Where does Vancouver Canucks General Manager Jim Benning rank among his fellow Canadian-based executives for their efforts this summer? If his trades and signings work out, is he a favourite to be nominated for NHL General Manager of the Year? Few were busier. I reckon it’ll come down to his batting average and how many of his deals are home runs.
The cynical flipside is “the more deals that had to be done means the more things could potentially go sideways,” or “why were they in that position in the first place.”
You’re familiar with the list in no particular order: dump Braden Holby‘s contract, trade Nate Schmidt, acquire Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland while ridding other salary, re-signing Travis Hamonic and Brandon Sutter, signing Tucker Poolman and Jaroslav Halak, trading for Jason Dickinson, signing other free agents and so on. That’s a lot.
Signing high draft picks to entry-level-contracts doesn’t do much for one’s score. Trading away your first rounder, as Benning did with #9, can of course hurt one’s efforts depending on what they received in return.
So let’s look at hard core free agents and trade acquisitions. Not AHL’ers, not fringers, just the legit pick-ups and changes.
Kyle Dubas in Toronto was the next busiest, if not just as busy as Benning, although his moves were not quite as high profile. The Freddie Andersen era officially ended, with the Danish goalie packing up for Carolina, only to be replaced by outgoing Cane, the mercurial Petr Mrazek. Not necessarily the answer. Nor is Jack Campbell frankly.
The Leafs are like your golf game; when you’re putting well you’re struggling off the tee. Or when you’re driving the ball well, you can’t hit a fairway iron. It’s always something. Yet most importantly, the one consistent problem they have is “too easy to play against.” They helped themselves by signing left wing Nick Ritchie, who’ll run into anyone. He’s a bigger, tougher version of Zach Hyman, a righty who mostly played on his off-wing and moved on as a free agent cap casualty. They added some competition up front with Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, Kurtis Gabriel and David Kampf, but the grit problem remains on the blueline, where they lost a fearless Zach Bogosian who was pretty good as a Leaf. Too many question marks. I can’t put Dubas’s effort ahead of Benning’s.
For Montreal’s Marc Bergevin, many would disqualify him from this exercise for drafting Logan Mailloux next-to-last in the first round. The teenager was in trouble for sharing explicit photos of a young woman he had hooked up with while playing on loan in Sweden, and then asked not to be drafted while he went through his repentance. Bergevin drafted him anyway. I think the Habs GM looked at it like this: in a year from now no one is going to remember nor give a hooey, it wasn’t a criminal act, and he’s gonna have himself a big, talented right-shot defenceman prospect. Though callous and distasteful now, he’s right. That’s how it works. Anyone remember Patrick Kane being a jerk to a cab driver; anyone remember Casey Cizakis killed a fellow teenager while playing rugby in 2007. Nope, not really.
Meanwhile, the Canadiens added a current, legit righthanded D-man in the sturdy Stanley Cup winning David Savard and tacked on depth right-shot D-man Chris Wideman, who returns to North America from the KHL. Out goes centre Phillip Danault to LA, in comes depth centre Cedric Paquette to play somewhere behind Nick Suzuki and Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Cooling sniper Mike Hoffman arrived via free agency from St. Louis. The 31-year-old likely won’t get a chance to heat up again if he’s playing in the bottom-six but he does offer another threat.
So if Bergevin is not disqualified, and he’s just adjusting a roster that made the Stanley Cup Final, he’s not far behind Benning. The loss of Shea Weber to injuries and retirement and the unknown health of the franchise cornerstone goalie Carey Price are the reciprocal bad karma.
Can this be right? The Ottawa Senators, other than their consistent knack for beating the Calgary Flames, didn’t have a whole lot to write home about last season. Yet their GM Pierre Dorian didn’t do diddly-doo. Oh yeah, right, the young prospects. And yes, they did finish one point ahead of the Vancouver Canucks to stay out of the basement. So I guess we shouldn’t be confused. They’ll have two of their top centres on entry-level deals, a boatload of picks in the first three rounds next summer, and one of the best young defenceman talents in the league in Thomas Chabot. I’m not sure unloading a $5-million forward in Evgeny Dadonov and bringing in a $1.7-million defenceman in Nick Holden does it for me. Also gone are Derek Stepan and Ryan Dzingel. They brought in good guy depth D-man Michael Del Zotto.
