Welcome back to WDYTT, the only hockey column on the internet that’s actually better on its off-side.
It’s that special time of the offseason in which the discussion shifts gears from potential acquisitions to actual ones, and where all those new players might fit on various rosters around the league.
And for the Vancouver Canucks, no aspect of their depth chart is worthy of more discussion than their refurbished blueline. Gone is Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, and (probably) Oscar Fantenberg. Replacing them are Nate Schmidt and a bevy of prospective rookies, including Olli Juolevi, Brogan Rafferty, Jack Rathbone, and Jalen Chatfield.
Is the Canucks’ D corps now better than the one that made it to the Western Conference Semi-Finals in 2020? That remains to be seen, but one has to assume that the answer will depend heavily on how coach Travis Green arranges the pairings.
Before he gets the chance to, however, we want you to chime in, because this week we’re asking:
What do you think the Canucks’ new defensive pairings should be?
How would you rate the Canucks’ offseason thus far?
Your responses, recorded two days after the Schmidt acquisition, are below!
(Apologies, we had to cut some for length this week!)
The loss of Toffoli plus the addition of Nate Schmidt I guess adds up to about a ‘C’ or ‘B-’, so far. However, the bigger problem with the team, as many others have pointed out, is Benning’s mismanagement of the salary cap. And this has been several years in the making. So, it’s hard to isolate this offseason from the ones that preceded it.
The Canucks could have kept Toffoli and probably added another defenseman via free agency if Benning hadn’t spent like a drunken sailor on players like Eriksson, Beagle, Ferland, and various others who have made marginal or non-existent contributions to the team the past few years. The dollar value of bad (meaning untradeable) contracts on the team is over $20 million now, which is about 25% of the total cap. It’s nuts. The Canucks could be going for a Cup this year while Hughes and Pettersson are still cheap. Instead, they’ll be a good team, but won’t quite have enough depth to get past the first or second round of the playoffs.
Benning’s fiscal mismanagement will be his downfall if he doesn’t do something. Maybe he should hire a capologist or someone laser-focused on fiscal management who can steer him away from these contracts he likes to hand out.
A solid ‘B.’ Losing Toffoli wasn’t good, though I get why we did. I do think that we can still have a good top-six with one of Hoglander, JV, or even Baertschi, in Toffoli’s spot. I would have preferred to keep Marky, but not for what he signed for. Holtby is a good option to let Demko show what he can do as a starter and at the right price. I thought it was time to move on from Tanev and Stecher as we needed a different look on D. Love the Schmidt trade. Benning still needs to dump some more cap and bring in another quality D with some snarl.
Solid ‘B.’ Didn’t like the contracts given to Tanev or Marky, so it’s good to pass on them. Schmidt is a great add. Holtby is a good add, too. No big deal about Stecher. Griping about bottom-pairing D is pointless. Better to open the spot for a rookie if you know what you’ve got. Stech does not make the D better in the playoffs unfortunately.
I would say a solid ‘B’ grade. Benning decided Demko is the goalie of the future, and with that decision eliminated losing Demko to Seattle, as Marky wouldn’t have accepted being exposed in the draft. Tanev and Marky had played well and earned their respective raises, but both will become declining assets within their term. Nate Schmidt is a huge upgrade to the defence. The strategy to watch teams approach the cap is just sound business. If you think Canucks should have stayed the course with Tanev and Stecher, you have too much loyalty to past players to make logical decisions. Stecher was a hardworking feel-good story but we weren’t going to take the next step with him in the lineup. A little bit of Wally Buono’s style is needed in current times. Not sure about not signing Toffoli at this point, but comments on 1040 yesterday indicated that players who had previously earned $3-4 million contracts may soon be offered lowball contracts. I think Toffoli jumped at an offer when he sensed that scenario. Mike Hoffman is still out there, but not sure how he could be a fit. Shipping out some bad contracts will be the next chapter to this offseason.
