Canucks: Playoff success will force Jim Benning to make difficult decisions


The Vancouver Canucks’ success in the playoffs thus far will force general manager Jim Benning into making some very tough decisions.

When the Vancouver Canucks defeated the Minnesota Wild in the qualifying round, they officially surpassed 2019-20 season expectations.

But the thrilling run didn’t end there. The Canucks eliminated (and dominated) the heavily favoured and defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in round one, advancing to the second round for the first time in nine years.

The Canucks now find themselves down 3-2 in their second round series matchup to the Vegas Golden Knights. Thatcher Demko‘s brilliant playoff debut (42 stops) saved Vancouver’s season as they escaped with a 2-1 win.

No matter what happens from here, 2019-20 has been a highly successful season for the Canucks. Nobody truly expected them to get within (at least) two victories of the Western Conference Final.

That said, the success in this postseason will prompt general manager Jim Benning to make some extremely difficult decisions as he looks to build towards 2020-21, with Vancouver’s Stanley Cup window quickly beginning to open.

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Starting goalie Jacob Markstrom will be the first order of business. Does Benning re-sign the pending UFA and team MVP of the last two seasons?

Markstrom will be 31 next season, and his performance in the postseason has been inconsistent. He owns a .918 save percentage in the series against Vegas, but a mere 2.75 goals against average.

Demko’s heroics in Game 5 alone might cause Benning to reconsider keeping Markstrom. The latter could have made this a slam dunk decision with consistently strong playoff performances, but Markstrom has been all over the place.

He’s stolen several games for the Canucks since the team returned to play, but Markstrom has also allowed three or more goals in nine playoff games. If Benning is worried about Markstrom’s inconsistent play here, it’s not crazy to think that he could consider moving on. Only time will tell.

Trade deadline pickup Tyler Toffoli has been a force in the five playoff games he’s played, with two goals and a pair of assists. If Benning wants to re-sign Toffoli, he’ll have to clear cap space and roster room. Could a Jake Virtanen trade follow? What about a salary dumping move involving another forward?

The bottom line is that Toffoli has been so impactful for the Canucks that Benning might look to keep the 2014 Stanley Cup champion around long-term.

Assuming Benning keeps either Toffoli or Markstrom, he probably won’t have room to retain both Chris Tanev (a pending UFA) and Troy Stecher (a pending RFA). Both defencemen have been phenomenal in the postseason, and both deserve new contracts.

If he can only pick one, does Benning go with the veteran mainstay and reliable Tanev? Or does he go with Stecher, the local fan favourite who’s chipped in with several clutch plays in the postseason (two game-winning goals).

As you can see here, Benning has so many extremely difficult choices to make. Is it Markstrom or Demko? Or does he try to keep both? To pay Toffoli or not to pay Toffoli? If it’s the former, who has to go in order to make room? And finally, is it Tanev or Stecher?

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Hopefully, Benning won’t have to make those decisions any time soon. For now, he and the Canucks are focused on trying to pull off an improbable comeback against the Golden Knights.