It’s time for another edition of the Nucks Misconduct Roundtable. We get our writers together and ask them a number of questions about the state of this team we’ve been cursed to follow. Sometimes they play it straight, sometimes it’s Westy and Jimmi, but you’ll always get the unvarnished opinions on the Canucks here.
1- Let’s start with the most recent development, shall we? Jake Virtanen has been bought out by the Vancouver Canucks. Is this hockey related, or is the team ridding itself of a problematic player whose off-ice issues became too toxic to justify keeping him on the team?
Westy - All of the above. I never understood all of the Jake love to start with. He can skate and shoot. Other than that....he had trouble with defensive assignments, he didn’t play the physical game that people hoped for. The fact that there were off-ice issues made this an easier choice for management.
Kent- I don’t believe for a minute that this is hockey related, though honestly it works if you do buy into this theory. The bottom line is that Jake’s off-ice issues are numerous, and this situation forced their hand.
Not that it matters in light of what he is accused of, but JV the hockey player will go down as the poster child for the failed Benning regime: Drafted over better players, given multiple chances for god knows what reason other than the home town boy angle, and re-signed at the expense of Tyler Toffoli, again for reasons clear to no one but this team’s management.
Rob - This move is 100% Cap related. A savings of $2.5M with only a $ 50,000 residual amount on the books for the 2021/22 season made it inevitable. He was toast long before the most recent of his many off ice issues first came to light. He played himself off the team with his on ice play. With Hoglander arriving and Podkokzin about to arrive his roster spot was gone. Conor Garland was the final stake through his hockey stay in his home province.
Strang - Virtanen wasn’t good enough on the ice to warrant a spot on this roster next season. His actions off the ice also meant that he didn’t deserve a spot on this team next season. I believe both of those statements to be true at the same time. For far too long Virtanen has been given opportunity after opportunity and finally his time playing for the Canucks has ended.
Markus - Probably a bit of both, honestly. Either way, I’m glad he’s gone, but I hope they don’t use this as an excuse to drop the investigation or take it in any way less seriously.
2- The trade. Discuss.
Westy - Wrote a whole article on it here. The problem is that this one trade is not judged on its own, its a continuation of bad moves by GMJB that he is now cleaning up.
Kent- It is at best, a lateral move. Yes, he cleared the trio of anchor contracts, but took salary back that left them right where they started. OEL is not the player he was 5 years ago, let alone 3 years ago. He will not be that player again. A win in this trade is if he is better than Alex Edler was last year. Connor Garland is a great pick up, and he is going to help this team out immensely, especially by allowing Bo Horvat and JT Miller to focus on being an offensive line instead of a checking line. The ripple effect of bad Benning decisions made this deal necessary, and yet somehow he managed to make things just a little bit worse. I find it hard to comprehend how this team thinks they’re going to make the playoffs next season, when the issues that made them so damn bad this past year still exist, even after this deal.
Rob - The Garland trade may eventually go down as the best trade in franchise history. It reallocated $12M in pretty much dead 4th line Cap monies into a Top 6 forward in Conor Garland and a Top 4 defencemen in Oliver Ekman-Larson. Garland is now locked down for his prime playing years in Vancouver without an NMC or NTC or signing bonuses. OEL was mentally stale playing in the Arizona hockey desert in front of an employer who wanted him run out of town. He is unlikely to revert to his prior Norris Trophy consideration status but he will be a reliable #3 defenceman who will munch minutes and mentor Huggy and Bones.
Strang - This trade is pretty clearly a positive for the Canucks in the short-term but that comes at the expense of the team’s long-term outlook. Garland is great and should fit in well in the top-six. While Ekman-Larson may not be worth his contract, he should still be a serviceable defense that can eat a few minutes on the second or third pairing. These two players are better than the trio that was given away, however the Canucks now continue their cap hell for a longer period of time with the OEL contract. It’s a trade made by a general manager that knows he’s on the hot seat and the exact type of short-sighted move that we have come to expect from Jim Benning.
Markus - I respect the guts it took to make the move but I’m a little skeptical. I'm not sure OEL is an impactful top four guy these days, though I would love to be proven wrong. I just think it would have been better to let the Loui/Roussel/Beagle contracts expire in a year and invest the OEL money towards better options, but who knows, maybe he bounces back. I do like Garland, but overall I think this is short-term thinking (which hey, I guess is fine, but they better be good next year!)
3- Jason Dickinson coming over from Dallas to fill the 3C spot: How are you feelin’ about this one?
