Ben Kuzma: NHL draft before end of season causes Canuck headaches

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“It’s a black hole when you don’t make the playoffs and have to fight like hell to go back and it changes culture again to be (a playoff team). “

No draft pick in the first round. No selection in the second round.

It’s an intimidating dilemma for any NHL team and one that is unfolding for Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning.

Amid health care challenges and planning complexities caused by the coronavirus pandemic that keeps economy and society from returning to a semblance of normalcy, the draft 2020 NHL is caught in the crosshairs of controversy.

During a conference call by the board of governors on Monday afternoon, there was no confirmation when a virtual draft will take place next month to replace the canceled event scheduled for Montreal on June 26 and 27. The only consensus is that the league needs a month to organize the unusual project.

When it comes to resolving some of the confusion regarding the conditional wording for drafting or how the rest of the season will go, decisions will have to be made about money and meaning, and COVID-19 constraints.

“We have to be ready to react in any direction we need to go,” said Benning. “In society, and for us in hockey, until we understand this problem (COVID-19), it will not be perfect. Not everyone will be happy and I don’t really know what they (the NHL) are going to offer.

“Certain situations will arise that we have never seen before. We haven’t finished the regular season, so there are no trades because the lists are frozen. It will be different. I’m not going to say if it’s going to be good or bad. “

Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman tilts for the latter. He thinks there are more questions than answers about the draft and the playoffs, and that there is an urgent need to prepare for the draft in early June, as opposed to the end of the season.

For the Canucks, he’s not parting from a 2020 first-round conditional pick in the commercial acquisition of J.T. Miller, that’s a problem. He recovers a second round in the Tyler Toffoli trade.

Under normal circumstances, the Canucks could pack a player and a prospect or a choice to recover the selection. But things are far from normal. The lists were usually frozen after the February 24 deadline and were frozen on March 16 when COVID-19 became a global pandemic.

“It’s going to be difficult now – it’s just different this year,” added Benning. “We should (normally) trade someone in our group or someone we passed before the draft. We have lost this capacity. Things are not going to be as smooth as we would like and we just have to understand it and keep going. “

And even if the league has made a unique alignment adjustment – allowing exchanges in the 2020 draft that would allow players to be eligible for the playoffs – who will separate from an alignment player who could help the post-season surge? Nobody.

Again, what if he’s not a lineup player? How about a perspective and a choice to solve Toffoli’s task? Would the league like this?

“There are things they are still trying to understand,” said Benning.

As for Miller, there was nothing to consider.

Vancouver Canucks Tyler Toffoli (center) celebrates a goal with J.T. Miller and Chris Tanev against the New York Islanders in March.

Arlen Redekop /

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The playoff goal justified entering a conditional first round (2020 or ’21) and a third round pick in 2019 for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last draft at Rogers Arena.

Miller leads the club scoring a 72-point career record (27-45) in 69 games and placing 17th in the NHL. He has taken on a leadership role and is one of the main reasons the franchise will make its first appearance after the season in five years.

Based on a percentage of points or a standings reduced to 68 games due to time constraints with extended editions of COVID-19 at home, the Canucks are in the playoffs in either format. That should mean the New Jersey Devils will get the Canucks’ first round pick in 2020, unless there is a new conditional choice language that we haven’t heard of yet.

“I love the depth of our prospect pool and at one point we had to take the next step to become a playoff team,” said Benning. “It’s a black hole when you don’t make the playoffs for three or four years and you have to fight like hell to go back and it changes the culture to be (in the playoffs) again.

“And this is not without sacrifices. Sure, I would love to have a choice in the first and second rounds this year, but that will not happen and we will have to try to find players in the mid-rounds who will be NHL players for us. “

It is also the art of the trade that changes a normal draft into a second commercial deadline.

When the GMs work on the phones or the floor, it is usually the culmination of considerable conversations that take place well before the draft week. Sometimes he tries to find the right return when the perfect trading storm begins to build.