Dorian has plenty of cap space to sign RFA wingers Brady Tkachuk and Drake Batherson before the season. Their goaltending is Matt Murray and Anton Forsberg. Anyway, check back with me on the Ottawa Senators. Standing pat through whatever this is doesn’t earn Dorian an award. Fine.
Red Wings fans are still thinking about former GM Ken Holland‘s parting shot in the 2018 draft, taking winger Filip Zadina at number-6, one pick ahead of Vancouver’s choice of Quinn Hughes. Canucks fans can say, “thank you future Hall-of-Famer.” Holland gets inducted this fall. Good guy … congratulations.
Holland isn’t gonna bump Benning from this summer’s top Canada-based GM list either, although it’s closer than one might think at first glance.
With massive contracts on the books, $12.5-million for superstar Connor McDavid and 2020 NHL scoring leader and MVP Leon Draisaitl at $8.5-million, there’s not a lot of cap wiggle room for moves. Yet Holland managed to add another set of fat paycheques by giving defenseman Darnell Nurse an eight-year contract with an annual cap hit of $9.25-million dollars. That’s a lot of salami for this left-shot D-man, but there are two big factors. Nurse is clearly coming off his best year in the NHL in terms of minute-munching and scoring, and the 26-year-old is locked up. Shouldn’t he be worth a million less per season, somewhere beneath what Cale Makar, Dougie Hamilton, and Seth Jones are making? Probably, but it’s Edmonton, which can be a tough sell.
Hyman was the big add from Toronto and boy was it big. Seven years at an average hit of $5.5-million per season. That’s a lot of money for feisty determination, albeit something the Oilers can use. Clearly, given his new mates, Hyman should eclipse the 20-goal mark for the third time in his career. Holland also pulled off one of the understated moves of the summer in acquiring forward Warren Foegele from Carolina for popular defenceman Ethan Bear. Foegele is an excellent penalty killer with terrific 5-on-5 analytics and a propensity to play aggressively and tirelessly. Again, definitely what the Oil could use. Edmonton also brought the league’s classic feel-good late-bloomer story Derek Ryan north from Calgary. Holland also signed 39-year-old (back-up we guess?) goalie Mike Smith to a two-year deal for $2.2-million per. Alrightee then.
Kevin Cheveldayoff in Winnipeg had a mostly quiet summer. The GM inked defenceman Neal Pionk to a four-year extension which was nice. Forward Andrew Copp signed for a year at $3.6-million. “Chevy” made two swaps this summer, both of them for defencemen, one of them with the Canucks. They took Schmidt off Benning’s hands for a third-rounder. They also picked up Brenden Dillon from Washington. This was a tweak off-season for the Jets, a Stanley Cup contender who bolstered it’s blueline. They also added play-anywhere veteran forward Riley Nash for cheap depth. The window is open for them, but like with a majority of the Canadian-based teams, there is some cap manoeuvring and/or long-term-injured-reserve to deal with before the season. Can’t fault him for not having more to do.
Which brings us to the mysterious Calgary Flames and the always delightful Brad Treliving. The GM picked up a 26-year-old monster in defenceman Nikita Zadorov in a trade with Chicago for a 2022 3rd-round pick. Now the Flames just need to sign him. Black Coleman up front was another addition, a hard working free agent from the two-time defending champ’ Lightning who can play centre or wing. It appears the recently acquired Dan Vladar, my favourite name from a 1950’s science fiction movie, will back-up former Canuck Jacob Markström in net. It would appear “Tree” believes in the core.
That’s it. Did Benning do more than anyone else in a division that no longer (barring a major Covid relapse) exists? I think so. Send me a note with your vote?