Saturday, August 15, 2020

Demko as a sweetener could keep this team together

We are finally seeing what this Canucks team could be without its usual raft of injuries and with its veterans contributing as they can. The emergence of the team’s young core in its first playoff test has coincided nicely with the reappearance from hiding of high-price hands like Loui Eriksson and Brandon Sutter and the return from injury of bottom six acquisitions Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Long-time blueliners Alex Edler and Chris Tanev are unusually healthy and meshing nicely with free agent acquisition Tyler Myers and young phenom Quinn Hughes. Goalie Jacob Markstrom keeps showing that he is the team’s rock. Only injuries to wingers Tyler Toffoli and Michael Ferkland have marred the team’s post-season success. It is all finally turning out as Jim Benning envisioned.

Thatcher Demko may be Canucks' cap casualty
Thatcher Demko may be Canucks' cap casualty
The problem, as Canucks fans well know, will be keeping this team together under a flat salary cap. Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli all need new contracts after the season, and as UFAs they will be expensive to retain. Their total on the books of $12.7 million this year will be more like $16-17 million next season, as each will be looking for a contract in the $5-6 million range. Then there are RFAs to re-sign at more modest increases, such as Jake Virtanen, Tyler Motte, Zack McEwen, Adam Gaudette and Tiny Stecher. Despite his spirited play this post-season, Stecher is looking like a cap casualty given the team’s depth on defence. Virtanen could be trade bait unless he pulls up his hockey socks, but it would be hard to give up on such a promising player. To keep him and the rest of the RFA forwards will add another few million to the payroll. That adds up to about $6 million that Benning will have to come up with to shoehorn his roster under the cap. 

Which brings us to The $6 million Man. No, not Colonel Steve Austin. Eriksson and his salary of that amount were expected to be dispatched with a compliance buyout coming out of the lockdown, but none was forthcoming from league office. As a result, the prevailing wisdom is that the Canucks will be able to afford only two of Markstrom, Tanev and Toffoli next year. The only other realistic alternative would be unloading the last two years of Eriksson’s contract on a team with salary cap space. That would be expensive, however, witness the Maple Laffs having to package a first-round pick with Patrick Marleau to unload his contract. But Eriksson has already been paid his bonuses, which means he is only owed $3 million a year in salary. That would make him more palatable to a cash-strapped but cap-rich team. He might be unloaded with a sweetener like Virtanen and his 30-goal potential tossed in.

A better solution might be to offer Thatcher Demko to a team willing to take on Eriksson and his albatross contract. It should be a team in the east so he doesn’t come back to haunt us too often. Demko is a budding NHL starter of similar pedigree to Cory Schneider, who netted the Nux the ninth-overall draft choice a few years ago, which became Bo Horvat. Demko was a high second-round pick in 2014 and has been ripening ever since, first in college and then in Utica  A choice between him and Markstrom will have to be made in the next year anyway as the Seattle expansion draft looms. The team also has Mikey DiPietro in Utica as a possible goalie of the future, so goal is a position of strength at the moment.  A veteran backup could easily be obtained to play 15-20 games a year to spell Markstrom.

Let’s face it, when it comes to the salary cap, something’s gotta give. It might have to be Demko.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Why the Canucks should not re-sign Jacob Markstrom

The salary cap era in professional sports has heightened the importance of drafting and developing prospects. Teams have limited room under the cap to pay UFA prices even to their own players who graduate from cost-controlled ELC and RFA contracts, much less to go shopping on the open market for veterans to fill areas of need. Unfortunately the Canucks have had to do the latter recently just to fill their bottom six forward positions. The grinders drafted by the previous administration – think Brendan Gaunce, Cole Cassels and Alexandre Mallet – were unable to fill those roles. GMJB had to go out and hire mercenaries at market prices such as Micheal Ferkland, Antoine Roussel and the much-reviled Jay Beagle. Who will fill the fourth-line pivot role in two years when Bagel comes off the books is still up in the air. With any luck it will be last year’s seventh-round pick Arvid Costmar or this year’s college free agent signing Marc Michaelis, who turns 25 this month. Otherwise it’s back to the open market. Hey, it looks like Nic Dowd will be available!

