In this edition of Vancouver Canucks News & Rumors, I’ll look at some of the work that general manager Jim Benning should do during the offseason. Who will he re-sign? Who will he trade? There must be real chemistry on the team, because, almost every player has reported that they want to stay in Vancouver heading into the future.
In a way, that makes life easier for Benning, because he doesn’t have to talk anyone into staying. The players know how well the team has done. At the beginning of the 2019-20 season, only a few pundits picked the group to go anywhere – including the postseason. However, the Canucks were the last Canadian team to be eliminated from the playoffs. That means something, and few would have expected it. It’s been 27 seasons since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup, and this team came the closest. Their future is bright.
Item One: Tyler Motte Wants to Remain a Canuck
Rick Dhaliwal recently tweeted that Tyler Motte’s agent Rich Evans announced that Motte wanted to stay with the Canucks and has invited Benning to offer him a new contract soon. It wasn’t that blatant, but it was implied. When agents make such announcements, they are working in the best interest of their clients.
Benning surely noticed Motte’s play during the playoffs. He only scored four goals in 34 games during the regular season, but he matched that total in the playoffs. He emerged in the postseason, and his hard work and on-ice skills seemed on display more than any other time I’ve watched him play. I liked him as a hitting-maching, but I really noticed his work ethic and skills. He was especially good in the first round.
I’m sure Benning will sign the pending RFA, although he might first want to take care of business he considers more pressing, like signing their All-Star starting goalie, Jacob Markstrom and maybe new winger Tyler Toffoli, who has looked really good since joining the Canucks.
Motte’s contract was worth $975,000 this season and he probably deserves a raise. That said, with a flat salary cap and a lack of knowledge as to where the NHL might be in the future, smaller-contract players might not get increases. Motte is an important piece of the team’s bottom-six, but would he consider signing for a hometown discount to stay with this group? He might if he understands that this group is likely to make the playoffs in the next several seasons.
Item Two: Jim Benning Was “Expecting More” from Jake Virtanen During the 2020 Postseason
With a backhanded compliment, Benning noted that he thought Jake Virtanen “worked and competed hard in the playoffs. He scored that big goal for us in Game 6.”
Then, Benning cut to the chase by adding, “To be perfectly honest with you, though, I was expecting more from Jake in the playoffs. He can skate; he’s strong. He can get to the net. He’s a guy we’re going to have to talk about here going forward. We’ve been patient with him in his development, but he’s a guy I was expecting to produce more for us,” (from “Canucks ‘expected more from Jake’ Virtanen: GM Jim Benning,” The Province, 09/09/20).
Virtanen scored only two goals and three points in 16 postseason games and Benning’s announcement seems like a shot over Virtanen’s bow. When Virtanen, a native of Vancouver, was chosen with the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he was expected to develop into a top-six power forward. However, he’s now 24-years-old and he hasn’t found his game yet.
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If this is his game, it isn’t good enough. There are flashes of skill, but no consistency. As a result, he remains a physical bottom-six forward who chips in offensively. It’s not that he’s a bad player, but he could be much better.
Virtanen is an upcoming RFA, and it will be interesting to see how Benning treats him during salary negotiations. If Benning signs Virtanen and he has another season like 2019-20, bet that he’ll be exposed in the expansion draft.
Item Three: Benning Is Clear, He Wants Markstrom Back
Yesterday, it was reported that Benning spoke with Jacob Markstrom’s agent earlier this week. Although there were rumors that, given Thatcher Demko’s stellar play during the playoffs, the team would move on from Markstrom, I can’t believe there’s any foundation to that speculation.
In fact, Benning clearly confirmed the team’s interest when he reported, “We want him back, and we’re going to work on that this week.”
The team wants to re-sign their All-Star goalie, who could become a UFA this offseason. Markstrom had a great 2019-20 season, posting a 23-16-4 record, a goals-against-average of 2.75, and a save percentage of .918 in 43 games.
During the postseason, he helped lead the team on surprising run into the second round with an 8-6 record, a goals-against-average of 2.85, and a save percentage of .919 in 14 games.
Markstrom is coming off a three-year, $11 million contract and deserves a raise. However, it’s a complex situation. The Canucks, like all NHL teams, face a flat salary cap for the next two seasons and the team’s two young stars – Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes – are headed for much bigger contracts soon.
In an interesting way, the upcoming expansion draft might offer a chance for the Canucks to see both Demko and Markstrom play together. If Demko is as good as he seems, Benning could expose Markstrom – and his huge salary – in the Seattle draft. At that point, who knows what the Kraken might do?
What’s Next for the Canucks?
As the Canucks left for home, it was interesting to read the players’ social media posts. Antoine Roussel spoke directly to Canucks fans and invited them to hang in there because they would be a factor in the Stanley Cup race going forward.
His confidence is well-founded and I can’t wait to see where the Canucks are headed. This wasn’t their season, but their time might be soon.