The Leafs need to surround Jim Benning’s office right now

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.

  • silentbob

    PICK UP THE GODDAMN PHONE LOU. OFFER BOZAK, PERCY, HOLLAND, HARRINGTON, HUNWICK, MICHALEK, LAICH, LEIVO AND SOME LATE PICKS FOR BOESER, DEMKO OR NECat YEAR’S FIRST/5TH OVERALL. THEY’RE IN THE NOLAN LOTTO NEXT YEAR. ASAP.

  • Oilers Rule

    Lou should make a bold move for the 4th overall pick as well as the 5th. Gardiner and JVR as the core pieces for each, plus whatever young spare parts and later picks it may take to seal both deals.

    With Mathews at 1st, Coach Babcock would be smiling ear-to-ear if the team was able to add a couple of shiny d prospects to the cupboard from among the likes of Oli Juolevi, Jacob Chychrun and Mikhail Sergachyov. I believe he is on record as saying he would like to see the Leafs add at least one top d prospect at this years draft so you never know what could go down leading into the draft and/or on the draft floor.

    Anything else Hunter would be able to mine from the draft above that would be absolute gravy and setup the Leafs nicely on the back end in 2-3 years.

    Beyond the top few picks in this years draft, it doesn’t seem like many of the GM hockey minds in the league see this as being a very good draft year with so many high picks from 4-10 potentially in play this year????

  • FlareKnight

    It’s a bit mean but….well if Vancouver ownership is going to be dumb then we might as well be the ones who take advantage. I’m sure my Canuck fan friends would approve of that….maybe.

    Would be pretty hilariously weird if the Leafs could get Matthews and then draft the guy we thought they might end up with anyways (after I expected to lose all 3 lottos) in Tkachuk or Dubois….Unlikely, but you never know. The Leafs do have some vets that could be temping to a team more desperate to make the playoffs now than later.

    Yeah, in all seriousness I can’t believe Vancouver would move that pick or further empty the pick numbers they have but….I can’t be 100% sure about it.

  • Foximus

    As a Canucks Army citizen I can honestly say I hope this is just a pipe dream. As much as losing the early 2nd round pick hurt, we CAN’T lose the 5th overall. Dubois is going to be a fantastic Canucks for years to come.

    But… if any organization can take our future – I’d guess it’s this mgmt team the Leafs have. I’ve been watching your rebuild and I’m sooooo envious. I haven’t given up on Benning yet, but he can address trying to make the playoffs with free agents rather than dropping 1st round picks.

    You should all be proud of the Shanahan regime to this point. They will be the model organization in 3-5 yrs when they start to contend.

  • silentbob

    If its true, I would be surprised of Lou and co. are not finding out if its possible to swing a deal.

    I would have serious doubts about the leafs ability to swing such a deal, I just dont’t think they have the players the Canucks would be interested in for such a high pick.

    Lets be honest guys like Bozak, Laich and Holland aren’t goign to get that deal done. You’re looking at players like JVR and Gardiner – I dunno if the Leafs want to part with them, but…….

  • CMpuck

    Mitch Marner will get eight thousands points next year and Bozak will be convicted of triple homicide because Steve Simmonds is provocative… that makes you a f’ing genius for disagreeing with him #subtextunwined… OMG what if Benning waived Corrado, he might play for the worst team in the league (kind of) and then be waived (Corrdo > Stamkos)… I’m pretty smart

  • CMpuck

    Please people settle down. We all know the Leafs will swap the number 1 pick (shouldn’t be Mathews but Laine) for the 5th and new skate Shapeners. Be the best move they made in the off season in a long time.

  • BollockingHell

    There is a lot of truth in what Jeff wrote. Living out here in God’s country I get to watch Benning wheel and deal in his bizarre way. I’m positive he is being controlled by puppet strings from the Aquillini family who won’t stand for another non playoff year and thus lose millions in ticket sales and other areas of cash flow.

    That being the case I do agree that the Canucks might be enticed into giving up that 5th pick for some talent that would indeed get them into the playoffs but actually take them nowheresville.

    Benning is highly over rated just as he was playing for the leafs. What a wasted pick he was as crazy Ballard selected him. A flop as a player and a flop as a G.M. at least he is consistent.

  • Oilers Rule

    Ah yes, the great Toronto Maple Leafs D-man Jim Benning. What the heck happened? He was reputed to be a great scout, but his GMenning has been abysmal.

    Who knows what that crook owner wants. Likely just money. So anything is possible when you combine him and Benning. There’s also Trevor Linden, honorary President of this motley crew.

    I agree that Lou and Shanahan should be making calls and offering players for the pick, but NOT JvR and NOT Gardiner.

  • magesticRAGE

    I would try pitching prospects that are relatively NHL ready.
    Bozak, Corrado, Leipsic, and the Pens 1st & 3rd.
    They get an experienced 2way faceoff and shootout specialist, a defense prospect that Benning already likes, a puck moving fireball LW who plays with skill, and still retain a 1st round pick.

    It’s not exactly robbing Vancouver, but it benefits both clubs. Bozak is going to get moved, it’s a matter of when. I just don’t see a spot for Leipsic in Toronto, and I think Vancouver could use a player like him. Corrado was in a good place in Toronto, until Carrick came into town, and excelled. Right now, Corrado is the 7th defenseman, with Zaitsev signing. If Benning would rather Percy, go right ahead sir.

  • magesticRAGE

    regarding the Leafs trading Kadri before they sign Stamkos, most free agents are signed July 1; meaning they came to an agreement weeks earlier. I leave it to your imagination as to how they avoided tampering charges[or ask vesey].
    As for how people feel about Kadri, Vancouver will take him, because he’s the player they need the most. For the Leafs, obviously, he becomes ‘expendable’, if the Leafs have Stamkos, Matthews, Nylander. even if those players agreed to playing fewer minutes and rolling 4 lines, the salary cap era prohibits it. The Leafs won’t be assuming they are getting a better player than Kadri, just one 7 years younger and filling a different need.