The recent trade deadline was a polarizing one for many around the Vancouver Canucks. Defenceman Philip Holm was swapped to the Vegas Golden Knights for Brendan Leipsic, while rental forward Thomas Vanek was exchanged to the Columbus Blue Jackets for wingers Tyler Motte and Jussi Jokinen. In a vacuum, neither of these trades should cause much uproar. However, they also speak to a lack of direction from Canucks management.
Despite a rhetoric from President Trevor Linden that puts emphasis on draft picks, the club failed to bring any in. Instead, general manager Jim Benning highlighted the importance of ‘hockey trades’. After a third straight season of bottom of the league play, fans are rightfully frustrated with the distinct lack of overarching vision for the club.
Vancouver Canucks Management Lacks Direction
When one considers the strengths of the Benning-era, drafting regularly tops the list. The team has found strong prospects such as Adam Gaudette (fifth round), Kole Lind (second round), and Guillame Brisebois (third round) beyond the first round of the draft. The prospect pool is a strength of the organization. As such, it stands to reason that draft picks would stand as a major part of any future blueprint. When putting things within this context, it makes little sense that trading for picks would not be a priority.
The last time Benning traded a player for a draft pick straight up was in 2015. This was when he swapped Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2nd round pick. The pick was also subsequently flipped as a chip in the Brandon Sutter trade. Evidently, this is a club that places little value in draft picks, despite doing an excellent job at the draft table.
Benning’s Trade Record
Benning’s trade record also shows a lack of commitment to a true rebuild. He has shown a desire to pick up slightly older players, rather than high upside skaters. This works on occasion, of course. Sven Baertschi has proven to be a decent scorer, while Derrick Pouliot has been a good story on defense this season. However, projects have become his go-to acquisitions, which may be harming the team in the long run. The 2017 trade deadline is an exception as Benning acquired Jonathan Dahlen and Nikolay Goldobin for veterans Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen. Aside from that, he has yet to make any moves purely for the benefit of the future.
This also extends to the refusal to trade gritty defender Erik Gudbranson. Despite a possibly lucrative return, Benning signed him to a three-year, $12 million contract extension. This makes it seem unlikely that a franchise-altering move would be made, namely the trading of Chris Tanev. Trading Tanev would certainly bring back an impressive package, but management seems unwilling to make such a move.
What is most concerning about recent developments wasn’t their standalone impact. From a raw value standpoint, a move like Vanek for Motte is defensible. The long-term implications are a more worrisome aspect. Benning’s reliance on ‘hockey trades’ is counter-intuitive to a long-term vision and may hurt the club in the future. The prospect pool is better than it has been in a long time and for that Benning deserves credit.
Going forward, Benning and the Canucks management need to give themselves more of a chance to use those skills and truly advance the prospects of the Canucks.
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