Canucks: Jim Benning and reclamation projects

During his five years with the Canucks, Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning has made many big-time trades. Here is a look at his best work so far.
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has been the brunt of much scrutiny during his time with the organization. Whether it’s his overpriced free agent signings, lacklustre trades or even his few draft busts, the first time general manager has been the key facet of criticism within the Vancouver hockey market.

Benning is not afraid to admit that he is wary of making complicated trades, which do not directly affect the on-ice product. He is the type of man who prefers the classic, player for player trades, or as he calls them “hockey deals.”

Unlike other GMs in the league, including the regime of Mike Gillis and Laurence Gilman, there is no cap circumvention the Canucks are doing at the moment. For example, the Roberto Luongo contract was genius at the time, as it exploited a loophole in the CBA. The league retroactively punished the team, with the recapture penalty but when the deal was signed, it was considered a capologists best work.

While Gillis is not in the NHL anymore, Gilman is working a key piece in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ front office. The Leafs acquired the contracts of David Clarkson and Nathan Horton, two players who will never see the ice again for the sole purpose of opening up cap space.

For those who may not yet understand, both contracts can be put on the LTIR (long-term injured reserve) and do not count against the cap. This allows teams like Toronto to spend over the cap, and create room to sign leading scorer Mitch Marner. The Canucks simply lack this form of capology.

On the Benning front, he is entering his fifth year as the Canucks’ GM, and he’s become notorious for acquiring “reclamation” projects. These players include Sven BaertschiJosh Leivo and Nikolay Goldobin.

Of these project players, who is the best? Who has added the most value to the team? And is that player parallel to the most value gotten from what was given up.

To me, the two players who stand out in the reclamation project area are Baertschi and Goldobin. Both players have shown quality throughout their time in Vancouver, and are considerably more valuable than they were with their previous teams.

First off is Baertschi. The transaction was simple. The Canucks sent a second-round pick to the Calgary Flames for Baertschi, who had struggled to establish himself in the NHL at that point.

That pick the Canucks gave up turned into Oliver Kylington, a defenceman who has jumped between the AHL and NHL for the Flames. Baertschi, on the other hand, has been a consistent player, even filling in on the top line when the situation has presented itself.

Unfortunately for Baertschi, his career has been riddled with concussions and injuries, two things which have limited his impact on the Canucks. Nonetheless, he has hinted at 20 to 25-goal pace seasons — although his injury history unfortunately means it’s unlikely he will ever hit that mark.

Kylington, despite being much healthier, has not had such an impact on the Flames NHL team. Although he did play 12 more games than the Canucks winger in 2018-19, his impact was much less felt, only putting up eight points through 38 games.

Looking back on this trade, I would say the Canucks got the better player, although the level of the Swiss-born winger is similar to that of a good second-round pick. So in the end, the Canucks got fair value but did not maximize their asset.

The other player I mentioned was Goldobin, the much-maligned right winger. Naming him as Benning’s second-best reclamation project is likely premature, as the Russian has yet to establish himself as part of the Canucks future — and he’s currently an RFA.

Goldobin came to the Canucks on the trade deadline of 2017, not long after the team traded for Swedish prospect Jonathan Dahlen. These two trades were the first hints of a full rebuild being embarked on, as Benning sent out fan favourites Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen for younger assets. Goldobin came to the Canucks alongside a conditional fourth-round pick, while Vancouver sent Hansen the other way.

The trade was risky at the time, as Hansen was far from a burden with the Canucks. He was still chipping in — providing offence for an ageing team. Goldobin was an unproven first-round pick who had yet to find his feet in the NHL. What the trade showed was perfect foresight on Benning. The following season Hansen experienced a dramatic reduction in his play out production, and a year after that, he left the league for the KHL. Goldobin has been in parts of two NHL seasons for Vancouver, recently completing his first full year as an NHLer.

Although Goldobin has not been responsible defensively, his offence has shown spurts of brightness. He has shown chemistry with Elias Petterson, and Goldobin just might be the missing piece in the Canucks’ top six. As much as there is a possibility of him being part of the Canucks future, there is also the likelihood that his days in the blue and green are already over.

Whether Goldobin is on the team or not this coming season, he was part of one of Jim Benning’s best deals through his five years at the helm.

Overall, the Benning regime has become notorious for these reclamation projects, some of which have worked out, some which have not — while others were purely stopgaps. But this summer, the team has gone out of their status quo — signing established players to point the team in the right direction — rather than taking a flyer on ones who have only potential.

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