(Winner of the author’s weekly award for eloquence)
The offseason thus far is a success because we’re in a better position to be a contender in two-five years than we were previously. Nate Schmidt should still be a high quality top-four D at that point, under a reasonable cap hit (which should become more reasonable in the future, when the salary cap increases) and he will bring some of the toughness that we’ve been missing in our D-zone, as well as the ability to get the puck out of our own end when other teams forecheck us in the playoffs. An OEL trade would’ve been too expensive during our contending window. I don’t think the Canucks will be that great next year, but it’ll be a compromised NHL season anyways. But when Podkolzin, Hoglander, Rathbone, Juolevi, and Lind start making contributions on cheap contracts, Schmidt and the gang should be ready to be serious contenders.
Holtby might be a valuable asset at the TDL and Schmidt was excellent in the playoffs, but right now it`s not about personnel. Instead it`s about Benning spending like a drunken sailor and the chickens have come home to roost… Can Aquilini admit there`s a problem or will it be more of the same?
Not counting the draft, I think this is Benning’s best offseason thus far. Thankfully avoided continued long-term cap hell by not resigning Markstrom or Tanev, and by not trading for OEL. But I guess that’s saying I’m glad he didn’t dig a deeper hole than he already has.
Schmidt was a good trade.
Give him a ‘C+.’
‘C’ because he seemed to chase, rather than get ahead of, the issues.
He should have recognized earlier that Markstrom, Tanev, and Toffoli were not re-signing and attempted to recoup draft picks. While a little unfair because the market caved, he ultimately failed to unload salary, which caused them to miss out on re-signing Toffoli. Stecher could have been re-signed at the dollar he signed for in Detroit.
On the positive, he held firm on Markstrom and Tanev, both of whom signed above-market contracts that will not age well. He obviously held firm on the OEL trade. The Schmidt trade was a massive win. Holtby is a credible addition, giving the Canucks an effective one-two punch in net, and allowing Demko to grow into a number one.
PDX Canucks Fan:
I would currently rate it a ‘B-’ assuming one of Rafferty, Chatfield, or Juolevi are ready to be effective third-pairing NHL defensemen. If two are ready, then it’s a ‘B.’ Signing Leivo and a top-six forward (could be Virtanen) to team-friendly deals makes it a ‘B+/A-.’ An ‘A’ would require creating cap space and using it wisely for another piece, or to retain an asset. The grade goes down to a ‘C’ or lower if none of these things happen.
liquer des fenetres:
There’s no denying that picking up NS from Vegas for a bag of pucks is a win (even though part of me thinks there has to be a catch). But it’s worth remembering that that deal doesn’t happen based on a number of things Benning was working on the days before. If AZ had been willing to take less, or CT accepts a hometown discount, the team looks really, really different, and Nate’s not on it.
While you can’t fault Benning for Covid, counting on the salary cap to go up for ever wasn’t the brightest idea. It doesn’t seem like he has a well-defined plan, given his propensity to chase butterflies. The Toffoli trade deadline deal was a sign that it was playoffs or bust. At the time, re-signing him was a big question mark, so if JB gets points for winning the trade deadline, he’s got to lose them here losing a rental. No issue walking away from Stecher, until you realize that JB was the guy that gave him the $2.4M he couldn’t afford to re-up. Letting RFAs walk and hoping they’ll resign to a 30% haircut isn’t much of a plan.
Then there’s Marky. The pundits agree that JB was stuck between a rock and a hard place, without acknowledging that he put those two boulders there. Think back to when Coach Miller was calling the shots and Marky was on the bench. That was the time to be evaluating the worth of your backup. Instead, JB signs him to a “show me” contract and then lets him walk for nothing.
Letting guys walk for nothing is probably the theme of this offseason. And while you can make individual arguments for why there was no alternative to letting each guy go, it ultimately all points back to cap mismanagement, operating without a well-defined plan and #winning previous off seasons.
