The Vancouver Canucks could not have had a worse season in 2016-17.
After signing Loui Eriksson to a $6 million contract, general manager Jim Benning surely thought he’d shored up his first line and given his team the scoring boost it needed to compete for a playoff spot.
Unfortunately, Eriksson didn’t find his touch in his first season in Vancouver. His 24 points were the lowest he had since his rookie season a decade ago. With Eriksson struggling, the Canucks were unable to establish any consistency on offense and spent too much time waxing chaotic in the defensive zone.
As Benning moves through the offseason, there are a lot of big decisions to be made. Who to target on the free-agent market? Is there a trade to be made? Benning is going to have to answer these questions and many more before training camp starts. Here are five key questions the Canucks must address, and sooner rather than later.
Was Green the right move?
When Benning fired head coach Willie Desjardins, names like Lindy Ruff and Dave Lowry were bandied about, with the former getting a lot of attention. Instead, Benning dipped into the AHL’s talent pool and promoted Travis Green from the Utica Comets.
Green had coached Vancouver’s farm team for four seasons and had moderate success, taking the team to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
This year will likely be a tumultuous one for the Canucks, which is troubling for a rookie coach. If Benning realized the team was a few years away from reaching its pinnacle, it might have been more prudent to go with a more experienced head coach — someone who has been through bad seasons before.
Is it time to tank?
The Canucks finished 29th out of 30 last season, which is impressive for a team that wasn’t trying to tank. Making matters worse, Vancouver got bumped out of a top-three spot in the draft when New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Dallas cashed in some good luck and landed picks one through three.
With little hope of an impact player coming through the draft, and money tied up in unproductive players like Eriksson, perhaps Vancouver would be doing itself a service by throwing in the towel and focusing on stockpiling picks and prospects for a better run in the next three years.
What about the free-agent market?
At the time of writing, the Canucks have $21 million in cap space, which is more than enough to snag a quality free agent. On top of the list this season is Alexander Radulov, who made $5.75 million in Montreal last season. He played well for the Habs and could be an impact player for Vancouver, but the Canucks would probably have to find a way to drop some dead weight (Eriksson?).
Also available is defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, who spent most of last year injured but still may have some good hockey in him. He’ll likely come fairly cheap after underperforming in his one season in Buffalo. Kulikov could be a good addition for a team that is trying to build a good defense out of some young talent.
To Miller or not to Miller?
Also on the free-agent list is goaltender Ryan Miller. The aging veteran will probably command at least $4-6 million on the market, given his long career. It’s a hefty price to pay for a goalie, especially one that is on the back end of his career.
If the team does intend to tank, perhaps backup Jacob Markstrom is the answer, but if the Canucks are really going to give it a go, an upgrade will absolutely be necessary.
— NHL (@NHL) June 18, 2017
Is this Benning’s last hurrah?
Vancouver went from a Stanley Cup Final to the second-worst team in the league in just a few seasons. Benning has done his best to scrub the team of what remained from the unsuccessful Cup run in 2011. The real issue, though, is that the team has been sliding backward since Benning took the reins, and this season could be worse than the last.
While building a team certainly takes time, Benning’s deconstruction process is taking too long. The Canucks should be working toward rebuilding, but the team is still wasting time and money, and perhaps the most important capital of all: fans’ patience.
If Vancouver cannot improve this year, it is unlikely that Benning will remain with the Canucks after this season.
With the expansion draft lists released, teams are preparing for the upcoming draft. In just over a week, free agency opens up, and the injection of Vegas into these proceedings certainly makes things more interesting. The offseason is moving rapidly, and the clock is ticking on Benning and the Vancouver vets. These five questions must be answered before the puck drops on the 2017-18 season.
- Should Vancouver trade defenseman Chris Tanev?
- Philip Holm signing could buy Vancouver GM Benning some time