It seems as if Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning has been a step behind this offseason. Rumor suggests he was trying like crazy to move salary as a way to clear salary-cap space so the organization could sign the Arizona Coyotes elite defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. When that didn’t happen, it seems he missed a chance to sign Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli quickly signed what amounted to a really team-friendly deal with the Montreal Canadiens. I wonder what Benning might do if he had a chance to replay that week.
At the same time, Benning didn’t re-sign goalie Jacob Markstrom and long-time Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev. From the outside, Markstrom seemed like a great teammate, while Tanev served as a tough-as-nails player and capable bodyguard to young rising star defenseman Quinn Hughes. Although I was a fan of Markstrom, I think the Canucks goalie situation might be as good now with the signing of former Washington Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby and the emergence of youngster Thatcher Demko into a more prominent role with the Canucks.
Similarly, although I was a great Tanev fan and that part of me was sad to see him leave, I wouldn’t have offered him nearly the salary the Calgary Flames signed him for. I can see why, given that financial situation, he jumped to the Flames. In fact, I thought Benning was wise to say goodbye and wish Tanev well in Calgary.
At the same time, Benning picked up former Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt in a Golden Knights’ salary-cap dump so Vegas could sign star defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. I would have traded Tanev for Schmidt straight up, and that’s almost what occurred.
In the remainder of this edition of Canucks news and rumors, I’ll share some of the news and rumors emerging from the organization as a way to help Canucks fans stay up-to-date with what’s happening with the team.
Item One: Jett Woo Needs a Stronger 2020-21 Season
For me, 20-year-old defenseman Jett Woo is one of those players I just love to root for. However, he struggled last season in the WHL after he was traded from the Moose Jaw Warriors to the Calgary Hitmen. In 2018-19, Woo scored 66 points (12 goals and 54 assists) in 62 games with Moose Jaw; but, in 2019-20, he only scored 46 points (seven goals and 39 assists) although he played two more games.
Woo was a second-round draft choice (37th overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Regardless of the drop in his production, he remains an especially strong skater with leadership potential. He’ll almost certainly play this season with the Canucks AHL affiliate Utica Comets. Canucks fans have to hope Woo experiences AHL success and once again begins to rise in the ranks of valued prospects within the Canucks organization.
He’s been projected, if all goes well, to become a member of the Canucks defensive roster within the next three seasons. In some ways, his growth reminds me of the Edmonton Oilers young defenseman Ethan Bear who struggled for several seasons before he found his game and now has become a key member of the Oilers’ blue line.
Item Two: What’s the Deal with Travis Green’s No Deal?
Travis Green has one more year left on his contract as head coach of the Canucks and he’s hoping to sign a longer-term extension with the team. However, it’s not yet clear whether Green and the team will be able to work out such an extension before the start of the 2020-21 season. (from “COVID crunch impacting Travis Green’s contract extension, Ben Kuzma, The Province, 01/11/20).
General manager Benning reported more than a week ago that “We’ve talked, and we’ll continue to work at it, but everybody is really in a holding pattern right now.”
Although I’m not completely certain what he was referring to, Benning added, “everybody is sensitive right now (my emphasis). It’s going to be important coming out of this to have a coach who can get the best out of his players.”
From Green’s perspective, he wants the Canucks to commit to a future that includes him.
He noted that he “had some dialogue with (general manager) Jim (Benning) and kicked some things around. For me, the biggest thing is that we’re always on the same page, and we have been from Day One. The fact Jim wants to extend me fits with what I want to do.”
Green also added that “When I first came to Vancouver, we talked about building this team up and taking the proper steps to do it. Obviously, you have to be aligned with your general manager and your ownership, and we have been the whole way. I still want to coach this team and win in Vancouver, not just now and not just [this season] but for the long term. We’ll see how this plays out during the pandemic and revisit it.”
Item Three: Vasili Podkolzin Has Ramped Up His Game Recently
Funny how a little success can turn around one’s game. Vasili Podkolzin had been having a tough season until the Karjala Cup, but he certainly showed well there. Prior to his emergence at that tournament in Finland, Podkolzin had been a healthy scratch in recent KHL games and was even demoted to the VHL (similar to the AHL) by his parent KHL club.
However, during the Karjala Cup he dominated offensively by scoring a goal and four assists in three games to lead Russia in scoring.
That excellent play was obviously a boost to his confidence, and upon returning to Russia the 19-year-old took advantage of an opportunity to play more. In a recent KHL game, he had 12:55 TOI, which is the most ice time he’s got since COVID-19 removed many of his teammates in late September, and he scored a goal and an assist in that game.
What’s interesting is that Podkolzin might be able to play this season with the Canucks after his KHL season ends. That fact his KHL team’s last regular-season game is in late February and the 2020-21 NHL season will likely run well past that date means that Podkolzin could play in a number of NHL games this season.
Given that the 19-year-old Podkolzin was drafted during the first round by the Canucks (10th overall), it’s obvious he’ll be counted on to be an important part of the Canucks future roster. As a gritty, two-way playmaker who plays a 200-foot game, Podkolzin might become an interesting partner for Canucks captain Bo Horvat.
What’s Next for the Canucks?
The Canucks have been in the news a lot recently and not all of it’s been positive. The team lost some valuable pieces of last season’s roster when Markstrom and Tanev bolted; it remains stuck with Loui Eriksson’s horrible contract and is fighting salary-cap woes; there’s talk of a Green contract extension; and, already the organization is preparing for what might be a tough contract negotiation with young superstar Elias Pettersson.
If the team stays in the spotlight for the next while, Canucks fans shouldn’t be surprised.