Vancouver Canucks Year in Review: Grading 2015 in Trades


2015 was an exciting year for the Vancouver Canucks. And Jim Benning certainly did his share of adding to the excitement with a couple of big deals for the Canucks.

The Vancouver Canucks made eight deals this past year, Jim Benning living up to his “Trader Jim” expectations. But were they the right moves and have they improved the Canucks — now, soon, or ever? Let’s break down each and every move that Trader Jim made in 2015, as we recap the year for the Canucks.

Trade #1: Gustav Forsling to Chicago (Grade: B)

On January 29th, the Canucks acquired defenceman Adam Clendening from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for defenceman Gustav Forsling. Clendening suited up for the Canucks 17 times, recording just two assists. Now at age 23, Clendening became the Canucks’ top offensive defenceman in the pipeline, vying for that seventh defenceman spot with none other than Frankie Corrado.

But as the hockey gods will have it, both Corrado and Clendening are being scratched on a regular basis and have departed from the Canucks organization. Forsling is now just 19, playing for the Swedes at the World Juniors this year. This move was a classic move by Benning to instantly turn a prospect some five years away from NHL action to an eighth defenceman at the NHL level. Good hockey trade for both clubs.

The only knock on this trade is that Forsling is four years younger and that Clendening, in hindsight, did not stick with the team. After all, the Canucks did expect him to become Vancouver’s powerplay quarterback in a couple of years time, right?

Trade #2: Sven Baertschi to Vancouver (Grade: A-)

Now that Baertschi has become a Canuck regular and the second-round pick turned into defenceman Rasmus Andersson, we can grade this trade in its entirety. Baertschi has become a regular middle-six forward for the Canucks, recently showing chemistry with Bo Horvat. Baertschi and his $900,000 contract yielded 11 points in 31 games this season on 11:14 of average ice time per game. His 4.9 relative Corsi For percentage ranks first among all active Canucks this season.

This trade, like the first, goes down as a classic trade to bring NHL-ready youth into the line-up at the cost of the distant future. As for Andersson, the Calgary Flames’ draft pick, he looks like a decent selection at 53rd overall as he has 26 points in 30 games for his Barrie Colts this season. Good trade for both teams, as this allowed the Flames to trade two more second-round picks to acquire D Dougie Hamilton.

Trade #3: Dustin Jeffrey to NYI, Cory Conacher to VAN (Grade: C)

This was a minor-league deal to exchange forwards who went on to have strong minor-league performances for their AHL teams. Neither suited up for their respective NHL teams after the trade, but “Coco” ended up in the Swiss-A league, playing for Bern, and Jeffrey ended up in Arizona the following season, now playing in the AHL. Not much here, save that Conacher helped the Utica Comets get to the AHL Calder Cup Finals.

Trade #4: Eddie Lack to Carolina (Grade: C+)

Here is where the Vancouver Canucks started falling apart, at least mentally. Eddie Lack was traded to Carolina for a third-round pick that was turned into defenceman Guillaume Brisebois, and next year’s seventh-round selection. First impression? Full out rage at “Trader Jim” who became “Traitor Jim” for shipping out one of the Vancouver favourites.

But almost halfway into the season, the Carolina Hurricanes might have something to say about that. Lack saw the ice 13 times this season, and now has a 3.13 goals-against average with a .887 save percentage. Not gaudy numbers by any NHL metric, especially after a season with the Canucks that saw him put up a 2.45 goals-against average and a spectacular .921 save percentage.

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But as a backup netminder for a Hurricanes team with 2.83 goals against per game average, 3.13 is not a good number for Lack. Maybe, Vancouver overvalued Eddie just a bit, and deemed a third-rounder with a ‘trash’ seventh-rounder a very subpar return for the city’s favourite goaltender.

But Lack had to go. If you take into account how Lack has shaped the way for Jacob Markstrom to come in, that might just so slightly justify this trade. After all, Lack signed a two-year contract averaging $2.75 million per season. Carolina did not get what they wanted, and Vancouver’s pick seems to be up in the air. Brisebois looks like a very solid defenceman in the QMJHL, but is not ouststanding. This is a trade that will take a few years to evaluate.

