Vancouver GM Jim Benning continues to be honest and open with the media this offseason about the direction of the Canucks and his upcoming plans. In a media session yesterday, the veteran executive spoke on a number of topics, including the positions he will try to fill in free agency. Per NHL.com’s Kevin Woodley, Benning was happy to reveal whom he may target:
Going forward now, if we are going to add through free agency, we want to try to add top-four defensemen or top-six forwards, so I think our needs in that way have changed. I haven’t been shy about stating that we would like to improve our defense. There are different avenues to try to do that, so we’re looking at all those avenues.
The “change” that Benning is referring to is in contrast to last offseason, when the Canucks spent on bottom-six depth in free agency, targeting Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and Tim Schaller. This year, the names that the Canucks will seek will be more high-profile. Up front, Vancouver has already been linked to Marcus Johansson, while British Columbia native Brett Connolly will also likely be in consideration. On the back end, Jake Gardiner is known to be a free agent target, although Benning’s comments make it seem as though the Canucks could also scour the trade market for a top-four defenseman as well. One way or another, it seems this summer will be more exciting than the last for Vancouver.
- That “top-four target” could also come internally, as Benning acknowledges that Vancouver is still working through contract talks with Alex Edler. The longtime stalwart is an impending free agent who asked not to be traded at the trade deadline this past season in hopes of an extension with Vancouver. Months later, a deal has not yet been signed. It appears that term and trade protection appear to be the sticking points, especially as the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft looms. Edler would like protection from a possible Seattle selection, but Benning and the Canucks would rather use one of their limited slots on a key young piece. Sportsnet’s Iain MacIntyre relays some honest words from Benning on the subject:
I think it’s fair to say we don’t have the appetite to do that. We had to do that last time with Daniel and Henrik Sedin. But we’re going to have some good young players that we need to protect or we’ll lose them.
- Edler could be gone if talks don’t improve, and so could another veteran, Loui Eriksson. Benning spoke to Eriksson’s comments to a Swedish newspaper earlier this offseason, when he stated that he did not trust or get along with head coach Travis Green. Benning said that he plans to talk with Eriksson soon, but that those comments are a true cause for concern and a trade could be a real possibility. This isn’t the first we’ve heard Eriksson trade rumors, with many linking him to the Edmonton Oilers and former head coach Dave Tippett in a possible swap for fellow expensive and underperforming forward Milan Lucic. However, Benning’s comments would imply that a trade could happen even if it isn’t with Edmonton. The Canucks might have trouble finding a taker for the remaining three years and $6 million average annual value on Eriksson’s contract, but if it’s a matter of team chemistry, the Canucks might have to do whatever it takes to move the seasoned winger.