Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning was an open book during an interview on TSN 1040 radio in Vancouver today, going into great detail on the current state of his team and their outlook moving forward. Per Benning, the Canucks are currently negotiating with their “best defender”, Alex Edler, but have high hopes for their top prospects and AHL standouts on the blue line. Yet, he also stated that an offensive defenseman was one of the team’s biggest needs and said that he will explore “hockey trades” as the trade deadline approaches.
As for Edler, the 32-year-old has been very forthcoming about his desire to remain in Vancouver. An impending free agent, Edler has been a solid two-way contributor over his entire 13-year NHL career and would surely have suitors on the open market, but enjoys playing for the Canucks and wishes to stick with the promising young team. For his part, Benning said that Edler is an invaluable member of the team and they are hopeful that a new contract can be worked out. Benning stated that the team will not use the February 25th deadline as a deadline of their own for extending Edler and will continue negotiating with he and agent Mark Stowe for as long as possible. Answering a direct question, Benning added that he does not see the possibility of trading away and then re-signing Edler as feasible. With that said, Benning never ruled out trading Edler entirely, but did vouch for the veteran defenseman several times. “He’s our best defenseman, he’s a leader in our room, he’s a mentor… He’s a guy that sets the culture for our young players”, Benning stated, adding “if we can get something figured out with him, I’d like to try to (re-sign him)”. With mutual interest on both sides, the only thing stopping a new deal appears to be the price – Edler currently comes in at $5MM AAV – and term for the aging blue liner.
Should Edler walk, Benning still seems confident in the team’s defensive corps moving forward. In regards to top prospect Quinn Hughes, Benning stopped short of confirming that he would leave the University of Michigan after the collegiate season, but did say that they hoped to sign him and get him some pro experience down the stretch before his probable rookie season next year. Benning knows that the jump from the NCAA to the NHL is “a big step”, but believes in Hughes’ ability and is excited to see what he can do at the next level. In response to a question, Benning stated that the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft is not a concern when determining when to bring Hughes in, as he feels the team should not have coverage problems among their defenseman. Getting last year’s No. 7 overall pick into the lineup as soon as possible appears to be a priority for the Canucks.
Elsewhere in the organization, Benning also spoke highly of currently-injured recent top pick Olli Juolevi, who he still expects to be an impact pro despite recent struggles. He also spoke highly of AHLers Ashton Sautner, Jalen Chatfield, and Guillaume Brisebois and mentioned that the trio – along with forward Zack MacEwen – are candidates to receive a call-up during the stretch run. However, Benning spoke with the most excitement about 2018 second-rounder Jett Woo, who is currently second in the WHL in goals among defenseman. Benning believes that Woo, and the rest of these prospects, have the Canucks primed for a bright future on the back end.
Yet, Benning also stated that an offensive defenseman remains one of the team’s top needs, even with Hughes, Juolevi, and Woo on the horizon. However, don’t expect him to trade any of the trio away to meet that need. Benning stated that he is not willing to trade any of this year’s picks – after all, the draft will be held in Vancouver – nor any of his “blue chip prospects” this season. He is willing to make “hockey trades” to meet his needs on defense, as well as at forward, if the right deal presents itself. Forward Nikolay Goldobin, who has been rumored to be on the outs in Vancouver, was described as being in a “make or break” period and could be a prime candidate to be traded away. Benning expressed that anyone on the NHL or AHL roster could technically be traded if the right swap presented itself, although his young core is likely off the table. Benning described an active trade market it currently, so don’t be surprised to see the Canucks swing a deal this month.
With that said, Benning said that his preference is to draft and develop rather than use trades and free agency to meet his needs. Just as he spoke highly of his current stock of prospects, Benning is looking forward to a “deep” draft class this year. He believes that the top six or seven picks this season could be NHL contributors right away and the next ten or so picks, currently the range in which Vancouver would be expected to pick, will be “very good” prospects. Benning displayed hope and optimism about his team in this interview, but his trust in the pipeline and his belief in this draft class makes it seem like the Canucks could be more seller, with an eye on future assets, than buyer at the deadline.