Jacob Markstrom is enjoying a career year as a pending UFA 
Hard choices must be made these days in making room for prospects. There is no sense in having a slew of defence prospects, as the Canucks currently do, if you are only going to block them by signing free agents such as Jamie Benn and Oscar Fantenberg. Even re-signing your own free agents at market prices, like Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher, doesn’t make much sense in this scenario. A home town discount can often be made room for, however. With Alex Edler and Tyler Myers making $6 million a year as UFAs, the bulk of the d-corps has to be on ELC or veteran minimum contracts. Quinn Hughes will soon enough be making big bucks, which makes it only more essential to find bargain basement blueline contributors. Luckily Utica regulars Olli Juolevi and Brogan Rafferty should be ready to step in next year. Jack Rathbone, who was recently signed out of college, and Jett Woo, who should also turn pro next season, would be next in line to fill vacancies.

After defence, the next strongest prospect position for the Canucks is on the wing, with Kole Lind developing in Utica for a second season and Nils Hoglander and Vasili Podkolzin having been drafted in the first two rounds last year. The Russian Bull, who evokes comparisons to Mark Messier, is still a year away due to his KHL contract. The pit bull Hoglander, however, is signed and awaiting a place to play next year, which given the circumstances may well be back in Europe. His playing history shows that the lanky Lind is always slow to assert himself at a higher level, but that he usually gains confidence and then dominates. If he can do that in the NHL, as he did in Kelowna and now Utica, he could be a middle six winger who could also play centre. This depth on the wing is why Josh Leivo will likely not be re-signed this off-season, nor Tanner Pearson next.

But the strongest position in the Canucks organization is in net, with two of the recent Top 10 NHL prospects. Thatcher Demko has graduated as a prospect, but he is a top young goalie. Mikey DiPietro had a great first season as a starter in Utica, and is also a top prospect. He and Demko could form an enviable tandem for a decade. This is what makes re-signing starter Jacob Markstrom a luxury, no matter how fantastic a season he is having. In a non-salary cap world, you would keep them all. Now youth must out. Letting their starting goalie walk, as hard as it would be, *might* allow just enough salary space to re-sign Tanev and Toffoli to team-friendly deals.

The second reason the Canucks should not re-sign Markstrom is that there is an expansion draft coming up next summer, and teams can only protect one goalie. Markstrom will want a no-movement clause if he re-signs, so the Canucks would then have to trade Demko in a market flooded with good young goalies. They could pay Seattle not to take him, but still the Canucks lose and still Demko plays second fiddle. The smartest play is letting Markstrom walk, hopefully all the way to the Eastern Conference since both the Oilers and Flames are apparently interested in signing him.

This would allow Toffoli to be re-signed and form a dynamic duo on RW with Boeser. The fortunes of the team would then be decided by prospect performance on defence and play in goal. Domingue might even be the veteran backup, as Demko should play most of the games to test his mettle as the starter. Mikey will stay in the minors, assuming they have a season, in order to keep sharp. Money is saved all 'round, which will please the fiscal conservatives on Twitter. Problem solved.

Marc Edge is the author of Red Line, Blue Line, Bottom Line

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Olli Juolevi is like having a first-round pick this year

Canucks fans bitch and moan that the team drafted defenceman Olli Juolevi fifth overall in 2016 instead of winger Matthew Tkachuk, who was taken with the very next pick by division rival Calgary and has been nothing less than a raging man monster for the Flames ever since. This is hardly fair to Juolevi, who was never supposed to be NHL-ready and has been set back by injuries for the past two years. It’s also not fair to Canucks GM Jim Benning, as the Juolevi pick made sense at the time and there’s simply no accounting for injuries. The Canucks have been cautious to a fault in managing Juolevi’s rehab, however, and with a full . . . well, actually now more than a full off-season of training, he should be fit to take the next step in the fall as part of the Canucks’ completed rebuild on defence.

