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Under Further Review – March 8 Edition – 

Dead or Alive – Someone a lot wiser than me once gave me some sage advice.  He said teams are never as good as they seem when they are on a winning streak and never as bad as they appear when they are on a losing streak. The Canucks experienced this in a matter of two games.  They stunk the place out on Sunday in Vegas, then bounced back and played outstanding Wednesday night against the Leafs. As fans, we tend to get all euphoric when they win and rip the team when they lay an egg. When you have been around a while you tend to keep the whole thing on an even keel. The players do. Unfortunately, the fans and media don’t.

Vegas Vacation – Is there much doubt that the Canucks season died in Las Vegas. Their effort last Sunday against the Golden Knights was one of the most embarrassing performances in memory. Yes, it was that bad! Vegas out-shot the Canucks 48-to-19. The 3-0 score was flattering because it would have been 8-0 if not for the acrobatic work of Jacob Markstrom. It would appear as though they rather enjoyed their two-day stay in Vegas.

The underlying stats were scary! All told, the Canucks surrendered 89 shot attempts. Brock Boeser was in a complete haze the entire game. The Canucks were outshot 30-11 and scoring chances 19-3 when Boeser was on the ice.  Boeser’s shift lengths were totally unacceptable. He was on the ice to start the second period and didn’t get back to the bench until 18:30. A careless 90-second shift when he was unable to touch the puck once. He had another 1:15 shift with six minutes remaining in the period and a :60 second shift with about two and a half minutes to go. It was not a surprise that Green gave him limited ice time in the third.

It was painful to watch the Knights fourth line of Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter and Ryan Reaves run roughshod over Beagle, Ericsson and Motte. It was a Canuck fire drill every time they were on the ice.  The Canucks had no answer.

If the Canucks are unable to land towering Tyler Myers in free agency this summer, one guy they should look at is Adam McQuaid.  He is a tough D-man, great team guy and would be a perfect third pairing defenseman on the right side.  McQuaid would also help protect EP40 which is going to be very important as the Canucks move forward. They have to find protection for their prized asset.

A great friend of mine who covered the NHL for years made an astute point recently.  For Canuck fans who wanted the team to tank so they could draft Jack Hughes, they may want to think again. I can’t imagine building a team around 158 pound Quinn Hughes, 160 pound Jack Hughes and 165 pound Elias Pettersson.  At some point you would have to tie up a ton of money for three undersized players who may wilt at playoff time.

As I recall, the Canucks were right at the bottom of the league last year with about ten games to go. They ended up winning six of their last seven and fell in the lottery to sixth. This year, it could go either way again depending on how they finish out their final 15 games. They could pick in the top six again or drop back as much as 12-14. One thing people forget is there’s a big difference between finishing sixth or 12th. It’s not just that the first round pick is higher, your picks in every round are higher. A guy you have rated in the first round can slip into the second but if you are picking further down, the player will likely be off the board.

So the Canucks stagger into March and the slow walk to season’s end. They now own the worst overall record in the NHL over the past five seasons.

The Benning Method – I have certainly received a lot of feedback after my rant on the Canucks Jim Benning. I just sense there’s a certain inevitability that he will be gone before his contract ends in two years. Benning’s inability to articulate the Canucks ‘plan’ and direction is wearing thin. It’s painful to watch him speak with the media and believe me, that stuff counts in today’s sports environment.

The Canucks have gone all season without a President since the firing of Trevor Linden and this summer is the perfect time to bring in a new major-domo to oversee the future of the team.  The new President would then be in a position to select his own GM.

Here’s reasons #98 and #99 why Benning should be canned at the end of the season. The Canucks have been shutout an NHL-leading nine times this season. So much for building depth scoring in his five years at the helm. Secondly, can you imagine where this team would be if Jacob Markstrom wasn’t having a breakout season? It’s helped mask their many deficiencies including a lack of depth up front and major issues on defense. Without a doubt, Markstrom is the team’s MVP this season ahead of Elias Pettersson.

As I mentioned on TSN 1040 last weekend, Benning’s trade record is abysmal. The one deal that doesn’t get talked about much anymore is the trade of Ryan Kesler to Anaheim in the early days of Benning’s tenure. The first mistake was to let Kesler dictate where he would agree to go. Benning should have taken a page from the Jets playbook and let Kesler sit at home the way the Jets did with Jacob Trouba and the Leafs with Michael Nylander.  In any event, Benning dealt Kesler to the Ducks for a first round pick (Jared McCann – the Bruins selected David Pastrnak with the very next pick), a third round pick which he flipped for Derek Dorsett, Lucas Sbisa and Nick Bonino. Benning was unable to land one building block for the future for Kesler who, at the time, was one of the top ten centres in the league.  Anaheim thought so much of him they immediately signed Kesler to a six-year, 42 million dollar extension. Benning should have held out for Rickard Rakell or one of the Ducks young defensemen. Kesler was the one Canucks piece who had high value and Benning whiffed completely.

It’s obvious Benning is reluctant to pull the trigger. He’s steadfastly refused to shop veteran players, claiming they need veterans to show the young guys how to play the game the ‘right way’. Sutter, Edler and Tanev have all had some degree of value yet he can’t bring himself to move them for picks or young assets. As it’s turned out, these guys are never healthy? Any value that existed has almost completely evaporated.

