VANCOUVER – You would think after nearly six years as one of the leading figures in this wonderful, wacky, often infuriating Vancouver Canucks soap opera, Jim Benning would have a better sense for the dramatic.
Let the tension build, tease the audience a little, build the drama and then leave them wanting more.
But, no. In comes Benning to Tuesday’s press conference, after making his biggest trade in years on a holiday Monday evening a full week ahead of the trade deadline, and casually starts spilling news bombs like they’re tic-tacs dropping through a hole in his pocket.
The general manager traded for Tyler Toffoli because Brock Boeser is actually out for the season.
And by the way, Josh Leivo’s knee injury is worse than thought and he too is probably out until at least the playoffs, joining Boeser and the concussed Micheal Ferland.
Trading excellent collegian Tyler Madden to the Kings for Toffoli on Monday wasn’t too hard because Benning has identified seven Canucks prospects who will be ready for the NHL in the next couple of years.
And just because: The Canucks and goalie Jacob Markstrom have halted negotiations on a new contract until after the season. Markstrom is having a Vezina Trophy-calibre year and could leave as an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
And then Benning moved on to the second five minutes of his news conference.
Eventually, he called what the Canucks have been through the last four years a black hole and said minor-league call-up Zack MacEwen is ready to be an every day NHL player.
The Canucks boss had enough material to keep reporters busy for the rest of trade deadline week – even without making another trade – but buried them with his news avalanche.
Somebody please get this guy a script writer.
Where to begin?
Well, let’s try on the ice where this season’s drama will be decided in the next seven weeks.
With Boeser out up to eight weeks with a rib cartilage fracture – not the three weeks the Canucks inferred in a press release Monday night – the expensive acquisition of Toffoli now looks vital to Vancouver actually making it across the playoff finish line in the top eight of the Western Conference.
Benning gave the Kings his second-round draft pick and Madden, the 160-pound Northeastern University scoring star who appeared as high as third on a lot of insiders’ prospects rankings for the Canucks, but was deemed expendable by hockey operations in light of the tidal wave of other Vancouver prospects rolling towards the NHL.
“I feel we have seven players, young players, in our system that I think are going to be on our team here in the next two or three years,” Benning said. “I count, like, seven on the conservative side. That’s a third of the team. With the five or six or seven young guys we have now, that’s two-thirds of our team in the next three years that are going to be 25 years or younger.
“I don’t think it’s a change in philosophy, I just felt like we have enough depth in prospect pool that we can give up (Madden).”
Benning did not identify his super seven, but we’re guessing it’s something like: forwards Nils Hoglander, Vasily Podkolzin and Kole Lind, defencemen Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty and Jack Rathbone, and goalie Mike DiPietro.
Toffoli, a 27-year-old former Stanley Cup winner who is on an expiring contract, is a close friend and former linemate of Canucks forward Tanner Pearson. But on Tuesday, Toffoli practised in Boeser’s spot beside Elias Pettersson and J.T. Miller.
Just 2-4-1 in their last seven games and with their playoff cushion deflated to just four points before the chasing Winnipeg Jets played the Kings on Tuesday, the Canucks face the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday at Rogers Arena.
“We always got along with each other,” Pearson said of Toffoli. “We lived in the same building in Manchester (in the minors). When we first got called up, we spent summers together in L.A. and lived together there. I probably spent too much time with him, to be honest.”
Of Toffoli joining the Canucks, Pearson said: “We’ve kind of been talking about it here and there for a bit, just joking around about it. And then he texted me (Monday) and said this actually could be happening. He called me probably an hour later and said ‘it looks like it’s done.’”
“I probably iced him a little bit because I had 100 other people calling,” Toffoli said. “It was one of those things where I was, not hoping, but looking forward to this opportunity. Today was as easy as could be from what I was expecting.”
Toffoli said he knew a few of the Canucks, including former King Oscar Fantenberg, and that the group instantly made him feel comfortable. Toffoli already had intel that “J.T. likes to talk a lot, so we’ll just go from there and just read off of each other.”
“That’s not chirping, that’s just facts,” Miller said. “I’ve watched Tyler a lot since we came into the league the same year, and he’s a super-talented player. I’m pumped.”
Benning hoped the players would be pumped. He said several times during his press conference that, in the wake of bad injury news on Boeser and Ferland, the GM felt he owed it to players, coaches and fans to do what he could to bolster the team so the Canucks could climb out of the black hole and make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“The Michael Ferland news, I think that was kind of like the first shoe to drop,” Benning said. “When we had a better idea where Brock was going to be at, I felt the need to try to do something to help our group to be competitive from now to the end of the year.”
Defenceman Tyler Myers said: “As a player, this (trade) excites us. When you have a team this time of year that you feel can not only make the playoffs but do something when you get there, this is what you want. Especially losing a guy like Brock here, the addition of Tyler is huge for our group. It’s really nice to have him.”
Transferring Boeser to the long-term injured list conveniently allowed the Canucks to fit Toffoli’s $4.6-million salary under the NHL cap. Benning said he wants to re-sign Toffoli before he becomes a UFA.
“Jim’s helping us out,” Pearson said. “Now it’s up to this room to pretty much back that up.”