Olli Juolevi
Luckily OJ is young enough to overcome these setbacks and go on to have a long and productive NHL career. Best of all, he’s still on his entry-level contract, which will pay him $863,333 next season if he plays in the NHL, while Tkachuk is already making $7 million a year. As such, Juolevi will help alleviate a slightly snug cap situation and make up for the first-round pick that was sent to Tampa Bay for J.T. Miller. I wouldn’t say that Juolevi has been like money in the bank for the Canucks. More like a savings bond you have to wait several years to cash in. But with any luck at all he is about to pay the Canucks back with interest for their patience. Despite the short-term setbacks, there is actually nothing to say that OJ can’t be just as good in the long term as Tkachuk, if not better. He will no doubt be less flashy, but he could end up being a very solid player indeed. 

Let’s deal first with the elephant in the room, which is that the Canucks blundered by not taking Tkachuk instead of Juolevi. That’s easy to say in hindsight, which is 20/20 even in 2020. You could say the same thing about Edmonton, which took Jesse Puljujarvi with the fourth pick, and even about Columbus, which took Pierre-Luc Dubois third. Foresight is instead what is required when drafting 17- and 18-year-olds, and there were good reasons for favoring Juolevi over Tkachuk. First, he was a higher-rated prospect by many scouts, although it was close and opinions were mixed. Second, Tkachuk had a couple of red flags that may have turned some teams off. Third, the skillset Juolevi offered (and still offers) may make him better suited for today’s faster NHL. Finally came the Canucks’ crying need to restock their defence and the higher value placed on the position by teams around the league recently. 

After Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine, most mock drafts that year had Puljujarvi going third to Columbus. The Canucks were widely rumored to be trading the fifth pick to Montreal for P.K. Subban if Dubois was still on the board. Edmonton probably felt fortunate to land Puljujarvi, who has instead been a massive bust. That left the Canucks with a choice of Juolevi, Tkachuk or Russian defenceman Mikhail Sergachev, who went ninth to Montreal. Tkachuk was seen as a one-way player by most scouts, and a step slow at that. While he was great from the face-off dots in and tough as nails, he was hardly a 200-foot player.

Juolevi, on the other hand, was seen as poised, smooth-skating and cerebral, with a toolbox to match his impressive skillset. He was tall but slender at only 170-odd pounds, and not a physical player like Tkachuk. He had steadily climbed the draft charts that year, however, with what turned out to be a draft season for the ages. He turned in a breakout performance at the World Junior Championships, in which he scored 9 points in 7 games as Finland won the gold medal at home. It ended with a Memorial Cup championship for a powerhouse London Knights team that also included Tkachuk and Mitch Marner, who had been the fourth pick the year before. McKeen’s well-respected draft guide rated Juolevi the best defensive defenceman in the draft, the fifth-best offensive defenceman, and saw him as having the best hockey sense of any available player that year. It predicted he would be picked fourth by Edmonton and, after some seasoning, would eventually turn into a top-pairing NHL d-man. His widely-quoted comparable was Nick Lidstrom.
“Juolevi is not going to jump out at you with his physical attributes,” said a scout. “He’s not going to put a guy through the boards or win a fastest skater contest. . . what he will do is make the smart defensive play 95 per cent of the time with his instincts, agility, poise and puck skills.”
The problems began the following season when Juolevi was held back in junior while his star teammates went pro. Canucks fans carped that his scoring plateaued that season, but it was actually amazing that he scored at the same rate because instead of three 100-point players, the team’s top scorer that year was Cliff Pu with 86 points. Plus a 16-year-old Evan Bouchard had joined London to add offence from the blueline, and he would go on to be a 10th overall pick by the Oilers. Still, Tkachuk was already playing for the Flames while Juolevi was still in junior, and Canucks fans are not known for their patience. Juolevi finally went pro in this D+2 season, but instead of in the AHL, where he was ineligible to play due to his age, it was back home in Finland. He racked up a respectable 19 points in 38 games as a teenager for a Turku team whose top two scorers were in their 40s. Perhaps most valuable that season was the tutelage Juolevi received from former Canucks great Sami Salo, a Turku assistant coach.

