The NHL season isn’t officially over yet, but silly season has officially begun. If Darren Dreger is to be believed, three very high picks in the first round are now in play. Columbus is listening to calls, and Edmonton is doing so as well. But so are the Vancouver Canucks, which is easily the most fun of all.
Dreger’s words, via Chris Nichols of Today’s Slapshot:
“Vancouver is similar. Vancouver likes fifth overall. They know they’re getting a very, very good player, but Jim Benning did not like being part of the non-playoff picture in the National Hockey League. He’s going to do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
The Canucks are in an interesting situation, in the sense that the appear to be recreating the worst parts of the cap-era Leafs in order to fulfill ever stereotype that fans have had of the previous rendition of MLSE. Vancouver owner Francesco Aquilini would like to maximize immediate revenue for the team, allegedly to make them more valuable in a sale, and sees the playoffs as a means to an end.
He’s tasked Jim Benning with doing so. While Benning didn’t exactly have a lot of cards in his hands to deal with, he hasn’t exactly been a beacon of genius in his process either. Luca Sbisa’s contract extension has been the subject to league-wide ridicule, the acquisition of Brandon Sutter reeked of a Dave Bolland-esque move to pin the hopes of the team on a third liner, keeping Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann up with the main club seemed more than a little rushed, and many are still genuinely confused by the Hunter Shinkaruk for Markus Granlund 1-for-1 swap.
These are just a few notable highlights in a mystifying 23-month stretch where the team appears to have made more misses than hits, with a look towards immediate fan interest and attempts to win despite an aging, struggling core in mind. Benning believed that he had a 100-point team at the start of the year, didn’t move his UFAs at the deadline (despite particularly large offers for Dan Hamhuis), and saw his team crater all the way to 28th overall. Of course, Head Coach Willie Desjardins blamed missing the mark by 25 points on losing players like Sutter for the bulk of the season (b o l l a n d v i b e s) and feels that he’ll be fine and healthy in the other five years of his extension.
The Canucks are already off to a roaring start this offseason, finding it in no way suspicious that a team that recently hired two Canucks Army analytics writers in key roles would be calling with a sense of urgency to acquire McCann. In a trade that may have won worst of the offseason, Vancouver sent the 19-year-old to the Florida Panthers with 2nd and 7th round picks for defenceman Erik Gudbranson and a 5th round pick. Gudbranson is your prototypical defensive defenceman, in the sense that he doesn’t score much, gives up a lot of shots on goal, and his backers will point and scream at Quality of Competition as the only advanced stat on earth that matters.
What I’m getting at here, is that Canucks ownership is hellbent on making the playoffs, and in doing so, they’ve looked to the second coming of the Leafs version of Dave Nonis to get them there. Jim Benning isn’t doing an amazing job, but he’ll keep getting cracks at just in case it works out somehow.
If a playoff push is what they want, the Leafs should do everything in their power to convince the Canucks to give up that fifth overall pick. There are a lot of ways to approach it too.
Do the Canucks want a brand-name forward straight up for the pick? James Van Riemsdyk is right here. Some depth vets? What a coincidence, Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, Brooks Laich, Milan Michalek, Colin Greening, and Matt Hunwick are all just chilling here.
Is Benning looking for more Linden Vey’s and Markus Granlunds? Peter Holland, Colin Smith, Tobias Lindberg, Josh Leivo, Stuart Percy, Scott Harrington… hell, as much as I’m sure they like the better tier-two prospects like Brendan Leipsic, Connor Brown, and Andreas Johnson, the Leafs would probably be okay with losing one or two for the 5th overall pick.
Maybe Benning just doesn’t like the fact that a consensus five is forming and that his selection will come via a process of elimination? Jimmy likes to scout. Give him a bunch of lower picks now and let him travel the world for a few weeks and let him feel accomplished.
Look, this might just sound like I’m taking everything that the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to find redundant in the next couple of years and throwing them at the Canucks until they say yes. But we’re talking about the single least coherent front office in hockey, being pushed around by an owner hellbent on turning a mediocre team of gargoyles and project players into a contender. As a dual-citizen of sorts, I’d love for the Canucks to snap out of this wild ride and approach their core in a sane way. But if they’re not going to, the Leafs may as well take advantage of it (again).
Knowing that you’re going to go into this draft and come out with Auston Matthews is already pretty great. Taking advantage of silly season and possibly walking out with one of Matthew Tkachuk, Pierre-Luc Dubois, or if a total meltdown happens (we’re talking about Columbus and Edmonton here, after all), Jesse Puljujarvi, would be one of the grandest heists of this hockey generation.
It’s a stretch goal, but as long as the status quo stays the same in Vancouver, anything is possible.