I have to be pushing for almost ‘B+.’ GMJB could have looked short term and tried to give Marky what he wanted and Tanev the same, but made the tougher choice to walk away. Schmidt will help make the D a lot more mobile and the young guys, whether Olli or Jack, will bring energy, not just veteran patch work. Not committing to long big contracts will help this team be better in the end. Also having Smitty play RD with a left shot might force Green to rethink and adapt!
Let’s start with the draft:
No first rounder No second rounder
I’ll go with “The Athletic’s” grade (theirs, not mine) of: ‘D’
Benning avoids some overpayments (because of cap issues) but also loses some key pieces without replacing them. Alienating and then subsequently losing Toffoli and Stecher. No access (because of cap issues) to bargain bin bottom-sixers who could be had for next to nothing. This would be an ‘F’ except I’ll upgrade to a ‘D’ because of no stupid contracts handed out.
A top-four D for a third rounder? Would be an ‘A+’ if it wasn’t a potentially problematic contract and also a relief for a division rival. Lets go ‘A-.’
So 2 ‘D’s’ and an ‘A-’=
“Incomplete” may best describe the situation, but let’s review it. Schmidt is a definite upgrade on Tanev. Good. Marky wanted an NMC and Benning could not give it to him, so got Holtby for two years with no NMC. Good. We keep Demko out of the I-5 sweepstakes. As if it bears repeating, boat-anchor contracts made Toffoli too expensive to keep. Bad. Stecher leaving? So so. Overall, to this point I’d give Benning a “C” at least by not handing out ridiculous contracts because they have no money anyways. The test for GMJB now is what will he do with Shotgun Jake, Gaud, and Leivo. That part could make or break Benning in this offseason. And they still need a competent and proven NHL RHD to step in and play immediately, IMO.
We don’t have all the facts to really say, but I am very disappointed that we have seen no success in moving out any of the bad contracts. LE should have been bought out like what other teams have done to clear cap space and Sutter, Sven, and others should have been moved out, even if you have to retain a lot of their salary. If this was done maybe we keep Troy or Tyler, at least. There were likely some tough challenges in negotiating away players, but not having all the info I would give GMJB a ‘C.’
I think unless someone suddenly levelled up in the offseason, as a whole they have gotten worse. Too many games won or stolen singlehandedly by either Tanev or Marky; plus, they really were important guys that the team rallied around – you could see it in how happy everyone was for him when Tanev scored that overtime goal last season. And Marky should have worn an “A,” in my opinion, you could see how much he encouraged and cared for the team, too. Other teams have also seemed to get better this offseason, which makes it tougher. Stecher, Toffoli, etc.
Having said all that, I can’t say that I blame the organization for most of the decisions they have made due to the situations and constraints they face (unless you want to beat the old chestnut about past decisions coming back to haunt – but that is not how I read the question for this week). Getting Schmidt seems like it softens some blows, too. “B” I guess.
I’m giving it a ‘B’ thus far.
I think the decision on Markstrom was the correct one, in light of the options. If there wasn’t a way to sign him and use this season to decide between him and Demko – and there apparently wasn’t – he had to walk. Other than signing Crawford to the deal New Jersey gave him, the Holtby deal was the next best option to replace him. Some might say that turning the team over to Demko is risky. I disagree. The Canucks are a young team that is aiming to open its window during the next three years or so, and hitching your wagon to an expensive starter with one good and one great season under his belt on the wrong side of 30 is what’s truly risky.
Letting Tanev walk was also the right thing to do. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone that it was going to happen. They reportedly offered him 2x$4M and even that, in my view, is generous given the player he is at this stage of his career. Everyone loves Tanev, he’s a fan favourite, but he just isn’t going to help the team move toward contender status.
The Schmidt deal is an absolute home run. He’s been a top-pairing quality player for Vegas and he’s signed with term for under $6M. It’s tough to say, in my view, whether you’d rather have Schmidt on that deal or Pietrangelo on $8.8M into his late 30s, but I think this is actually better given where the Canucks are at in their development.