But just as OJ was about to attempt a jump to the NHL, the injuries began. He hurt his back in mid-2018 and required minor surgery that shelved him for two months. He nonetheless started the season playing big minutes in Utica, including on the power play, and led all rookie AHL d-men with 11 points in his first 14 games. Then he hurt his knee, which eventually required season-ending surgery and a long rehab. The Canucks managed his minutes closely last season, even recalling him to Vancouver for medical attention when some hip soreness flared up. Juolevi recorded 25 points in 45 games despite losing his power play spot to 24-year-old rookie phenom Brogan Rafferty. Instead he honed his special-teams skills on the penalty kill. It is likely he would have earned a late-season call-up to the Canucks had the season not ended abruptly. He should serve as a Black Ace in the pending post-season.   

Now packing about 200 pounds on his 6-3 frame, Juolevi has a good shot to finally make The Show next season, whenever it might begin. After all, his play for the Comets this year drew rave reviews. “During Juolevi’s first run of games, he logged the most blocks of any Comets penalty killer, and it wasn’t even close,” noted Cody Severtson on the erstwhile Daily Hive. “Juolevi was frequently the first player to sacrifice his body for the sake of the team. . . . this reckless abandon, coupled with the workload thrust upon him, might have contributed to the hip-soreness issues that would take him out of action for the following three weeks.” Juolevi’s scoring may have gone down after his return, noted Severtson, but that was only due to losing his spot on the power play. His scoring at even strength actually skyrocketed. “After picking up just a single point at 5v5 through his first 14 games played, he then went on to pick up an additional 11 across his next 34 starts.”
One of Juolevi’s primary assets that has contributed to his impressive points-production is his elite passing and vision. From the start of the 2019-20 season, Juolevi has displayed the same patient and crisp tape-to-tape passing that featured as one of the lone bright spots during his otherwise tragic 2018-19 campaign. Juolevi’s teammate awareness has led to some gorgeous goals for the Comets.
Getting offence from a shutdown defenceman is always an added bonus. “Juolevi’s ability to find teammates with a glance has allowed the Comets to be strong in transition,” added Severtson. “Along with his passing, Juolevi has a bomb of a shot and some of Juolevi’s best-looking offensive contributions have come from him moving in from the neutral zone to step into a one-timer.”

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why do the statistics nerds hate Jim Benning?

The sixth anniversary of Jim Benning’s hiring as Vancouver Canucks general manager, not to mention an almost total lack of norts spews these days, has prompted a recent spate of report cards. The grades are in, and they’re not good because they are mostly issued by a younger, impatient set that relies mostly on statistics. This is the school of thought popularized in baseball as Moneyball, which relies on “analytics” over the good old-fashioned eye test. These nerds probably never played hockey, certainly not at the highest level like Benning did. They have never worked in an NHL organization, much less three as Benning has. He worked his way to the top on merit, yet these kids who only know how to run statistics seem to think they are qualified to judge him. In doing so, however, they show how little they know about hockey. There’s an old saying – statistics are for losers. It was never more applicable.

Jay-D Burke was on with Halford and The Brough on Friday and gave him a D. Luckily I was just getting into the shower when the cigar-smoking poseur came on and I got out just as he was finishing up. It was perfect timing. I did listen to his rant later online, however, in order to write this reply after I heard he gave Benning a D. He admitted that Benning got the best player out of the 2017 and 2018 draft classes despite picking fifth and seventh, respectively, but somehow he couldn’t even give him a passing grade. Unbelievable. His hatred for Benning knows no depths.

His reasons for failing Benning included a supposed salary cap Armageddon; the fact he hasn’t accumulated prospects and picks through trades; that the Canucks are a playoff bubble team; and that he is supposedly batting .500 with top 10 picks. I will deal with the salary cap and trade complaints later, but suffice it to say that, as usual, Burke couldn’t be more wrong. Given the hand he was dealt, the fact the Canucks are now pushing for a playoff spot is much to Benning’s credit. They are a team on the rise that has improved its point total each of the past three seasons.

