NHL·Analysis

Canucks will be better, but serious work remains for GM Jim Benning

The Vancouver Canucks have enjoyed a sound summer of manoeuvres so far, but by no means is GM Jim Benning on easy street. Benning, in his sixth off-season at the helm in Vancouver, is particularly feeling the heat to get the Canucks back into the playoffs.

Vancouver executive feeling the heat to get team back into the playoffs

Re-signing restricted free agent Brock Boeser (6) is the Vancouver Canucks’ biggest off-season priority. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

To prepare you for the opening of NHL training camps in mid-September CBC Sports will take a deep dive at each of the seven Canadian-based clubs every Thursday.

The Vancouver Canucks are up first.

The Canucks have enjoyed a sound summer of manoeuvres so far. No doubt head coach Travis Green, entering his third year at the helm, was smiling.

General manager Jim Benning shored up a suspect blue-line with the additions of veteran unrestricted free agents Tyler Myers and Jordie Benn as well as depth defender Oscar Fatenberg.

Benning also added a pair of top-six forwards in free-agent signing Michael Ferland, and via a trade, J.T. Miller.
Ferland brings a much-needed mix of feistiness and offence. Miller offers versatility because he can play both wing and centre. He scored 20-plus goals in his first three-full NHL seasons before dipping to 13 with the Tampa Bay Lightning last year.

Any Canadian-based GM is under pressure at every twist and turn. But Benning, in his sixth off-season at the helm in Vancouver, particularly feels the heat.

His club has missed the post-season four years in a row. The Canucks haven't won a playoff round since that dreaded seventh-game blanking to the Boston Bruins in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup final.

By no means is Benning on easy street, though. He still has to sign restricted free-agent Brock Boeser. The 22-year-old right wing was the team's third-leading scorer last season with 26 goals and 56 points in 69 games. Boeser already has 59 goals in 140 career games and is a nice one-two punch alongside Calder Trophy-winner Elias Pettersson.

The retirement of goalie Roberto Luongo has hamstrung Benning and the Canucks' salary cap situation. Because the Canucks signed Luongo to a 12-year $64-million US extension back in 2010, they're now on the hook for $3 million a year for the next three seasons.

That means, according to capfriendly.com, the Canucks have about $5.1-million in salary-cap space to sign Boeser. Benning knows more space will be required to re-sign his young, prized sniper.

Canucks GM Jim Benning, left, brought in Tyler Myers to shore up the Canucks’ blue-line. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Salary cap headache

The trick for Benning will be whether or not he can relieve himself of his salary cap headache by moving veterans Loui Eriksson or Brandon Sutter or both. The 34-year-old Eriksson will be difficult to move because he has three years remaining on his $6-million a season contract.

Sutter has two years at $4.375 million a season remaining on his deal. But he has a modified no-trade clause, in which he can submit a list of 15 teams he can't be traded to. Sutter could be the easier of the two to move. The Canucks, however, likely will have to retain some of his contract.

If Sutter can be traded that will open a spot for prospect — and much cheaper — Adam Gaudette in the third-line centre role.

The bottom line is the Canucks will be better. Benn and Myers improve the defence, along with prospect Quin Hughes, but Alex Edler and Chris Tanev must stay healthy.

Jacob Markstrom made a giant leap under goalie coach Ian Clark last year. If he can continue to improve and young backup Thatcher Demko emerges as a viable No. 2, the Canucks will challenge for a playoff spot.

With Boeser signed, they have a solid top six up front. Don't forget, when Benning added Tanner Pearson at the trade deadline from the PIttsburgh Penguins last March, Pearson scored nine goals in 18 games to exhibit chemistry with both centres Pettersson and Bo Horvat.

It's too bad that fun-to-watch forward Antoine Roussel is out until Christmas-time after knee surgery. 

But the wait for him will be worth it and a valuable addition to this wait-and-see team in Vancouver.