I’m going to go ahead and disagree with my colleague Adam Proteau, who believes Jim Benning – if he is in fact the next GM of the Vancouver Canucks - needs to immediately start tearing down the Canucks franchise by trading away all of its best assets.
It’s a path always easier said than done.
To be sure, the Canucks have some problem areas on the roster and a ton of uncertainty in goal. Tweaks need to be made and work needs to be done on the roster before the team returns with any sort of optimism in 2014-15. It would take a minor miracle for this franchise to win the West again next season, but I believe the fan base – and the ownership - has more of an appetite to at least try and stay in the running, rather than throw in the towel.
Let’s start with the Sedins, who had an awful season by their standards, but still finished 1-2 in team scoring. How much of an impact did John Tortorella’s system have on their free-wheeling cycle game that dominated the West before 2013-14? It’s worth noting Daniel was second on Team Sweden in scoring at the Olympics, while Henrik was injured.
Even at 34 in September, the Sedins have earned a little more rope in Vancouver than to be shipped off at the first sign of adversity. They are the kind of scoring talents you’d be hard-pressed to acquire one of – let alone two – in any trade. And if it’s only futures you’re seeking in return for them, that’s a whole lot of uncertainty for franchise MVPs who you have signed for another four years. With their contracts, there is no need to make a panic trade, especially since both have NTCs, making the market for them smaller than it should be. And since their lull took place for one season under one coach, they should at least have a chance to bounce back under someone more suited for their style.
The Ryan Kesler situation is the most interesting one to play out this summer in Vancouver. Does he really want out and, if so, how badly does he want out? Perhaps after the new coach is hired, Benning will meet with Kesler to discuss his feelings and the new direction of the franchise to decide how palatable it is to move on with him. As far as realistic trade chips go, Kesler is the biggest for the Canucks, but it comes with huge risk. Vancouver, already struggling with forward depth, would put itself down a high-end second-line center. If he goes, his name should be the biggest to get shipped out of Vancouver this summer – and it’s a move the Canucks should only make if Kesler demands it, and for a return that still helps them stay on track in the present.
On defense, there does seem to be one obvious, must-move player: Alex Edler. The frustrating Canucks defenseman has shown flashes of brilliance in the past, but his inconsistency has become a regular thing. With five years left at a cap hit of $5 million, and at 28 years old, someone will want the potential Edler still brings and pay a pretty penny for the term he comes with. Can the Canucks do something about their goaltending and add some futures in an Edler trade? What about acquiring some forwards for lines two or three? This one is worth exploring.
The reason the Canucks can afford to move Edler is because, even without him, they have a pretty good defense corps to go with. Vancouver allowed the seventh-fewest shots against per game during the regular season at 28.4 and there’s a lot of experience in Kevin Bieksa, Jason Garrison and Dan Hamhuis. But if you trade the Sedins and Kesler, the forward units will be a scorched earth. Seems a little overkill for one John Tortorella-led season to me.
What former GM Mike Gillis didn’t do well enough, and what Benning should be most focused on, is complementing what’s already in place with capable, perhaps young, depth. David Booth, as Proteau pointed out, should be bought out to create roster and cap room to add a depth player or two. What the Canucks need right now is an experienced talent evaluator to pick out the subtle adjustments that need to be made to this roster and make those acquisitions. That is the type of GM Benning is being billed as, so he should be allowed to make the tweaks he picks out before nuking his first situation at the helm of an NHL team.
Making matters even more difficult, if you want to trade off every decent asset this summer, is that Benning may still be sitting at the Bruins draft table in June. Boston hasn’t yet made it clear if they’ll allow him to join the Canucks by then and if he doesn’t, the Canucks won’t be able to make hay at the draft, where so many big trades have recently occurred. If you’re going to trade all your best talent for futures, doing it at the draft is the best place to start.
And speaking of futures, if that’s what you want to go all-in with now, Vancouver may not be the best-equipped team to go full bore on a rebuild. As the Canucks Army blog pointed out yesterday, Vancouver kind of has a scouting problem. Until that part of the organization goes through an overhaul, it may not be the best to commit to the future with.
The fact is, rebuilding comes with a pile of uncertainty and simply trading proven, veteran assets for draft picks and prospects assures you of nothing. That’s the type of plan you should only be forced into. The Edmonton Oilers were supposed to at least be back in the playoffs by now, if not doing much more than that. The Florida Panthers have been rebuilding for more than a decade and have almost nothing to show for it. Who knows when the Flames and Sabres will recover – it’s a tough slog to get back to the top, which is why it’s unwise to so willingly bottom out.
The Canucks had a truly horrid season, with management coming apart at the seams and the coach not working out, as so many had predicted. But as bad as it was, this team is still salvageable, for now. They may not be the Blackhawks, or the Kings, or have the strong youth of the Avalanche, but were the Habs or Rangers ever on par with Boston or Pittsburgh this season? Were the Detroit Red Wings not supposed to be dead long ago? Even the Phoenix Coyotes, with all their ownership uncertainty, managed to scrounge together a run to the Western final through shrewd acquisitions and an excellent coach. With the base Vancouver has to start from, is it so hard to imagine this time regaining at least some of its lost footing?
Ultimately, this is a question for the fans: would you rather your team tweak and get back into the playoffs, giving them a chance to earn something and giving you something to cheer for, or are you satisfied with throwing in the towel for the next who knows how many years, after one miserable season of Tortorella?
With how quickly all these moves would have to be made this summer – including the restructuring of the scouting staff – it would be a rush job for Benning’s first order of business to be trading away all his best players. That's the last thing the Canucks need to experience now. Benning should reorganize the roster to his preference for now and, if next season is just as bad, take the time to consider an overhaul next trade deadline and summer.
As hard as it is to believe right now, the Canucks have time. Take it. An all-out rebuild will be tougher - and longer - than you think.