As far as the mistakes go, well, they missed out on Barrie, but I’d rather have Schmidt, and I doubt “both” was an option, so I’m not docking them points for that. In contrast, missing out on both Stecher at $1.7M and Toffoli at $4.25< is certainly worthy of criticism, because both of those deals are good, and if they’d signed them, the team would effectively be set. Just buy out Sutter and you’ve got your squad. However, I will give them a bit of a pass for two reasons. First, on the Stecher front, while I think he’s well worth $1.7, they have guys who can fill the bottom-pairing role that he would play and it’s time to give them a look. On the Toffoli front, the mistake was trading for him in the first place – the assets they give up is what makes it look bad that he signed elsewhere. And not only is that 20/20 hindsight (no one was predicting a season shutdown when the trade deadline happened), you asked us to grade the offseason, not the trade deadline.
All in all, the mistakes and struggles of the Canucks this season are generally not due to anything Benning and company have done wrong this offseason. The mistakes are from offseasons of the past that are handcuffing them now. So, I can’t see giving them worse than a ‘B’ for this one. If anything, they’ve taken the incredibly positive step of – so far at least – making zero stupid mistakes this offseason. That alone is a triumph… or it would be, if the reason for it wasn’t “we put ourselves in such a bad situation we can’t afford to make any more stupid mistakes.”
So, yeah. ‘B’ grade overall. Some very good, some disappointing, nothing terrible.
The best thing Benning did this offseason was not give Tanev a four-year deal. The next best thing Benning did this offseason was not give Marky a six-year contract with a NMC. Not choosing to give Stecher a qualifying offer was also a good idea.
Not being able to move anything is a pretty common theme with Benning. He seems to lack the imagination and experience to move salary.
Holtby and Schmidt are good additions. Overall ranking, ‘C.’
‘B’ – In some ways the Canucks improved by subtraction. By improvement, I mean they improved upon their financial situation, which allowed the trade for Schmidt to be possible. Schmidt is an instant improvement to the defense so this is a good deal.
Also, the Canucks did not get caught up in a bidding war for Markstrom or Tanev, I have a feeling that the Flames may regret at least one of those contracts in a year or two.
Why not an ‘A’ you may ask? Well, the ‘Nucks did lose four notable roster players (Stecher, Tan-man, Marky and Toffoli) and really only gained two back (Holtby and Schmidt.) The Canucks do have one or two defenders that can make the NHL jump, and perhaps a forward or two. I am not too concerned about losing Toffoli, they did great before he came to the team and held their own when Toffoli was injured in the playoffs.
The other factor is that some money that should be shed was not shed. I am not being to hard on management for this because this is a task that is nearly impossible.
The area I am concerned about is defensive depth. As it stands, is this team going to roll with a rookie and Benn in the lineup, or two rookies, or is there another option? Or, perhaps Rathbone and/or Juolevi, Brisebois, etc are better options than what was here in previous years.
Either way, there are still a couple months until the start of the season and moves can and will still be made, but this is my analysis so for right now.
Considering this question at face value, and not harping on prior mistakes nor praising past decisions, if Benning had just inherited this team in the past 60 days, I would rate the moves as an overall ‘B.’
Given the cap situation, their age, and the Kraken, there’s no way that signing Markstrom and Tanev to the dollars and term they got is doable. Yes, the Canucks are worse without them, but all players come with term, and price. Which is untenable for the Canucks for both of these players.
Getting a 1A/1B type goalie, not far removed from great performances, while still relatively young and at reasonable term and price also has to be considered a win in the books.
Walking from Toffoli is OK too. Given his pedestrian skating and age, this contract won’t age well I predict.
Stecher, that’s a mistake. He’s more than serviceable in a fifth role, and at reasonable price and term.
Schmidt, that is a great pick up at little cost. Significant upgrade in the top-three defencemen.
So, in total, five of six decisions average or above, and one below average. Net grade: ‘B.’
BC SPORTS FAN:
Solid ‘B’ rating for Benning. We hated to lose Marky, but a great trade to get Schmidt from Las Vegas. We will give Jim Benning an ‘A+’ if he can find a way to trade Jake Virtanen.