From a cupboard that was almost bare, Benning has stocked it with so many prime prospects that the Canucks can now afford to start trading some of them for players who can help the team win now, as they did by sending Tyler Madden to L.A. in the Tyler Toffoli deal. And claiming that Benning is batting .500 with top 10 picks means he struck out on Jake Virtanen, which could not be farther from the truth. (Of course, the jury is still out on Olli Juolevi, who has been injured.) Virtanen has improved steadily over the past few years and is becoming a force in the league. He is exactly the kind of guy you need on a winning team. Power forwards take longer to develop, and while later picks William Nylander and Nikolaj Ehlers entered the league with more flash and dash, Virtanen will end up providing something they can’t. Talent isn’t everything, as Canucks fans found out for years. Talent plus toughness is what you need for a winning team. This is what Benning realizes and the analytics nerds don’t.

A more reasoned and reasonable analysis was found in the Athletic, the online-only subscription service that hopes to get sports fans to buck up for quality content despite a sea of it being available for free on the Internets. Stinkin’ boy genius Harman Dayal at least admits that Benning was dealt a tough hand on inheriting the team in 2014. Its aging core had peaked with the seven-game 2011 Stanley Cup Finals defeat at the hands of Benning’s Bruins. Key forward Ryan Kesler demanded a trade and tied Benning’s hands by agreeing to go to only a few teams. Yet by adding Ryan Miller, Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and Derek Dorsett, among others, the Canucks were able to put together a 101-point season. They lost in the first round of the playoffs to lower-seed Calgary, however, largely due to poor play by Eddie Lack, who subbed in net for an injured Miller.

After that it was all downhill for two more seasons under coach Willie Desjardins as the Sedin twins declined and Benning desperately airlifted in players to support them, including Brandon Sutter, Sven Baertschi, Markus Granlund, Loui Erikkson, and Troy Stecher.  The team bottomed out with 69 points, their fewest in a full season since the millennium. Even then the losing didn’t end, as not one but two teams vaulted them in the draft lottery, leaving them to pick fifth instead of third. This is Jim Benning’s luck. Edmonton won the draft lottery four times in six years. The Canucks have never won it. This too, no doubt, is also Benning’s fault. That’s OK. He doesn’t need to win the draft lottery. He gets the best player anyway.

Dayal argues that Benning traded away picks and prospects during this period in an attempt to compete instead of hoarding them for the future. This is true, but there were good reasons for it that were out of Benning’s control. First was ownership’s desire to win and willingness to max out the salary cap and deal future assets to do so. Second was the continued presence of the Sedins, who refused to consider a trade that would have returned assets and allowed a full rebuild to begin. Mostly out of organizational respect for them, Benning did what he could to provide them a plausible supporting cast. 

Trading picks and prospects for lottery tickets like Baertschi, Granlund, Linden Vey, Andrey Pedan, Philip Larsen and Derrick Pouliot was ultimately a losing proposition, even if only one of those picks and prospects turns into a Rasmus Andersson. Signing Eriksson to a six-year, $36-million free agent contract was obviously the biggest blunder of Benning’s career, but who could have known that the wheels would fall off so quickly. Eriksson had always been a solid two-way player and the year before had potted 30 goals for the Bruins. Hopefully he will be erased soon with a compliance buyout.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Could the Canucks have something in Arvid Costmar?

It has long been said that great hockey teams are built down the middle, with strength at centre and in goal. If so, the Canucks are in good shape for the future with a trio of young pivots seemingly well-suited to their first- to third-line roles and a solid starter in net backed up by a budding young star and a top prospect getting starter’s minutes in the minors. Keeping the latter trio intact might be a task, what with Jacob Markstrom being a pending UFA and the Seattle expansion draft looming next year. But that’s a topic for another day. Today we look at who might slot in as the Canucks’ fourth-line centre in a few years.

