Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Posted by Harrison Mooney
Canucks fans have had to cope with the loss of several fan favourites this season, so it was nice change of pace when the team announced on Tuesday that they had traded Nick Bonino instead.
Save for two weeks in late October, when we entertained the idea that he was better than Ryan Kesler, the man he replaced, Nick Bonino didn't accomplish much in his time in Vancouver. And in the playoffs, he was arguably Vancouver's least effective player. It was enough to wish that Jim Benning had a do-over on the deal.
Benning must have felt the same way, which is why Bonino is outbound, and centre Brandon Sutter, now formerly of the Pittsburgh Crosbies, is the newest Canuck. Sutter was, you may recall, the centrepiece of a collapsed trade deadline deal that would have sent Ryan Kesler to the Penguins.
But, alas, time travel comes at a cost. Doc Brown warned us about paradoxes; Trader Jim didn't listen. The full deal sends Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a second-round draft pick to Pittsburgh for Sutter and a third-round pick.
Great going, Jim. You went back and changed the future, giving the Canucks Sutter instead of Bonino. That's an improvement, since Bo Horvat already stole Bonino's second line job, and Bonino doesn't have the defensive chops to handle the demotion; Sutter, a bigger, faster player that's better on draws and takes them right-handed, is a better fit. But in changing the past, Jim, you've returned to a future in which you don't have the promising Adam Clendening.
That's good news for Frank Corrado, who just won his September training camp battle without having to make a single outlet pass. But it's bad news for Canucks fans, many of whom are beginning to suspect that Benning is a brilliant scout in a job that calls for a brilliant GM.
Like just about every move he's made so far, we find ourselves intrigued by what's coming in and simultaneously bewildered, or annoyed, by what's going out. After sweetening the pot with the second-for-third draft pick swap, which itself seems somewhat unnecessary since the Penguins are gleefully shedding $1.4 million in salary here and jettisoning a player that never quite fit for them, did Benning have to fork over Clendening, a player that just last year he told us was a future top-four blueliner?
(My only hope is that Benning is playing his reputation against us all, that he oversold Clendening knowing that he'd be believed, then happily tossed an overhyped player into this deal to get the guy he really wanted. Clendening was jettisoned by the savvy Blackhawks, then blithely discarded by a so-called scout savant after 17 NHL games. It's possible Benning is smarter than all of us. Considering where his desk is, he should be. I'd really like him to be.)
Still, and I feel like I'm saying this a lot lately (albeit privately, since I've been in semi-retirement all summer), this might not be a total disaster. For the Canucks' purposes, Sutter is an upgrade on Nick Bonino. He's a year younger, and he's scored twice as many career goals. He has two 20-goal seasons to Bonino's one. (That, too, may have signalled the end for Bonino. Benning said at the beginning of the year that Bonino was good for 20 goals. He stalled at fifteen, and no one makes Jim Benning look foolish -- except for Luca Sbisa.)
Production aside, Sutter should help speed up the Canucks' attack through centre ice, one that simply can't be that swift when Henrik Sedin gives way to Nick Bonino for much of the night. (Henrik doesn't need to be faster. Watching Bonino against Calgary made it painfully clear that he does.) Jim Benning said as much. "[Sutter] brings us speed to the middle of the ice and I think it solidifies our centre ice [position]," he said on a conference call.
Sure does. Now the Canucks are rolling Henrik, followed by Horvat, who appeared to have installed a nitrous oxide tank in his calves midway through the season, then Sutter. That's a group with a much higher average cruising speed, and more defensive ability. The Canucks are better up front, especially if you can still picture Nick Bonino's playoff contributions versus Calgary. (If you can't, that's because there were none.)
I don't feel entirely comfortable with Jim Benning's work here, or even in general so far. Every deal he makes, be it a signing or transaction, he seems to get fleeced a little. But he's also not letting his ego hold up transactions, and wasn't that one of the most frustration things about Mike Gillis? I've said before that Benning seems willing to ostensibly lose a deal in order to win it on his own terms. That may be what happened here.
All of this isn't to say I'm fully happy with the deal. I have, as they say in the hockey world, a cautious optimism. And I worked pretty hard on "I Need Bonino" and now he's not even a Canuck. So I'm taking this one personally.