Westy - To be honest, I don’t know much about him except what the numbers and other show me. I do know that spot was a weak point for years. I am more than willing to watch him have a go with it. I am more concerned about Pearson moving down and having Vasily get adjusted to the NHL.
Kent- I thought it was a decent get on Jim’s part. Definitely better than what we’ve been seeing in that slot for the last few seasons. Gives the Canucks an opportunity to actually run 3 offence minded lines instead of two and two. I guess we’ll have to go with the best defence being a good offence mindset.
Rob - A solid addition taking advantage of the then pending Seattle Expansion Draft. A major upgrade over Brandon Sutter at 3C. His new RFA contract is likely to come in at about half of what Sutter’s expiring Cap hit was as well. What’s not to like?
Strang - From what I’ve seen about Jason Dickinson he seems to be a good fit for a bottom-six checking role. The thing that scares me is if his defensive stats and play will translate from Dallas, a team that plays with strong defensive structure, to the looser Canucks. If he struggles to find his footing in the Canucks system, he won’t provide much value in the offensive zone. However, he seems like a safe bet to be a solid contributor.
Markus - From everything I've read, I like it. I like that Bo won’t have to play the heavy minutes anymore and as long as they don’t overpay him I think it’s a good fit. They haven’t had a legit shutdown centre since maybe Malhotra, so I think this was a solid acquisition.
4- General thoughts on this weekend’s draft and how the Canucks did.
Westy - Did we get any picks? I know that Jim’s record with drafts is 50/50, so I guess there might be a keeper in there somewhere.
Rob - I am stoked since 5 of the 6 picks were from overseas and they will replenish my 3:00 a.m. hockey viewing content. 18 year old Danila (Danny) Klimovich has already played well this month in the KHL preseason on a tryout contract. The Canucks have now signed him to an entry level contract. The best comparable I have heard proffered for him so far is Alexander Ovechkin. I’ll take a mini Ovie anytime. It looks like the Canucks may go outside of the box and develop him in Abbotsford instead of letting him marinate on loan to a KHL team or learn on the job in the Q. If they do decide to do that then instead of watching him on-line at 3:00 a.m., I will be able to watch him develop in person at the Abbotsford Center.
Strang - Hard to have a solid opinion on a draft that just happened, especially when the Canucks didn’t even pick in the first round. On most of their picks it seems as if they went for riskier players, those with higher upsides but also more chance of busting, and I think that makes sense considering the limited draft capital they had.
Kent- While the inability of Jim Benning to acquire additional draft picks is probably my favorite running Canucks gag, in terms of what they did with the picks they had seems good. Klimovich is a project, but if he pans out he could end up being a steal. We got a couple of Swedish D, a Finnish goaltending prospect and a couple forwards that could pan out down the road. When you don’t draft in the first round, you won’t get a franchise changing player. There wasn’t a single pick that saw people start calling for Benning’s head on a pike, so that’s a good sign.
Markus - I’m not a prospects guy so I defer to those more knowledgeable. What I will say is that I wish he would acquire more picks (as we say every single year.) For a guy who is supposedly the draft master, Jim sure doesn’t like to prove it.
5- Kole Lind is off to Seattle (or Palm Springs, I suppose). Is this just an acceptable part of the expansion process, or a loss for the team?
Westy - Kole Lind was great in Utica. Kole Lind had 0 points in 7 games for the Canucks. People will want to argue the potential of Lind, which is always fun....but not factual. People fear that he scores 30 goals in the future with another team. That’s a scary way to live life.
Rob - Every team had to lose one player. Lind did not perform well during his NHL cup of coffee. I think Will Lockwood had already passed him on the Canucks depth chart. He was a longshot to make the Canucks roster for the 2021/22 season and he would have needed waivers to be sent down to Abbotsford. He was a small loss compared to what most other teams gave up to the Kraken.
Strang - Losing Lind isn’t that bad in the grand scheme of things. The Canucks have now escaped two expansion drafts and their total losses are Kole Lind and Luca Sbisa. Lind didn’t do anything crazy during his brief audition and I wish him all the best in Seattle.
Kent- It feels like the last few years in Utica have seen development take a backseat to just trying to ice a competitive team. Near catastrophic levels of injuries in Utica and Vancouver played a part in this, but the fact that this team continues to try and solve issues through free agency instead of having someone waiting on the farm for their big shot speaks volumes. Lind seemed like he was destined for a bottom 6 role with the Canucks someday, and it never materialized. Hope he gets a shot with the Kraken.
