Iain MacIntyre: Canucks' opportunity lost

 

Vancouver did virtually nothing on most disappointing day of GM Jim Benning’s two-year tenure

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, shown leaving a Rogers Arena news conference last year, said he was disappointed not to have got something done, trade-wise, on NHL trade deadline day.
 

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, shown leaving a Rogers Arena news conference last year, said he was disappointed not to have got something done, trade-wise, on NHL trade deadline day.

Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press files

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VANCOUVER — Dan Hamhuis got what he wanted. Nobody else in Vancouver did, especially Canucks general manager Jim Benning.

In a season in which they have lost 37 times in 61 games, won only 11 games on home ice in five months and lost 10 times by squandering third-period leads, Monday may have been the biggest disappointment of all for the Vancouver Canucks — and the team didn’t even play.

The National Hockey League trade deadline passed without a trade to help the Canucks now or later. They did nothing.

Actually, that’s not true. They lost fourth-line centre Adam Cracknell on waivers to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday morning, three hours before the deadline passed with Benning unable to trade either of his two most valuable disposable assets: defenceman Dan Hamhuis and winger Radim Vrbata.

Despite wildly optimistic expectations among Canucks fans and some reporters, it was always possible it could go this way — Benning stuck with veteran players who will leave for nothing in unrestricted free agency on July 1. Hamhuis’s no-trade clause, fairly negotiated in 2010 when former general manager Mike Gillis signed him to a six-year, $27 million US contract, was a major obstacle. And Vrbata’s list of eight teams he would report to — under terms of the limited no-trade clause obtained from Benning before last season — apparently did not include the couple of clubs that had any interest in him.

Yet, there was still a sense of disbelief that the Canucks could not leverage either asset when comparable and, in some cases, lesser players fetched decent prices at the deadline. Monday was one of those “Canuck moments” we’ve come to expect in the last 45 years, a punch line, something for people in other places to giggle about.

“If we could have got something, we would have done it,” Benning said at an afternoon news conference. “We really didn’t get a lot of offers. If we got a concrete offer where we thought we could have recovered assets and draft picks and young players, we would have done it.

“It wasn’t from a lack of trying. There wasn’t a lot of buyers in the marketplace and the teams that were buying weren’t really paying a lot to get those players. We tried hard … to figure something out. But at the end of the day, teams went in another direction.”

The Dallas Stars chose Calgary Flames defenceman Kris Russell over Hamhuis, and surrendered a young NHL defenceman (Jyrki Jokipakka), a good prospect (Brett Pollock) and a second-round draft pick that becomes a first if Dallas makes the conference final in the Stanley Cup tournament this spring.

The Florida Panthers pursued Jiri Hudler over Vrbata and paid second- and fourth-round picks to get him from Calgary.

Flames general manager Brad Treliving had a great day.

Benning, not so much.

Nobody unfamiliar with the many moving (and immovable) parts in the Hamhuis trade discussions can possibly claim it was Benning’s worst day, but it was probably his most disappointing since hockey operations president Trevor Linden hired him 21 months ago.

Eight points adrift of the final wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Canucks were in an excellent position to sell. They had in Hamhuis, 33, and Vrbata, 34, a top-four defenceman and top-nine winger on expiring contracts who could help teams who want to win a Stanley Cup. Vrbata won’t be back with the Canucks and Hamhuis’s return, even at a discounted salary because he wants to finish his career in his home province, is no better than 50/50.

Benning and Linden have done far more rebuilding, far quicker than anyone expected, this season. Eighteen players who weren’t on the Canucks last season have played for them this year, and that figure includes nine rookies. The roster renewal is unprecedented outside the volcanic spring of 1998 when Mike Keenan made 11 trades before anyone stopped him.

And yet, there is a groundswell of demand for further change, for younger players and more draft picks.

It was a perfect storm for trading. Perfect except for the contract encumbrances that shackled Benning and, in the end, were largely responsible for the inaction.

From the start, the only two teams that were an agreeable landing spot for Hamhuis were the Stars and Chicago Blackhawks. Dallas moved instead on Russell and Chicago never got close to making a deal with Vancouver after devoting money and assets to acquire Winnipeg Jets winger Andrew Ladd last Thursday.

Hamhuis explained Monday that, although he and his wife, Sarah, needed time last week to consider a trade, he told the Canucks last Wednesday that he would go to Chicago, then doubled his trade list on Thursday to include Dallas.

The timing of this is significant because it has been reported that Hamhuis’s indecision turned off the Blackhawks. Instead, it appears Chicago made a hockey decision and decided simply that their resources were better spent on a winger like Ladd than a defenceman like Hamhuis.

Just as the Stars chose Russell over Hamhuis.

Hoping for a last-minute bargain after acquiring Russell, the Stars’ deadline offer for Hamhuis of a late draft pick and a minor-leaguer with little chance of playing in the NHL was rejected by Benning.

“It was a deal that really didn’t make sense for us,” Benning said. “At the end of the day, they chose the Calgary player over our player. That’s the deal they chose.

“We were disappointed not to get something done but happy we didn’t do anything to hurt ourselves in the future.”

The Los Angeles Kings never materialized as the serious bidders for Hamhuis that they were expected to be, and a late push Monday by the Boston Bruins was doomed because Hamhuis said he wasn’t waiving his NTC to move to the Eastern Conference, far from his wife and three children.

But no matter how reasonable the explanations and challenging the circumstances, Monday still felt like an opportunity lost for the Canucks. In a way, the trade deadline was their playoffs this season, or at least management’s playoffs. It was the chance to feel better about the future, the chance win something. And instead the Canucks were swept.

imacintyre@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/imacvansun

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, shown leaving a Rogers Arena news conference last year, said he was disappointed not to have got something done, trade-wise, on NHL trade deadline day.
 

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning, shown leaving a Rogers Arena news conference last year, said he was disappointed not to have got something done, trade-wise, on NHL trade deadline day.

Photograph by: Jonathan Hayward, Canadian Press files

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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