In the span of 12 months, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning went from hero to zero in the eyes of many fans, failing to collect a draft pick at Monday’s deadline after making two of his best trades one year earlier.
Other National Hockey League managers were somehow uninterested in 34-year-old Thomas Vanek, who exceeded expectations in Vancouver but was a post-deadline flop for Florida in 2017 and possesses a poor playoff record. In the final hour, Benning traded Vanek to the Columbus Blue Jackets for B-grade prospect Tyler Motte and the Canucks’ willingness to take journeyman Jussi Jokinen from a Columbus organization that was getting close to its 50-contracts limit. Benning said it was the only deal he could get for Vanek, who becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The howling on social media over the trade drowned out a more intriguing deal, the Canucks’ acquisition of Vegas Golden Knights’ depth forward Brendan Leipsic in exchange for minor-league defenceman Philip Holm, who was signed as a star free-agent out of the Swedish League but played only one game for Vancouver – in Las Vegas last Friday.
Leipsic, a 23-year-old former scoring star with the Portland Winter Hawks, where he was coached by Canuck boss Travis Green, has a chance to earn a prime, offensive role in Vancouver. He had two assists Wednesday playing on the first line alongside Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Motte, a 22-year-old now on his third NHL organization, will try to build his career as an energy player.
Benning’s greatest sin was his failure to add a draft pick, so the Canucks are missing a fourth-rounder as they head to the 2018 lottery in June. He surrendered that pick in October to get from the Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Derrick Pouliot, a former eighth-overall pick who has 17 points in 53 games in his first full NHL season.
Given what he had to barter, Benning’s shutout on draft picks was not surprising. League-wide, only 19 out of 217 2018 draft picks changed hands and just six of 31 teams managed to increase their net total for June.
Brendan Leipsic: The speedy, five-foot-10 winger had 18 goals and 51 points for Toronto in the American League last season and was an appealing enough prospect that Vegas claimed him from the Maple Leafs in the expansion draft. Used as an energy player on the Knights’ fourth line, Leipsic had 13 points in 44 games for Vegas before the trade. It’s his offensive upside and competitiveness that the Canucks love.
Tyler Motte: Another under-sized (5-9), fast forward, Motte disappointed the Blue Jackets, who were happy to get him from Chicago in the Artemi Panarin-Brandon Saad trade last summer. Motte scored 32 goals in 38 games two years ago in his final season at the University of Michigan, but hasn’t yet shown he can be an NHL player. He can certainly skate and initiate contact, which he’ll have to do to build a career from the fourth line up.
Philip Holm: The 26-year-old was one of the best defencemen in Sweden last season and the Canucks were elated to sign him as a free agent last May. But Holm struggled to adapt to North American ice and after a quiet training camp was assigned to the Utica Comets. A decent skater who moves the puck well, Holm amassed 29 points in 42 games in the AHL but had to wait until last week to finally make his Canuck debut. He was unlikely to return to the organization next season.
DRAFT PICK SITUATION
2018: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 5, Round 6, Round 7
2019: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 4, Round 5, Round 6, Round 7
DRAFT PICK OUTLOOK
The Canucks will try to add another pick or two before June and, named to host the 2019 entry draft at Rogers Arena, Vancouver isn’t likely to surrender a draft pick anytime soon. Benning’s problem, however, is unchanged: the Canucks simply don’t have expendable assets on their NHL roster that other teams want. There has been no interest in backup goalie Anders Nilsson and little in defenceman Ben Hutton, who has been a frequent scratch under Green. And the trade market for excellent shutdown defenceman Chris Tavev has been shredded by constant injuries. Defenceman Alex Edler, 31, is having one of the best seasons of his career but is one of the last remaining Canucks to possess a full no-trade clause.
REASON FOR OPTIMISM
When GMs call Benning, the players they want are all in other leagues: minor-league goalie Thatcher Demko, Western League scoring star Kole Lind, fifth-overall Swedish pick Elias Pettersson. These prospects are untouchable and could all make the Canucks next season. Lind, a second-round pick who had 85 points in 51 games for the Kelowna Rockets, just signed his entry-level contract. And Pettersson, 19, on Thursday recorded his 50th point in 40 games for Vaxjo of the Swedish Hockey League, surpassing the 48 points in 40 games that Hall-of-Famer Peter Forsberg amassed in 1993.