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Analysis: Decisive GM good sign for Canucks

by Dan Rosen

PHILADELPHIA -- Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning reshaped their roster and possibly the direction of the franchise in a span of a few hours with a series of trades Friday afternoon.

He did it for the benefit of the team, not to send any messages about what his tenure will be like.

"That didn't really come into my thinking," Benning said of any potential message sending.

The message was sent nonetheless. Before the 2014 NHL Draft began at Wells Fargo Center, Benning showed he will be in control and he will be decisive.

Benning made the biggest splash of the day when he traded center Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks and defenseman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning, bringing back center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa and right wing Derek Dorsett. Perhaps as important, Benning acquired the 24th and 50th picks in the draft and freed up approximately $4 million in salary-cap space.

Vancouver has 18 players signed and approximately $17.75 million of space under the $69 million salary cap for the 2014-15 season, according to The Canucks have the resources to add when the free-agent market opens Tuesday at noon ET.

The Canucks might be looking at a goalie, perhaps Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller, to buy more time for the development of Eddie Lack and Jacob Markstrom. They might be looking at a center to build down the middle, perhaps Paul Stastny of the Colorado Avalanche. They can offer aggressively if they desire.

"We wanted to free up some money to be in the game on some of these free agents come July 1," Benning said.

If you read between the lines, Benning made his bold transactions Friday with an eye toward the future.

Bonino, who turned 26 in April, is almost four years younger than Kesler and carries a salary-cap charge of $1.9 million for each of the next three seasons. Kesler has a $5 million charge in each of the next two seasons. Benning said the Canucks are comfortable giving Bonino a chance to be their No. 2 center. Sbisa is 24 and a first-round pick; Garrison will be 30 in November. Sbisa carries a cap charge of $2.175 million for one season; Garrison's is $4.6 million for each of the next four seasons. With the proper coaching, Sbisa can be a top-four defenseman, Benning said.

The draft picks from the trades for Kesler and Garrison gave Vancouver four within the top 50. Teams thinking about winning now don't typically stockpile draft picks, they trade them to get better.

"We thought if we could get the deal done before the draft, the asset value was higher because draft picks for this year would be included in the deal," Benning said. "So we were hoping to get something done before the draft and I feel lucky that we did."

Benning has little interest in calling his vision a rebuild. He stressed he acquired NHL players in the trades he made.

"If it was going to be a rebuild then maybe we wouldn't have tried to fight so hard to get players that can come in and help our team win next year," he said.

Benning wants to win now because he believes the window with forwards Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin is closing. The twins will turn 34 before next season, when their four-year, $28 million contract extensions begin. It's not only the Sedins who Benning has to consider. Defenseman Alexander Edler is signed for five more seasons. Forwards Alexandre Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins are signed at least through 2016-17. Defensemen Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis are signed for the next two seasons.

That can be a solid core to build around, adding Bonino and Dorsett to the mix of forwards and Sbisa on the blue line. A veteran goalie would make things more attractive.

However, that same core, with Kesler and Garrison instead of Bonino and Sbisa, wasn't good enough to get the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. It wasn't good enough to win a game in the playoffs in 2013. So why would the core be good enough now to make the Canucks a contender in the Western Conference, where the elite teams are constantly trying to one-up each other and are setting the bar higher each season?

Kesler specifically said he doesn't think the Canucks will be able to put a winner on the ice for at least four years. It's a feeling he had after meeting with Benning long before he and Garrison were traded.

"To me it just seemed like the direction they were going didn't fit what I thought my career was going to be," Kesler said. "At the end of the day I want to win a championship and I want to win it now. Four years was a little too long for me."

Kesler might be overestimating the time frame, but reality suggests the Canucks are a team for tomorrow. But when you are a team for tomorrow it is prudent to erase your problems of today. Benning started that process Friday, and it's the proper move.

These trades are Benning's way of pointing the Canucks in a new direction and wiping clean some of the slate.

He doesn't want to fully blow up the roster, nor should he because Vancouver does have pieces to be competitive under new coach Willie Desjardins. But there was no sense in the Canucks staying the current course, with Kesler asking to be traded, to remain an average team in the Western Conference.

The Canucks weren't a playoff team before these trades and may not be one next season, but there's time for Benning to make his mark. He showed he's capable and displayed the guts necessary to be a successful NHL general manager.

He is in command. He is decisive. The Canucks have new blood and a new direction. They needed it.


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