duncan keith

Will the REAL Jim Benning Please Stand Up?

Did you miss me? The crapping whale has taken quite a beating in the twittersphere lately and over the last year even more so. No one expected the Canucks to turn it all around in one year and be an elite contender again but at the very least the man who was ready to cut his teeth as a true GM has made us all question if this is Jim Benning’s true calling.

Do the Canucks even deserve the GM we think is owed to us? We’ve had wannabe GM’s before and although they have each left their mark, only a few actually made a real impact. In my lifetime, Quinn, Burke and Gillis were the gamechangers in Vancouver and the men that followed each were just holding a title until the vacancy was rightfully filled.

In my opinion, Jim Benning is filling a seat. It didn’t start that way but it feels like it will end that way.

As Peter Chiarelli’s right hand man in Boston, Jim Benning was able to scout and help draft some of the NHL’s youngest stars and the Bruins current big names. He helped bring in David Krejki, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, Dougie Hamilton and the guy the Oilers didn’t take, Tyler Seguin.

He also helped draft a TON of garbage. It makes you wonder if the Bruins still had Benning on payroll this past June when Boston had 3 consecutive picks inside the top 20 and excuse my french “did really really badly at the drafting thing”. OK, Benning wasn’t responsible solely for the Bruins current success and much of their failures but as a scout since the early 90’s you’d figure his success rate would be better.

When you suck long enough, the high draft picks are easy choices. Its hard to continue to fail when you pick in the top 5. The Canucks haven’t had that luxury/disappointment since the ’99 draft when Sedinary was born. When Benning was in Boston, of his 63 picks he helped make, only the six guys mentioned above have really stood out for the Bruins (Kris Versteeg did well elsewhere).

I’ve left a few lesser players off and to the Bruins credit Lucic, Marchand, Kris Versteeg were great picks but in 10 years the crap shoot after round one really didn’t play in Boston’s favour. Benning took over the big spot in Vancouver after Mike Gillis’ departure and has made some savvy picks but he’s also given up a lot to get them.

It’s not all about drafting though.

The glaring errors still loom and the downward spiral has continued. Is Jimbo even trying right now? He’s made efforts to get rid of players like Ryan Kesler (didn’t get enough), Eddie Lack (traded the wrong guy), Nick Bonino (the guy that we traded for Kesler), Zack Kassian (Ok, who knows whats up with him really) oh and he signed Luca Sbisa, Derek Dorsett and Brandon Sutter to more money than the Canucks will pull in next year and probably the year after that.

There is no silver lining right now, there is no pot of gold. We may witness a few breakthroughs in 2015/16 like the next step for Bo Horvat, the possibility of Jake Virtanen cracking the lineup and possibly a few Comets leaving the AHL behind for the bright lights of Vancouver; but the Sedins are still what this team is based upon, Ryan Miller is still the #1 goalie and it looks like the Canucks will be more braun than skill this season.

As critical as the Canucks fanbase and media are with every decision and non decision, much of what is said has some validity and there might not be a lot of time to make mistakes. Benning is operating like an Assistant General Manager and thats fine if you ARE one but he’s not. I went through the same realization when I worked in retail.

Personal aside 

I was the AM and I did an amazing job too! Won a few salesperson of the year awards and was given my own shop to manage. It took me 2 years to fully take ownership of my responsibility as the Manager and that I was going to need to lead the change and not just sit and accept the status quo. Things really took off after that.

So for you, Congrats Jimbo! The Stanley Cup is quite an accomplishment and no one will ever take that away from you but its time to build the Canucks up, not break them down. You’ve been fortunate enough to get some young studs in the draft since you arrived, missed on one (see: every article and tweet by me about why Nick Merkley should have been drafted) and had a chance to pick up some free agents that could make a difference.

Cody Franson being one of those players who WANTS to play for the Canucks and Jimmers isn’t willing to make things work. Admit you made a mistake with Sbisa, re-up with Dan Hamhuis and if it means parting ways with Radim Vrbata via trade, then do it. Defense wins championships, its not just a saying.

Ask the Blackhawks where they’d be without Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook; they’re a totally different team. The minutes those two guys eat up not only in the regular season but deep, deep into the Final is legit. You don’t need statistics at that point; you can see the results on the ice and they both have 3 Cups to show for their hard work.

