Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning has to change look of the team

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks are about to miss the playoffs once again, and general manager Jim Benning has to start changing up the entire look of this team for next season.

As the Vancouver Canucks finish out the final few weeks of what will be a non-playoff year, general manager Jim Benning needs to start planning out how he’ll reshape this team from top to bottom.

Since taking over for Mike Gillis five years ago, Benning has always valued building a roster full of tough and physical players, even if they bring next-to-nothing on offence. That’s why he gave blueliner Erik Gudbranson a four-year deal worth $12 million last year, before somehow unloading him to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Tanner Pearson.

It’s why he gave Derek Dorsett (before he had to retire due to a neck injury), a four-year extension worth $10.6 million in Apr. 2015 — even though he never tallied more than 25 points in a single season. It’s why he traded Zack Kassian for 195-pound enforcer Brandon Prust, even though the former was obviously more skilled offensively.

And it’s why he signed three tough guys last offseason in Jay Beagle (four years, $12 million), Antoine Roussel (four years, $12 million), and Tim Schaller (two years, $3.8 million). Though Roussel has performed better than many could have asked, neither he or the other two players have come close to earning their respective deals thus far.

Now, take a look at the recent Stanley Cup champions. The Chicago Blackhawks, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals were all speed and skill.

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Other recent champions like the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings had to change up their rosters, because the physical and punishing style of hockey wasn’t working anymore.

Hockey is now a game based on skating, quick puck movement and all-around skill. None of today’s top clubs have built rosters on size and toughness. It’s too easy to skate around and maneuver past them.

And it’s why Benning has to stop putting so much emphasis on adding more muscle to his lineup. His only highly-skilled forwards are Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

The Canucks don’t have much to offer outside of that on offence. If those three don’t score, the team stands very little chance at winning — a common theme we’ve seen in 2018-19.

Loui Eriksson, once renowned for his strong two-way play, obviously hasn’t panned out in Vancouver. He’s not a great skater anymore and can’t produce the offence. Ditto for Brandon Sutter, whom the Canucks need to shop this offseason.

Markus Granlund isn’t the fastest skater, either, and he doesn’t have too much skill in his game. He’d be better off playing the shutdown centre role for a deeper team such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals or Winnipeg Jets.

It doesn’t help that the Canucks have few quality and skilled forward prospects that could make the NHL soon. Benning won’t be able to move out Beagle and Eriksson unless he takes on a comparable contract in return. But it might be worthwhile, since neither of them have been able to produce much here on the west coast.

Sutter should have some value to teams in search of a capable shutdown centre. Moving on from Granlund this offseason shouldn’t be a difficult choice. And who knows? Maybe there would be some interested teams in Roussel, given the pretty good season he’s had in Vancouver.

The bottom line is this: Benning’s plan to build the team with some skill and plenty of muscle and physicality hasn’t worked. The NHL has changed aplenty over time, and he doesn’t have enough skill or speed in his lineup. If that doesn’t get addressed, it’s hard to see how the Canucks will start to make any progress.

Next. Canucks: Rebuild still needs plenty of more pieces. dark

Benning simply has to be ready to make a plethora of moves. It’s time for him to follow the blueprints of other teams and start emphasizing skill over size.