappointment.

“I think we took a step in the right direction this year,” said Henrik Sedin. “It’s a small step, but a good step in the right direction.”