Imagine the Canucks back end with Edler, Hamhuis, Franson, Weber (No, not that one), Corrado and Tanev. I know somewhere deep down there is an out clause on Sbisa so for the sake of this paragraph, he’s not included. This isn’t an amazing back end but there is hope there. Can Benning break the mold of Assistant GM and start pulling the trigger on deals that make sense?

I liked the Bonino trade for Sutter but throwing in Clendening was just foolish, that feels like he was bullied by Pittsburgh. The pick swap is a wash, everything after Round 1 is tough to put weight on. Its good to see Benning didn’t take any crap from San Jose when the Bieksa deal fell through so he has done good here but the one position that is the biggest lightning rod for the Canucks is in net.

How he felt keeping Ryan Miller over Eddie Lack was the right choice is stunning. The younger, lesser cap hit, higher potential guy was let go and to a team that may not even use him (Carolina). Publically stating that a trade was available for Miller should have never been done, it was a hand that should have been folded.

Jim Benning has made some pretty big mistakes and his current path isn’t trending too much in the right direction. Training camp hasn’t started yet and Cody Franson is still available, heck maybe a big splash is still in the works?

However, if Jimbo continues to lead the Canucks like I played hockey last weekend (which was basically like watching a clueless marble roll around a glass dish) then there won’t be just a transition period coming: there will be a free fall to the basement.

Will the REAL Jim Benning please stand up? This isn’t Slim Shady asking, this is one Canucks fan asking for a reality check.


Bowness Coverage – The NHL Draft Hasn’t Been Kind To The Canucks

June has already been a pretty jam packed month and its only half way over. The Stanley Cup went to the Blackhawks (surprise, surprise), the Warriors won the NBA FInals, Jim Benning isn’t trading Ryan Miller and next week the NHL Entry Draft will commence with the next wave of stars finding homes. With all this, I am trying a new feature here at Always90four called Bowness Coverage that is Canucks first, NHL second and then a whole lot of everything else.

Its kind of like Elliotte Friedman’s 30 thoughts over on Sportsnet, but I’ll keep it to about 10. Hopefully it’s worth doing every 2 weeks or so that it becomes a staple. Let me know what you think!

1) So, the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup YET AGAIN for the 3rd time in 6 years. Its not a dynasty but its darn close. The group that has managed to stay together is pretty special. Led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa; the Hawks have found a way to keep a very expensive core together and continue to win with new parts each time.

Duncan Keith is a big reason this is even possible. He logs more minutes of play than an 18 year old when the new Call of Duty comes out. He’s gritty, offensively clutch, a pain in the butt to play against and brutally decorated with achievements: 3 Stanley Cups, 2 Olympic Gold Medals, a Conn Smythe, 2 Norris Trophies, etc, etc. He is everything you want in a defenseman and above all else, he wins.

But what if the Canucks were smart enough to have drafted him in 2002 in what largely was a dart board of picks every round? Would Keith have developed into the premier player he has become? The way the Canucks drafted that year and beyond, he would have been frustrated. What really stings is that Vancouver picked well before Chicago in Round 2 and would not have needed to stretch to get him.

Kiril Koltsov was the Canucks first choice at pick 49, with Keith going at 54. Koltsov played all of ZERO games in the NHL so it was a really great pick. Having seen Keith play in Kelowna on a nightly basis, he did all the right things and if the Canucks even bothered to acknowledge the WHL existed, maybe Duncan Keith would have lifted a Conn Smythe for Vancouver, who knows? You want to talk about misses, sometimes its the guy you could have taken that’s the miss instead of who you chose.

2) Speaking of the NHL Draft, there’s another player that I have been bragging about for about 2 seasons now: Nick Merkley of the Kelowna Rockets. This guy is basically the full package of talent. He is only 18 so he can hone is craft and really strengthen his game more than he has already. The Canucks really should be jumping up to get this guy. He is a phenomonal playmaker, a slick goal scorer and his puck possesion reminds me of that guy that played in Edmonton in the 80’s. 

I am not saying Merkley is like Wayne Gretzky but he has similar traits that you just don’t see in every player. Merkley is a hybrid forward that can play both centre and wing and his forecheck is a thing of beauty. Anyone that watched the WHL Playoffs or the Memorial Cup this year knows exactly what he can bring to the table.

Canucks GM Jim Benning went on TSN 1040 on Wednesday and here is a piece that was taken from it:

I really don’t know who else they want in the first round. They’ll have to make a move to get him but man oh man is he worth the risk. His rookie year he played centre and won Rookie of the Year honours, this past season he was moved to the wing and led the Kelowna Rockets in assists and points (20G, 70A, 90PTS). Nick Merkley will only get better and with the right development he can really boom. 

