Iain MacIntyre: Canucks looking to reload by pulling trigger


Forced to sell: In the middle of a rebuild with playoff hopes all but vanished, GM Benning is open for business but will anyone buy his assets?

The Canucks are looking to rebuild around such young players as Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton while also retaining some veterans to serve as mentors.

The Canucks are looking to rebuild around such young players as Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton while also retaining some veterans to serve as mentors.


More on This Story


Four wins. Eight points out of a playoff spot with 22 games to go is an abyss. It’s Matt Damon marooned on Mars, looking toward Earth. But it’s still only four wins.

“It looks like we’re not going to make the playoffs this year,” Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning said during a break in trade discussions this week. “But in my heart, I really believe if we’d had Brandon Sutter the whole year and Alex Edler didn’t get hurt, we’d be right there. We’re four wins out from being in the playoffs.”

If there were do-overs in the National Hockey League, the Canucks would have a pile of choices.

They’ve lost nine games this season in which they led after two periods. Their third-period comeback in Thursday’s 5-3 win against the porous Ottawa Senators — “they played like we did earlier in the season,” one Canucks player said — was only Vancouver’s third.

The Canucks’ record of 14-2-7 when leading into the third period represents a win rate of .609, easily the worst in the NHL. The league median is .864. Those nine blown games by the Canucks are one more than the top eight third-period teams have combined to lose.

It’s 11 points Vancouver is not getting back, although about now the Canucks would settle for half.

Even with serious injuries to Sutter and Edler and others, the brutal winter schedule the Canucks agreed to, the feast-or-famine attack, the lousy power play and open casting call that has seen Vancouver try 36 different players this season, it’s still those games they kicked away in the third period that have left them here. Four wins out.

With the NHL trade deadline at noon Pacific time on Monday, four wins change a lot.

Sure, Benning would probably still be trading winger Radim Vrbata and trying to move defenceman Dan Hamhuis, whose no-trade clause entitles him to decide if and where he goes. But if the Canucks were holding the final playoff spot in the Western Conference instead of growing potatoes on Mars, and knowing both Sutter (broken jaw) and Edler (broken leg) should be healthy in another month, Benning would be more aggressive in trade discussions, possibly even adding a player at a bargain price.

And he probably wouldn’t have included lineup regulars like defenceman Matt Bartkowski and centre Linden Vey on the Canucks’ seven-player sell list that made it from the NHL general managers’ in-house website to Bob McKenzie’s Twitter feed this week.

As the TSN insider reported, the Canucks are open for business. They haven’t been this open for business since Mike Keenan got his hands on the controls and made 11 trades in three months in 1998 and dealt away just about everyone except Mark Messier.

In the middle of a rebuild, with his team eight points out, Benning has to sell.

The question, as we’ve posed before, is what, if anything, can he get from his “assets?”

Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington and a couple of others are interested in Hamhuis, but the 33-year-old defenceman has the negotiated right to stay in Vancouver, which is home.

At the team’s request and per his limited no-trade clause, Vrbata gave the Canucks a list of eight teams with which Benning can negotiate a deal. But after scoring 31 times last season, Vrbata has just 12 goals this year and is out day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. His goal last Sunday against Colorado was the 34-year-old’s first in 15 games.

Instead of getting a second-round draft pick or decent prospect for Vrbata, Benning may not get anything.

And of the group of seven on Benning’s trade list (Bartkowski, Vey, Adam Cracknell, Yannick Weber and minor-leaguers Chris Higgins, Brandon Prust and Ronalds Kenins), it’s possible nobody will be acquired by another team.

If you thought Benning was unpopular last Monday after trading minor-league prospect Hunter Shinkaruk (or was it Rocket Richard?) for Markus Granlund, wait until he shows up at the podium Monday with nothing to show for the weekend but bags under his eyes.

“I can’t be focused on what people think of me; I have to do what I think is right for our organization,” Benning said. “If I start reading what everyone says about every move I make, I’ll drive myself crazy. We’ve got work to do around here. We’ve got to get our young players up and going and we’ve got to add to that age group. There’s too much work to do to worry about being popular.

“I think the fans understand where we’re at as a team. I think they’re behind us in trying to transition new players into our group. At the end of the day, it’s what we need to do.”

Benning admitted the transition this season — the Canucks have used nine rookies — has been more extensive than planned.

“Every year the game changes a little bit,” he said. “And this year, the speed of the game picked up. We (started with) some players who aren’t with us now. It seems it’s a young man’s league now. It’s about speed. Some of the players we were counting on to get us through this year, we noticed their games really fell off as it got faster. We couldn’t keep competing without making some changes earlier than we expected. Those were hard decisions to make with Higgins and Prust. You’re disrupting people’s lives. So it hasn’t been an easy year, making those tough decisions and trying to get faster so we can compete in a young, fast league.”

Half of the 18 skaters in the lineup Thursday are new to the Canucks this season.

Benning has insisted until now the goal is to make the playoffs this spring, and technically that hasn’t changed. But the GM knows it’s not happening. He reiterated Thursday he thinks the Canucks’ turnaround can be quick, and that it would be wrong to purge all the veterans and try rebuilding from the foundation.

“You lose your culture if you’re bad for three or four years,” he explained. “We’ve had good teams here in the past. There’s a lot of pride in our players. Our older players, they teach and hold the younger players accountable to what it means to be a Vancouver Canuck. That’s our culture. That’s what we value.

“If you lose that culture, it’s too hard to try to figure out how to get it back. So we’ve kept some older players who have been around for a while — the Sedins (Henrik and Daniel) and Alex Burrows and Hammer. We need them to teach our young kids what it means to play the right way and play winning hockey. If you lose that culture completely, then all you have is a bunch of young players with no direction.”

Like the Edmonton Oilers.

The Canucks have a direction, know where they want to go. But they may not get very far this weekend.



The Canucks are looking to rebuild around such young players as Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton while also retaining some veterans to serve as mentors.

The Canucks are looking to rebuild around such young players as Jake Virtanen, Jared McCann and Ben Hutton while also retaining some veterans to serve as mentors.


We encourage all readers to share their views on our articles and blog posts. We are committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion, so we ask you to avoid personal attacks, and please keep your comments relevant and respectful. If you encounter a comment that is abusive, click the "X" in the upper right corner of the comment box to report spam or abuse. We are using Facebook commenting. Visit our FAQ page for more information.
Your voice