Markus - I would have preferred to lose Holtby or even like, MacEwen, but whatever. I think there’s potential there but this is a very minor loss that I doubt we’ll come to regret. Logical pick for Seattle and gives them a nice young depth piece, but Lind didn’t look super impressive in his NHL stint and I’m not losing sleep over it.
6- Free Agency was a shockingly busy day for Jim Benning, Any of these signings you like? Which ones do you dislike? And overall, how happy are you with the effort to retool this team after last season’s disaster?
Westy - I’m not sure this is a retool...this might be the rebuild we were promised. I like the Halak signing, except it might take a few washings to get that Bruin stench off of him. The defense sure is different from last year, but I am sure I will find something to complain about. I mean besides the idiotic re-signing of Brandon Sutter. Fuck.
Rob - Eriksson, Roussel, Beagle, Virtanen and Holtby all gone. A big thumbs up to Jim Benning for taking out all of his trash in one offseason. A disgruntled Schmidt exiled to Winterpeg with the spent draft pick essentially recouped. The top nine forward group no longer has any weak links. The fourth line is now capable of putting ‘biscuits in baskets’ instead of just trying to stop the opposing line from scoring. Garland is just hitting his prime and has a real chance to vastly outplay his new Cap hit. If Dickinson can become half the defensive center his idol Ryan Kesler was, the 3C spot position will be well served again. At worst OEL is a significant upgrade on a tired and slowed Alex Edler. If Tucker Poolman plays like his bubble season self instead of his Covid injury racked season self, his contract may turn into a good long term value deal. The refigured defence has potential to become a reliable D-man group under Brad Shaw’s tutelage. Abbotsford is loaded with a bunch of high paid (by AHL standards) forwards and defencemen with NHL experience ready to pounce on an opportunity if someone falters or is injured on the big club. This has been The Summer of Jim (on steroids). He has retooled the club into a sureshot playoffs team for the 2021/22 season, If the team develops chemistry, it has real potential to go on a magical run in the Spring of 2022.
Strang - Plenty of signings in the early days of free agency and while most of them were for depth players, there are a few that stick out. The big one is Tucker Poolman. Why would a player that is going to be on the third pairing get 4 years? To me, this is another big mistake by Benning. He allocated the ~$5.5 million he got from trading Schmidt and turned it into Poolman and Travis Hamonic. Really hoping Poolman proves me wrong.
Kent- Jimmy cleaned house on a lot of dead weight, both on the parent club and in the AHL, so seeing them signing guys like crazy was something to behold. I like Halak being brought in as a backup for Thatcher Demko. I’m also thrilled to see Luke Schenn back, I think that was a head scratcher for JB to let him walk a couple years ago. The Tucker Poolman signing, woof. This team still just absolutely stinks on the back end.
Markus - Again, I respect the action Jim’s taking and it’s hilarious and entertaining to watch. The Poolman signing seems bad. Four years is too much for a guy who is like, a #5 (though $2.5 million isn’t too bad, considering what others went for.) I don’t mind the Halak fit, but they went overboard on Hamonic (again, a #5 getting $3 million? Too much.) I also liked the Petan and Hunt pick ups in Abbotsford. Bit of a mixed bag overall.
7- Final Question: Is this team good enough to make the playoffs?
Westy - On paper....sure. Unfortunately, the schedule maker and injury fairies usually find multiple ways to make sure that the answer to the question won’t be know until game 75.
Rob - They are a lock. “Will they win the Pacific Division ?” is a better question.
Strang - They’re not better than Vegas and thus will have to beat out one of Calgary or Edmonton, not to mention Seattle who could surprise. While I think they do sneak in, I don't think it’s as obvious as some might think.
Kent- I really want them to. It was frickin’ awesome having playoff hockey again, especially with guys like Pettersson, Horvat, Hughes, Boeser and Demko leading the way. The problem is that defence is gonna get eaten alive, but the saving grace just might be how bloody awful the other teams in the Pacific are. It’s Vegas and then everyone else. The main issue is the Central, which are almost certain to snag five of the eight Western playoff slots. That means making the playoffs is far from certain, and when you add in the way this team has been racking up man games lost to injury and defence being a foreign concept, I can’t see it happening without some kind of change/catastrophic event.
Markus - I don't think they’re a lock, but I think they make it. I think they could finish anywhere from second to missing the playoffs. I think Edmonton, Calgary, LA, and Seattle will be right there with them, but I think on paper they’re good enough to make it for sure.