Benning has had an iffy start so far but this is one player he can win with.

3) Sticking with Kelowna Rockets related players in the draft, a defenseman that will be a steal and can be had in the 4th or 5th round, is defensive defenseman Joe Gatenby. Gatenby’s ability to seperate his man from the puck is scary. The way he just becomes a wedge is something not every blue liner can just do. His speed to chase down forwards when his team has maybe pinched too hard is something to watch. 

The Canucks have been anything but successful in drafting defensive prospects. I mean, they aren’t the worst, but I can name a ton of teams that have done better. Joe Gatenby is a safe pick that will turn into an Alex Edler type player, he’s been ok. OH, and he was a Kelowna Rocket too! See a pattern here? Ranked at 174 by ISS, he’s a smart play.

4) Apparently, Ryan Miller isn’t going anywhere. *Insert frowny shrug* Jim Benning feels when Miller is playing   well he gives the team confidence. I am not by any means an NHL GM but is that not what every goalie does for their team? $6M per could be used in more constructive ways than aging Ryan Miller’s equipment.

There has to be a team for him to go to. We are already overpaying for Sbisa, to a degree Dorsett and we need some Canadian Tire money for Brad Richardson among others. Admitting to mistakes makes you a better person, I do it all the time. Admit that Miller was a safe move and you no longer see the need to keep him.

Canucks fans want a Stanley Cup and with Ryan Miller, thats one burnt year without a real shot. Trade Miller and move on Jimbo. I give you permission.

5) The Arizona Coyotes sure know how to stay relevant. How is this farce not over yet? Figure it out and get back to us. The news of Glendale cancelling the lease on the arena agreement for the Yotes was just a greedy, selfish mess. Grow up desert! You are an absolute joke, so much so you let your local residents tase you for charity.

This makes me sick.

6) The Golden State Warriors are NBA Champions. No exclamation point needed. If you have stayed loyal to me and kept reading this was actually a good series. You know, until the Cavs lost everyone but Lebron James. Cleveland just lost pace at a certain point and it was over. I was bored and I happened to have switched to TSN and the game was on, thats how I know.

I swear.

7) CBC Hockey Night in Canada’s PlayOn! 4 on 4 street hockey tournament is in my hometown of Kelowna this weekend and I’ll be there. Word is there are a few NHL teams in the elite division so I can totally understand if my games don’t get the crowds I’d expect. Riiiiiiiight. Its going to be a blast and getting to play hockey with two ringers makes my dismal skills look ok. You can check it out here.

8) Its still a few weeks away but NHL Free Agency opens July 1 and the Canucks would be smart to look at the defensive market this time around. The forwards are starting to show up on the farm so balancing the defense would seem to be a smart move.

There isn’t a lot to choose from but making a splash and landing at least 2 of these guys would fill a void that is um, very voiding. Christian Ehrhoff, Cody Franson, Mike Green and Johnny Oduya are all guys Vancouver should target while sending aging players Kevin Bieksa, Chris Higgins and ugh, Luca Sbisa is newly signed; packing.

Might Jim Benning do something that BENEFITS the Canucks? Time will tell. Its just…Groundhog Day is getting old.

9) You may have quite a different taste in music than I do but Muse has a new album out and its great. Check this song out, I bet we both like it a lot.

10) Finally, as good as the Toronto Blue Jays are playing right now, and I haven’t seen a lot; if they don’t make a serious push for talented, reliable closing pitching they will just be a team that has fun in the summer. Put up your hand if you’re bored of this repeat issue.

Follow me on twitter: @always90four

Kelowna Rockets Set Sights On Memorial Cup

Its March and in the WHL, that means its playoff time! Small town western Canada amps up from Vancouver Island to the prairies for the road to one of the hardest trophies to win in sports: The Memorial Cup. The Kelowna Rockets have been there before, they’ve tasted glory and now they want another drink from the epic chalice.

What has really been 2 years in the making for Bruce Hamilton’s Rockets is finally coming to fruition. A team known for savvy drafting, developing talent and embracing success, the Kelowna Rockets have been a machine in the WHL for years. Just take a look around today’s NHL and you will instantly notice world class talent: Shea Weber, Duncan Keith, Josh Gorges, Jamie Benn, Alex Edler, Tyler Myers, Vern Fiddler, Chuck Kobasew, Luke Schenn, Scott Hannan and Mikael Backlund, all these players have made their mark in the show.