Arvid Costmar
Rarely has the team had a one-two punch down the middle like it currently enjoys with Elias Petterson and Bo Horvat. Petterson is more than fulfilling the promise of his fifth-overall selection a few years ago, averaging almost a point a game over his first two seasons. Horvat is an ideal second-line centre, well able to do the heavy lifting of matching up against top lines and taking key faceoffs. His point production has also increased steadily since being drafted ninth overall in 2013. He broke the 60-point barrier last season with 61 and was on pace for 63 before this season washed out.

The real revelation down the middle, however, has been Adam Gaudette, who simply would not be denied the team’s third-line centre spot after being briefly sent to Utica to start the season. Gaudette has been like found money since being drafted in the fifth round out of the USHL five years ago. The scrawny teenager went on to stardom at Northeastern University in Boston and won the Hobey Baker trophy as college hockey’s best player two years ago. His NHL production broke a half-point per game this past year in only his second NHL season, with 33 of them in 59 games. The sky appears to be his limit.

Gaudette supplanted veteran Brent Sutter, who moved to the wing as his mentor before bouncing around the lineup. Sutter has been plagued by injuries since being signed as a big-ticket free agent the Canucks traded for him and then signed him to a big contract. He has failed to break a half-point per game in any of his five usually-abbreviated seasons in Vancouver. The Canucks finally get out from under his $4.375-million salary after next season. As a pending UFA, Sutter is likely to have a big year in 2020-21, so he could be trade bait at the deadline or retained by the Canucks if they are in position to make a playoff run of their own.

The only real question mark at centre for the foreseeable future is on the fourth line. Jay Beagle was given a four-year contract as a free agent to plug that hole two years ago. He was coming off back-to-back 30-point seasons (if you count playoffs) for the Washington Capitals and a Stanley Cup win in 2018. He has unfortunately become known among Canucks fans as Bagel for his lack of scoring, as he chipped in with only 8 points this season. He has two more years on his contract, after which he will turn 37. The Canucks will doubtless be looking to upgrade.

Which brings us to young Arvid Costmar, who has quietly floated to the top of the team’s centre prospects with a breakout season in Sweden. A seventh-round draft choice last year, Dobber Prospects now ranks him second among Canucks prospects at C with the same talent rating as Gaudette, who is hardly a prospect any more. Curly-haired Cam Robinson calls Costmar a “dynamic offensive pivot” and notes that he shredded Sweden’s SuperElit junior league in his D+1 season, posting an historically-impressive 1.72 points per game. That doubled his 0.86 PPG the previous season. Costmar might not be big, but he’s big enough, and he should get bigger, as he’s still only 18 after being one of the youngest players in last year’s draft.

The scouting report on Costmar is that he is offensively gifted and defensively tenacious, with a high compete level. So what's not to like? Well, apparently he's not a great skater, although there are varying opinions on whether his skating might just be good enough. He plays regularly for Sweden, and if his footspeed is good enough for international play, his game might translate well to the smaller NHL ice. Costmar has even centred new Canuck Nils Hoglander in tournaments.

Some have also cast aspersions on his hockey sense and commitment to the game, as Jay-D Burke did after Costmar was drafted with the third-last pick, 215th overall in last year’s entry draft. “My big concerns with Costmar this year centred around competitiveness,” Burke (no relation) told the Beyond Useless blog.
He’s not the fastest skater and Costmar makes life even harder for himself with his propensity to wander in and out of play without the puck on his stick. I'm not a fan of his puck skills, and his offensive instincts never really jumped out at me as being even above average.
The important thing to remember about Burke is to forget what he says. He's a noted Canucks hater, as he persistently proved on his blog Anti-Canucks Army. Better yet, take whatever Burke says and bank on the opposite. He has been panning Canucks picks for years, never more embarrassingly than on Gaudette, about whom he had to eat major crow a few years ago. He seems to know little about hockey and relies mostly on statistics, or “analytics,” as they’re called these days. I cancelled my free subscription to The Athletic in protest last year after his name showed up on its pages. Burke now hangs out his shingle at EP Rinkside, which is on my list to avoid as a result. Steve Kournianos, who offers his excellent annual draft guide for only $5 at The Draft Analyst, had a much better handle on Costmar a year ago, calling him “a tenacious two-way center who plays with an incredible compete level.”
A noticeable aspect about Costmar’s game is his effort. He is a relentless, physical forechecker with an active stick who continues to apply both front and back pressure. The fact that he logs a lot of ice time and excels throughout critical levels of responsibility pays tribute to his endurance, recovery time and reputation as a versatile forward.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Good Doctorate: Brackett playing dangerous game