Trade #5: Patrick McNally to San Jose (Grade: A-)

You know, there are trades that really don’t mean anything. But this trade is not one of them. No one knows who Patrick McNally is. The former Harvard defenceman has no points this year with San Jose’s AHL affiliate, McNally being a former fourth-round pick of the Canucks from the Mike Gillis era. It hurts to know that a fourth-round pick got turned over for the 210st (last) overall pick in the 2015 draft, does it not?

But remember. Benning’s 210th overall pick might be a better choice than Gillis’s fourth-round pick. With that pick in return, the Canucks selected Tate Olson of the WHL Prince George Cougars. And guess what. 25 points in 30 games with a plus-14? I will take that any day of the week as the last pick in the seventh round. He leads all Cougar defencemen in points, and his plus-14 is just one shy of the team lead.

Turning a meaningless asset into a leading WHL defenceman is a true work of art by Benning, flashing his trading prowess as well as his drafting prowess in this sequence of moves. Gillis would not have been able to pull this off.

Trade #6: Kevin Bieksa to Anaheim (Grade: B-)

Sending an aging Kevin Bieksa to the Anaheim Ducks is not the best thing to have done in hindsight, now that Bieksa is eating up massive minutes and the Canucks are simply ragged on the blue line. Nevertheless, after a trade proposal with the San Jose Sharks broke down last-minute, good on Benning to have Anaheim give up a second-round pick for Juice.

The pick is next year’s, so we do not have the entire tale of the trade to analyze. Also, that pick got traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins later. Nothing much to do here for Benning, except to start cleaning out the old vets. Juice needed a fresh start, and he got it. Not too bad, if you ask me.

Trade #7: Zack Kassian to Montreal, Brandon Prust to Vancouver (Grade: A)

In one of the more hotly debated moves in the offseason, 24-year-old Zack Kassian was moved for 31-year-old Brandon Prust and a fifth-round draft pick. Benning was under a ton of scrutiny following this move — why trade away a draft pick and a young, skilled forward for a gritty veteran with a high price tag? Fair enough, not the best of moves in the large picture.

But with Kassian’s personal history, with all due respect to his career, he might not be wanted back in Vancouver for the foreseeable future. With considerable youth in the mix here in Vancouver, the locker room might not have the veteran tolerance to swallow up Kassian’s off-ice mess. On the other hand, Prust is a warrior.

Prust has quickly made himself with his hard-nosed play and his ever-so-encouraging twitter account. Remember that tweet from when Prust was injured and Bobby Farnham went after Jake Virtanen in the road game at New Jersey? Prust has been a main part of the resurgent fourth line that lit up December.

Trade #8: Brandon Sutter in, Nick Bonino out (Grade: B+)

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Yet another controversial trade, as Brandon Sutter came in to replace Nick Bonino while down-grading a draft pick. At the time the trade was made, Canucks Nation was up in arms. But as the season rolled on, more and more saw that Brandon Sutter was a much better fit in Vancouver than Nick Bonino was, and with the youth coming in quickly, the locker room could use some “Sutter”. The solid defensive play and Sutter’s versatility around the line-up were so vital to the Sedins’ great start to October.

That resulted in Sutter out-dueling Bonino offensively — the main criticism of the trade being that the Canucks had lost their secondary scoring in Nick — and Sutter stabilizing the line-up, allowing Jared McCann to draw in. By the way, that second-round pick going to Pittsburgh was the return for Bieksa.

The only problem with this might be the down-grade of the pick and the hefty extension dished out, but aside from those minor set-backs, the Canucks made a good deal for Sutter.

Final Grade: B+

Thinking of these eight deals this past year, the Canucks did well to get the most out what the situation and to get creative with the draft picks.

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Although the loss of a couple of draft picks hurt to say the least, the team did well to put the organization back on track with the prospects and settling in a new core. Could have gotten a bit more of a return on some trades, but Jim Benning, you have done well.