Take a look at that list, its beyond impressive that ONE major junior team has produced that talent so far. Stanley Cup Champions, Olympic Gold Medalists and numerous NHL awards drape over this group of players and that list will only grow as the years go by. It might not take long either; this year’s Rockets are primed to do something special.

However this season finishes for Kelowna, the Rockets have set team records for most franchise wins (55 and counting) and most points (114 and counting). How fitting it is that these records were just broken last season as well? Sounds like a recipe for success already. Coach Ryan Huska has led this group of young men to territory that is not easily reached. The WHL is a tough league to win and Huska’s boys are looking to make some history this spring.

Led by Captain and 2013 Washington Capitals 2nd round draft pick, Madison Bowey, the Rockets have put together a season that has made Canada take notice. The BMO Mastercard CHL Rankings have named Kelowna #1 in the country for almost 3 months, as well as being ranked in the top 10 this season for 20 weeks and one week to go. Is it something in the water? Is it the instant buy in?

They aren’t a group with a superstar player that leads the charge, they run 4 lines deep and when goaltending is brought up, they have two more than capable tenders to block the mesh. Myles Bell, 2013 6th rounder of the New Jersey Devils, is the leading scorer with 41 goals and 74 points. He is flanked in points by forward Ryan Olsen and dman Damon Severson, both with 60 points. Nothing overly mind blowing but this roster boasts 8 players over 45 points. Starting to think to yourself, wow, that’s impressive. These guys must have quite a veteran group of players, this will probably be restocked next year when all the old guys move on after their WHL career; you would be wrong.

Most of this team will stay intact next season with a handful of players moving on, Bell included. One player the Rockets are more than happy to have for the next 4 years or so is true rookie sensation, Nick Merkley. This kid JUST turned 16 earlier this season. He played for Kelowna in 7 playoff games last year and managed 3 points in that time. He instantly showed he was destined for greatness when he played his first game. Merks just has that gift. He sees the game the way the greats do. His hockey IQ just exudes brilliance. Nick makes plays that NHL veterans would be proud of.

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4 Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

Rookie sensation Nick Merkley @merkdaddy4
Photo courtesy of CHL.CA

The puck just seems to find Nick Merkley and when it hits his stick, he knows EXACTLY what to do with it. He didn’t score in the playoffs last year but he didn’t miss a beat when he debuted as a rookie this year; 64 GP 24 G 55 PTS +/- 24 and 42 PIM. This kid is unreal! CHL Rookie of the week in October 2013, Merkley is no joke; he just plays to win.

Between the pipes, Jordan Cooke and Jackson Whistle backstop this sensational Rockets team night in and night out. Cooke boasts a 2.27 GAA .922 SA % 38 Wins and 4 SO through 50 GP. Whistle is no slouch either, 21 GP 2.54 GAA .920 SA % 17 Wins and 1 SO, he doesn’t like giving up the net. Jackson will inherit the net next season when Cooke moves on from the WHL being too old to play. It’s not just the stats that are in lights, its the timely saves and game breaking stops that makes Kelowna lethal to play. From top to bottom this team is built to win and should make a healthy run to the May showcase that is the Mem Cup.

Sure, the scoring and stingy defense keep this team on the board and their opponents off of it, but are they tough enough? I would ask Tyrell Goulbourne but I probably would regret the physical answer I would get. Goulby leads the charge on the aggressive meter. His hands are hard when they are knocking out unfortunate contenders and soft as pillows…or kittens, they’re soft too, when he’s potting pucks in the twine. Tyrell has 109 PIM this season to go with his 36 points. A 3rd round choice in 2013 by the Philadelphia Flyers, Tyrell will be a fan favorite the day he suits up in the city of Brotherly Love.

With Bell being able to play both defense on the PP and forward at 5 on 5, Merkley contributing more than any 16 year old should in his first season, saves for days in Cooke and Whistle and a defense led by Bowey and Severson, the Kelowna Rockets can beat you any way you want. Just don’t expect them to say sorry.

Kelowna plays the Tri-City Americans in the first round and I would expect them to make quick work of them, worst case scenario 5 games. The Rockets are poised to win it all this year, so get on board while you can. The next wave of NHL superstars are playing in your backyard.

Follow me on twitter @hankthetank10

All stats courtesy of whl.ca and kelownarockets.com