Another major failing of Benning was not recognizing the depth and quality of the 2015 draft, widely considered to be the best draft since 2003.  Instead of trying to add picks in a talent rich draft, Benning traded away his second pick to Calgary for Sven Baertschi. The net effect was it delayed the Canucks rebuild even further. If ever there was a draft to stock-pile picks that was it.

It struck me as ironic that Coyotes journeyman Brad Richardson was able to rise from the ashes and score four goals in one game against the Canucks. Benning let him walk for nothing in free agency. Richardson is 34 and has a cap hit of 1.25 million. Last summer, needing a fourth line centre like Richardson, Benning went out and signed 33 year old Jay Beagle to a four-year contract for 12 million. Another example of Benning wasting an asset and then overpaying to fill the void HE created. If Benning does survive the summer, I still maintain he won’t be around for all of the final two years of his contract.

NHL Notes –

  • The Curse of Pelle Lindbergh! The Flyers have used eight goaltenders this season, a new NHL record. The list includes Carter Hart, Brian Elliott, Anthony Stolarz, Calvin Pickard, Michal Neuvirth, Alex Lyon, Mike McKenna and Cam Talbot.
  • If the Senators were willing to spend and actually compete, they would hire Alain Vigneault as their new head coach.  He has Ottawa roots and got his start coaching junior in Hull.  But Vigneault earned four million per year in his last gig with the Rangers so that’s not going to happen in Ottawa.
  • Credit Leon Draisaitl for putting together an outstanding season amidst all of the dysfunction in Edmonton. He has put together the quietest 41-goal campaign of any player in the league.
  • Look for Dallas to make big changes this summer if the Stars make a quick playoff exit. Outside of Miro Heiskanen, Jim Nill has not been able to hit on any other impact players in the draft.
  • So much for Columbus going ‘all in’ this year. They have staggered big time since making moves at the trade deadline. You have to wonder if this team would be performing better if they had a coach other than John Tortorella.
  • I totally agree with Grapes’ take on the Leafs Jake Muzzin. He’s already been taking some heat in Toronto but the real problem is the fact Muzzin has had to play with Nikita Zaitsev.  The guy is a nightmare in his own end.  What was Lou Lamoriello thinking when he signed Zaitsev to a six-year extension at 4.5 million per season? That deal has five more years to run and I doubt the Leafs will find a taker unless they add a significant draft sweetener.
  • Leaf fans and media are complaining about the current playoff format. They don’t like having to face the Bruins every year. Well, too bad. If you are as good as all the hype, go beat them!

Cap Crunch – We have talked about the pending cap crunch this summer for several teams including the Leafs, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg. The Leafs are going to have to find a way to sign Mitch Marner, Andreeas Johnsson, and Kasperi Kapanen. The Lightning have a big negotiation upcoming with Brayden Point and the Jets must sign Jacob Trouba, Kyle Conner and Patrick Laine.

There will be a long lineup of teams with significant cap space and a big appetite to improve including the Rangers, Isles, Flyers, Devils, Panthers, Canucks and Habs. I still think this could be the summer of the offer sheet. What happens if someone offers Laine, Point or Marner a seven-year deal at 11+ million a season? It’s going to get interesting.

Considering how things played out in Ottawa with Mark Stone, I suspect more players will consider playing out their contracts and trying to hit the jackpot as UFA’s. Why sign an extension early? Players are better to either wait and hit the open market or sign a huge new deal after being moved at the deadline.  Watch for Taylor Hall of the Devils to use the same approach next season in New Jersey.

Did you know that Vegas is not going to be required to give up any players in the expansion draft when Seattle enters the NHL? It’s all part of their original expansion agreement. Here’s a team that reaches the Stanley Cup final in its first year, may get back there again this year and can add players like Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone thanks to all the assets they acquired when they entered the league – and yet will now continue to benefit. Meanwhile, the Canucks, Jets, Blues and Sabres have been in the league forever and have never won the Cup.  Sickening to hockey fans in REAL hockey markets!  Since getting to the Cup final last year, Vegas has added Stone, Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, essentially a whole new #1 line.  If I am the new Seattle franchise, I am pissed! It has the potential to really screw with their roster building.

Chump Change – Did you catch the breakdown of Bryce Harper’s deal with the Phillies? Darren Rovell reports the 13-year, $330 million dollar deal equates to nearly $157 thousand per game and about $45 thousand per plate appearance. To put it into perspective, the median household income in Philly is $41,500 per year.

Elephant Tears – Pity poor LeBron! It certainly looks like the Lakers are going to miss the playoffs. Should I shed a tear now? How’s the recruiting going now LeBron? Why would Kawai Leonard even consider joining that circus?

Buyer Beware – Some so-called draft experts are already touting Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray as the number one pick in the upcoming NFL draft.  They have the Oklahoma QB going to the Arizona Cardinals but believe me, he’s no Russell Wilson. Respected analyst Charlie Casserley, a former NFL GM, reports Murray came off very poorly in interviews at the NFL Combine. Casserley’s assessment-Leadership – NOT GOOD; Study Habits – NOT GOOD; and Board Work – NOT GOOD. And this is the guy you want to invest in?  The demands on an NFL quarterback are far greater than in college. Don’t forget, legendary busts like JaMarcus Russell and Vince Young graded poorly in interviews and it’s a huge red flag. I wouldn’t touch the guy with a barge pole!