It's time for another . . . OK, the first edition of Ask iMarc Anything.

Dear iMarc,

Judd Brackett gets an awful lot of positive press for a scout on an expiring contract. As a journalist, I'm suspicious.  I wonder, is he a long-time leaker who's now quietly receiving favours back from reporters to pump up his job market?
Harry From L.A.
Hey Harry,
The ongoing drama in Canucks management may have more to do with the lack of sports news for journalists to opine on these days than with any actual power struggle going on behind the scenes at GM . . . er, Rogers Place . . . er, Arena. Brackett's contract is up, and he is seeking more authority. The problem is that by leaking the story to a starving press in pursuit of leverage, he may instead be shooting himself in the foot. After all, who wants a known leaker working for them? This apparently all goes back a few years to when the Canucks had the fifth-overall pick. Chief scout Brackett wanted winger MatthewTkachuk of the London Knights, an unholy terror from the face-off dots in who was just as skilled with his fists as his stick. GM Jim Benning was in love with smooth-skating and cerebral defencemen Olli Juolevi, who also played for the OHL Knights but made his name quarterbacking that year's World Juniors champs from Finland. Benning was trying to both bolster the team's fading defence and also improve team speed. He has to keep the Big Picture in mind while Brackett's job was to focus on prospect traits. Benning no doubt took into account Tkachuk's lack of footspeed and the well-known fact that he was hardly a 200-foot player to over-rule his chief scout and select Juolevi. Of course, the choice turned out to be an unfortunate one, at least in the short term, as Juolevi has yet to play an NHL game due to injuries while Tkachuk has gone on to stardom. Apparently Benning has deferred to the canny Brackett ever since. Until, apparently, last year's draft, when Benning again fell in love with another Euro d-man, this time Philip Broberg of Sweden. It turned out to be a moot point when the large, swift skating Broberg went to Edmonto two picks before Vancouver announced. The Canucks got a fine prospect at #10 in Russian winger Vasili Podkolzin, but an organizational weakness on defence remains. Which points up the conflict between Benning and Brackett. A General Manager is responsible for the overall development of the team, from amateur and pro scouting to trades and free agent signings. Benning worked his way up to the top job and made his name in the position Brackett now holds. He has already won one power struggle with former team president Trevor Linden. He might look like Grandpa Munster and sound even worse, but you mis-underestimate Jim Benning at your own risk. Not only is he rightly known as The Smartest Man in Hockey, but he will carve you like a roast of beef. Judd Brackett will be packing his bags soon if he persists in taking him on.
Dear iMarc,

Why does it matter to the Canucks where the NHL holds the '20 playoffs if it will happen without fans?  
 Harry From L.A.
Hey Harry,
Believe it or not, home-ice advantage during the Stanley Cup playoffs is a myth. In recent years, it has actually been more like home-ice disadvantage. The trend began in 2012, when your beloved Kings won the Cup. Home teams were only 39-47 in the playoffs that season, or .453. Only four out of 16 playoff teams in 2012 had a winning record. St. Louis won the Cup despite having a losing record at home last season. The year before, home teams were 40-44, or .476. So it might not help the Canucks on the ice if Vancouver is a playoff hub this season, and it won't help them at the gate if the games are played without fans. But let's face it, getting the games would be a huge win for the community, from arena workers to hotels and restaurants. Whether or not the Canucks win the Cup or even make the playoffs, hosting the games might even be worth holding another riot over.