Late Sunday, the Vancouver Canucks finally decided to do something about their horrendous performances of late, firing GM Jim Benning and head coach Travis Green.
Green will be replaced by veteran bench boss Bruce Boudreau, but there has been no announcement as to whom will take over for Benning, at least, in the interim.
Many of us have been clamoring for serious change in Vancouver for some time now. You didn’t have to be an NHL scout to know the malaise the Canucks have been drenched in this year. Small hiccups of success between long arches of failures have muddied the waters as to where this team actually is in the league’s pecking order, but there’s no question this season has been an unmitigated disaster, with fans at Rogers Arena Saturday openly chanting for Benning’s firing as Vancouver lost to Pittsburgh and saw its record fall to 8-15-2.
What’s next for the Canucks?
Not the playoffs, that’s for sure. Saturday’s loss dropped Vancouver to eighth place in the Pacific, two points behind the expansion Seattle Kraken, with the Kraken also having one game in hand on the Canucks. You can say that it all depends on your perspective – that you could say, “there’s nowhere to go but up”, and that would be true as much as any “negative” observation.
But ask the Buffalo Sabres if that’s true. That team has proven there’s nowhere to go but up, unless you go sideways. That’s what the Canucks face for their remaining 57 games (sounds like an agonizing amount, doesn’t it?). Every game they’ve got left will be an audition to have players prove they want to remain on the roster when fortune and fate turn around in Vancouver’s favor. And whoever winds up taking the GM job will have to decide which of the Canucks’ core talents will have to be moved to truly build a new, successful era in Vancouver.
You wouldn’t be wrong to assume there will be one “major” trade, at minimum, by the new management team. It’s far less likely the new GM sells ownership that all of the Canucks’ key components should be retained, and it’s also less likely Vancouver brings back the same foundational group in its current form. You can’t give up on all your assets, but you sure as hell do have to avoid complacency by endorsing the status quo.
Are there untouchables? There shouldn’t be on a team this bad, but really, it’s difficult to envision the Canucks trading star defenseman Quinn Hughes or star center Elias Pettersson both of who received lengthy contract extensions at the start of October. However, the same can’t be said for forwards Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
The former is now 24 years old, and the latter is 26. They’re not greybeards by any means, but they have been with the organization at least five years now, and both have some options: Horvat will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season, while Boeser will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. At some point, both of those players have to want to be part of the solution, and if there’s any hesitancy at all on their behalf, the decision then becomes very clear, and nobody should be at all shocked if one of the two, or both get traded.
Some of Benning’s final, desperate moves as GM will be harder for his successor to undo. The worst one is the acquisition of blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who has a whopping five more seasons left on his contract, at a $7.85 million annual salary-cap hit. It would be a miracle from the hockey gods if the Canucks are able to get out from under that contract unless they’re retaining some of it, and even then, it’s still an albatross that eats up far too much of Vancouver’s cap.
If the Canucks decide to go with the full rebuild – and even if they don’t – veteran forwards J.T. Miller and Tanner Pearson, and D-man Tyler Myers may opt to be moved to teams that will contend for a Stanley Cup while they can still contribute.
The exact specifications of the Canucks’ renovation are still to come. But we know one thing: Vancouver’s return to prominence isn’t going to come quickly. There’s a deeper rot in this organization than one or two lateral moves aren't going to fix. This is a longer-term turnaround we’re talking about.
Boudreau has been brought in to restore confidence to Canucks puck-carriers. The GM Vancouver goes with will be charged with restoring the confidence of the public. Neither task will be anything close to a cakewalk.