Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning can be active in free agency, but he can also fix the team by making a series of smart hockey trades.
The Vancouver Canucks will obviously have a prime chance to make the team better at the draft, where they will pick 10th overall.
General manager Jim Benning will have plenty of cap space to play with, giving him the chance to add one or two impact players when free agency begins on July 1st. Maybe he won’t go for the big fish (Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene), but he could opt for the next tier of guys including Wayne Simmonds, Joe Pavelski and Tyler Myers, among others.
But Benning should not just be focused on the draft right now, and he should not only be planning for free agency. Rather, Benning’s best chance to fix this team is to start making some bold trades — and to move out some players whose salaries don’t reflect their overall performance.
One of the first things Benning must do is look to trade oft-injured forward Brandon Sutter, who carries a $4.375 million cap hit for two more years. Our very own Josh Rey explained why it’s time to trade Sutter, which you can read here.
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Benning should also consider moving out Sven Baertschi, if there are any takers. Like Sutter, he’s a potential 20-goal man when healthy. The problem is that Baertschi can’t stay healthy, and as he enters his age-27 season, the team must ask themselves if he’ll really be a key part of this team when their next competitive window opens up.
Benning also must see if he can find a way to trade Loui Eriksson, who is now halfway through his six-year, $36 million deal. Benning might be able to find a team that’s willing to swap out an equally undesirable for Eriksson.
Maybe the Ottawa Senators will make the deal if Benning takes on Bobby Ryan? Perhaps the Los Angeles Kings want to move out the final two years of Ilya Kovalchuk‘s contract? These are just two possible avenues for Benning to explore.
Speaking of swapping out one bad contract for another, maybe Benning can do that with trade acquisition Ryan Spooner, who’s owed $3.1 million for two more seasons. Plenty of comparable contracts out there.
Benning then also needs to give blueliner Ben Hutton a long overdue fresh start. He carries a mere $2.8 million cap hit for next season and is still young (25), and can move the puck well. Hutton should get some interest from playoff teams, and maybe he nets the Canucks a mid-round selection.
Speaking of things that are long overdue, Benning must trade blueliner Chris Tanev — who only has one year left on his deal. He would have gotten more in a deal last year, but Benning can’t afford a repeat of the Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata 2016 trade deadline debacle. Get anything you can for Tanev and move on. Find a replacement in free agency. It’s simple.
I’d like Benning to retain Nikolay Goldobin for one more season, but if he doesn’t want to do that, he has to get a draft pick for the pending RFA — rather than lose him for nothing. Ideally, he does the same for Markus Granlund.
Now, there’s no way Benning ends up trading all of these guys. But my point is this: The Canucks simply don’t have the depth at forward or on the blue line to be a playoff team right now. If Benning doesn’t shake this roster up, the Canucks aren’t going to take that next step.
Why keep players around that aren’t going to be here when the team is contending for Stanley Cups in a few years? Why not move out those guys now, add more picks/better players and use the extra cap space to fill out roster weaknesses in free agency?
Benning has a long history of not moving out productive players that could have netted decent returns. Chris Higgins, Brad Richardson, Shawn Matthias and now guys like Tanev come to mind. And he waited far too long to move out the likes of Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen.
The Canucks can’t do that this time around. It’s easy to believe that if Vancouver isn’t in the playoffs next season, Benning will lose his job. No more being loyal to veteran players. It’s time to give the underperforming players new starts.
It’s time to address the lack of roster depth. It’s time to be fully aggressive in the trade market this offseason. It’s time for the Canucks to finally go bold and give this team a whole new look for next season. No excuses.