Canucks: Jim Benning on Jacob Markstrom, Jake Virtanen, offseason plans

Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning discussed Jacob Markstrom, Jake Virtanen and more with the media on Tuesday.

The Vancouver Canucks have little time to reflect on their heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights.

General manager Jim Benning has to make plenty of difficult roster decisions with the draft and free agency just a month away. It’s not going to be easy to keep this team together with limited cap space, and with several key contributors set to enter free agency.

On Tuesday, Benning spoke with the media on a variety of topics while offering some potential foreshadowing regarding his offseason plans.

Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Troy Stecher and Adam Gaudette are all pending RFAs. Benning hinted, however, that he may not be able to retain all of them.

“We’re going to have to make some tough decisions maybe even on some young players,” Benning said, per Brendan Batchelor of Sportsnet 650.

One of those “tough decisions” includes the 24-year-old Virtanen. While speaking with Sportsnet 650 (h/t Patrick Johnston of the Vancouver Province), Benning admitted that he was expecting better of the team’s 2014 first-round pick:

“I thought he worked and competed hard in the playoffs. He scored that big goal for us in Game 6. To be perfectly honest with you, though, I was expecting more from Jake in the playoffs. He can skate, he’s strong. He can get to the net. He’s a guy we’re going to have to talk about here going forward. We’ve been patient with him in his development, but he’s a guy I was expecting to produce more for us.”

Benning’s most difficult decision ahead of the offseason? Without a doubt, it’s what to do with starting goalie Jacob Markstrom, a pending UFA.

Interestingly, Benning brought up the possibility of bringing back both Markstrom and Thatcher Demko for at least the start of next season before making a final decision:

Demko’s heroics in Games 5, 6 and 7 against Vegas have made Benning’s decision that much harder. Markstrom was named the team MVP for a second consecutive season, but the salary cap and Seattle expansion draft have to be factored in by the Canucks when it comes to contract negotiations.

Forward Tyler Toffoli and defencemen Chris Tanev and Oscar Fantenberg are also pending UFAs. Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will need new deals next offseason. The contracts of both Alexander Edler and Tanner Pearson expire, too, and they’ll be eligible to enter free agency.

Add it all up, and there’s simply no way Benning can afford to bring back all four of his pending RFAs and all of Tanev, Fantenberg, Toffoli and Markstrom. He figures to lose at least three of them this offseason, and very possibly more.

Needless to say, it’s going to be an exciting, dramatic and eventful offseason for the Canucks.