The Vancouver Canucks are exceeding expectations this season and, after a brief slide, are back to their winning ways with twelve points in their past ten games. The team is currently sitting in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but trail Calgary and Edmonton in the division by just four points with two games in hand, a difference of just .025 in points percentage. Rather than take this surprise success for granted, GM Jim Benning plans to take advantage. Speaking with Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre on Wednesday, Benning said that he is targeting a top-six scoring winger before the NHL Trade Deadline. He did qualify his comments by adding that the deal must “make sense”, but did not say exactly what that meant. With nine forwards carrying cap hits of $3MM+ through 2020-21, a trade that makes sense for Vancouver is likely a rental deal. The team is also unlikely to get into the bidding for a star like Taylor Hall if it causes too much of a mortgage on their future in a year where a Stanley Cup run would take a fair amount of luck even with their solid play thus far. Potential targets who would nicely on the wing in Vancouver this season could include Vladislav Namestnikov, Alex Galchenyuk, Tyler Toffoli, or perhaps even Chris Kreider. There is still a lot of time left before the deadline and Vancouver’s play between now and then will dictate just how willing Benning in his to make a big deal.
- Benning also stated in the interview that he plans to formally open up extension talks with starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom soon. Benning did not add much detail, and the Canucks’ interest in retaining Markstrom has previously been reported, but Benning did let slip one new wrinkle in the story. Benning stated that part of the reason that Vancouver would like to re-sign Markstrom was the impact that it would have on their protection scheme for the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Each team can only protect one goalie and must expose an eligible goalie who is under contract or team control (RFA) in 2021. Thatcher Demko would fit this description, but the team is likely hesitant to expose their potential future starter. As such, the team will likely eye a contract of at least two years with Markstrom to ensure they have a sacrificial lamb to offer up to Seattle. Whether or not the expansion team would have interest remains to be seen, but Markstrom will certainly draw interest before then if he hits the open market this summer. It seems Benning and company will try their hardest to prevent that.
- Expected to miss just two weeks, a month later Brandon Sutter still has yet to return to the Vancouver lineup. The team has opted to scratch him in each of their past two games despite Sutter being medically cleared, as The Province’s Patrick Johnston writes that the team is being cautious and easing the veteran center back into action. This careful handling of Sutter’s health may not end any time soon either. Johnston believes that it could be a case of “load management” for Sutter this season. The defensive forward has struggled with groin injuries in the past and it is a notoriously lingering condition in hockey, so Sutter’s recent groin strain is nothing to take lightly. Expect Sutter, who was playing some of the best hockey of his Vancouver tenure before getting injured, to miss some games here and there and potentially see some fluctuations in his ice time as the Canucks manage his pain and try to keep him fresh for a hopeful playoff run..