Miller had just finished a 47-point season in which he went up and down a deep line of Lightning and was often a third line staple with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. Although he only scored 13 goals in 75 games, he set a career high at the time for power play points (20), while his assists (34) also tied a high in career and his points (74) were the second highest in his career.

However, with the restricted free agent center of 93 points, Brayden Point would have to pocket a rich extension on a team already having sub – he would sign for three years at 20.25 million US dollars – there was no place for Miller’s contract which had four more seasons at an annual ceiling of 5.25 million US dollars reached.

For the Bolts, it was a question of money, as they finished the season only $ 1.7 million below the ceiling. For Miller, it was an incentive.

“The project is used for several purposes,” said Benning. “You are trying to add a player who can help you win on the road. And struggling teams are trying to withdraw money because they won’t be able to keep everyone together. They must resume the choices in this year’s project or another project.

“It takes weeks and weeks of preparation for the trade to materialize at the time of the draft.”

The Canucks predicted that the first conditional round made in 2020 would be between 16 and 20 picks.

“But if Miller helps us and we go to the next level and are a playoff team, the choice is going to be 18th and that kind of set-up,” said Benning of the business logic. “This group of players would probably need a year or two in junior and a year in AHL and would be three or four years away from helping us win.

“That’s why we made the deal. In retrospect, it’s justified to be a playoff team and the player you have. “

In the 2015 draft, the Canucks had no second and third round choices.

They dropped the 53rd selection from the previous year’s general standings when Sven Baertschi’s trade with Calgary. The Flames have selected Swedish defender Rasmus Andersson, who has been a regular player for the past two seasons. And defender Oliver Kylington, another player on the Flames who has played 48 games this season and was on the Canucks’ radar, did not make it to the 60th overall.

The Canucks abandoned their third-round pick in 2015 in Anaheim in the multiplayer, multiple-choice swap that sent Ryan Kesler to the Ducks for Nick Bonino and Lucas Sbisa in 2014.

The Canucks were looking to rejuvenate in the back and wanted to move Kevin Bieksa to San Jose for a second round. But the Sharks backed away from the pick and Bieksa was transferred to Anaheim at the end of the month for a second round selection in 2016. He was handed over to the Buffalo Sabers via a first trade with the Florida Panthers .

There was also the 2015 priority plan to move goalkeeper Eddie Lack, who needed a new deal, and choosing to have goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom with Ryan Miller was more difficult than moving Lack. The Canucks finally got a third round in 2015 (Guillaume Brisebois) and a seventh in 2016 (Brett McKenzie) for the cap.

A statue of Pat Quinn is seen as people walk in the square outside Rogers Arena, home of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks in Vancouver on Thursday, March 12, 2020.

DARRYL DYCK /

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canucks Submit Host Site Offer

Vancouver has made an offer to host the Pacific Division when the season resumes.

Edmonton is considered the preferred site. The team meets the key criteria of having a training center attached to or near the arena, housing at least four NHL standards changing rooms at Rogers Place, having a new JW Marriott hotel of 400 rooms connected by a tunnel to the arena and have several hotels nearby to alleviate concerns related to COVID-19.

Vancouver can counter with Rogers Arena, the Pacific Coliseum, the University of British Columbia, Abbotsford and Langley as skating rinks for games and training, and the city has a host of first-class hotels downtown. Benning had discussions with NHL hockey director Colin Campbell on the viability of Vancouver as a host site.

With regard to concerns related to COVID-19, Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health worker, offered the following on the ground to journalists:

“There are ways to do it safely. I think it’s an interesting idea. I think we could consider playing games, maybe in British Columbia. Hockey would be one that we could certainly look at.

“There would be parameters that we talked about. I would not see an audience (arena) for example, but we could broadcast the matches. And there are ways for players to take precautions to ensure physical distance.

“I absolutely think that is the kind of thing we need to think about and how we can do it safely this summer.”

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