Consider us surprised that, at this point in the campaign, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning is still without a contract for next year.
That would seem to indicate that the Canucks don’t intend to bring Benning back. In fact, it would be a little strange at this point if Vancouver did announce that his contract was renewed for next season.
Maybe the team is seeing how he fares at the trade deadline, but that seems a tad unlikely. It appears as if the club has made their minds up on Benning or, at the very least, they want to see what’s out there.
Who could be out there? Ken Holland, the current Detroit Red Wings GM.
Holland is in the last year of his contract as well, and though the Vernon, B.C. native has had a successful front office career, it appears as if the Red Wings will move on from their GM of 21 years.
And it’s hard to fault them.
Yes, Holland has three Stanley Cups to his name as GM of the Red Wings, but the last of those came 10 years ago. The NHL was a completely different place then, as it was still in the wake of the salary cap. Teams hadn’t yet been held victim to its restrictions.
Ten years later, however, we have a complete picture of how Holland has managed the salary cap. The verdict? Terribly.
Take a look at the Red Wings current salary cap situation, and keep in mind that Detroit has less than a million dollars left under the $75 million cap. And that’s with the long-term injury relief provided by Johan Franzen and Luke Glendening. (That’s more than $4 million off the books.)
This season, the Red Wings are 19-20-7, good for 12th place in the Eastern Conference. That’s better than the team performed last year, but that’s actually a bad thing given that Detroit is now poised to flounder in that middle ground in which they aren’t accumulating high draft picks or making the playoffs.
What’s even scarier is when you look at which players are helping the Red Wings the most. The top four scorers on the team, in order: Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg, Anthony Mantha, and Mike Green.
That Larkin and Mantha are there is great for the team’s scouts, as they were both mid-first-round finds that appear to have worked out. However, from a contract perspective, this is not ideal for the Wings.
Both players are still on their entry-level contracts, which both expire this year. So, both are making less than a million dollars against the salary cap. And yes, that means a ton of trouble coming down the pipe for Detroit.
Neither player has broken the bank on a contract yet, and both will want to. Larkin has definitely earned around the neighbourhood of $5 million (at the very least), as he will play in his second All-Star game at the end of the month. It’s very possible it takes more than $6 million to lock him up long term.
Then there’s Mantha, a power forward having an excellent season at the ripe age of 23. He’ll want at least $4.5 million and that’s probably understating it. Hilariously, the only big-money contracts the Wings have coming off the books this year are former “goalie of the future” Petr Mrazek ($4 million) and their best defenceman in Mike Green ($6 million).
Green will surely walk, leaving the team with ostensibly enough money to sign the two young forwards (but it’ll be tight), and Zetterberg has already said he’ll leave the year after next, when he’s being paid far less than his cap hit. (But unless the Wings and the forward fake some sort of injury, they’ll be hit with cap penalties.)
This is decent news for the team’s salary, but terrible news for the team’s success. Both players are currently in the team’s four best players and they’re both going to be moving on in the next year or so. The Wings don’t have any good defencemen other than Green, as their defensive corps is riddled with bad signings.
Just last summer they inked Trevor Daley, who turned 34 in October and had 19 points in 56 games last year for the best team in the league, to a three-year, $3.16 million deal that includes a no-trade clause (!!!). He has seven points in 43 games so far this year while averaging the second-highest ice time on the team.
(We’re not exactly members of the Jim Benning fan club, but can you imagine if Benning made a move like that? He got Michael Del Zotto—18 points in 51 games last year—who’s 27, for two years at $3 million per and many in the media still came after him. Granted, Del Zotto hasn’t been good this year, but he’s not the albatross Daley is, and he doesn’t have an absurd no-trade clause.)
Daley only averages copious amounts of ice time because the team has absolutely no high-end defenders other than Green. Danny Dekeyser has been a disaster, and there’s no justifying the six-year, $30 million contract Holland gave him at the start of the 2016-17 season. Niklas Kronwall is a shell of his former self, and has another year left at $4.75 million. Jonathan Ericsson is apparently still in the league, and making $4.25 million until 2019-20.
Then there’s the forwards. Frans Nielsen might have already been the worst signing of the last few years when the Red Wings made it in the summer of 2016. It’s gotten worse. Currently, he’s turning 34 in April and will make $5.25 million a year until 2021-22. With a no-movement clause. He has 15 points in 46 games this year.
Tomas Tatar has 20 points in 46 games and is making over $5 million for the next three years after this one. Gustav Nyquist hasn’t panned out. Darren Helm is making $3.85 million until 2020-21 for doing… something? He doesn’t score, or have positive underlying numbers. Justin Abdelkader is being paid $4.25 million for 2022-23 with a no-trade clause that is hard to wrap one’s head around, although there’s no possible way anyone takes him on, he’s never had 45 points in a season.
Then there’s Andreas Athanasiou, who is a good player having a decent season for the Wings. He’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year because Holland tried to lowball him since he had no money to hand out. It resulted in a holdout that cost the young forward a few games. Well, he’s going to come calling at the end of the year, along with Larkin and Mantha, and he deserves more than the $1.38 million he was basically forced to take. You can bet he and his agent are gearing up to play hardball.
There are some prominent Vancouver sports media voices who are imploring the Canucks to hire Holland. They are focusing on the wrong aspects, namely the fact that the Red Wings unearthed Pavel Datsyuk and Zetterberg in the later rounds of the NHL draft.
While those were unquestionably good finds that changed the course of the entire league, it’s time to look at the bigger picture and what’s happened since those two players (along with former defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom) started slowly declining.
Yes, he filled the organization with strong people like assistant GMs Jim Nill and Steve Yzerman who have gone on to success with other organizations, and he’s clearly been able to hire some good scouts who have found some gems in the draft.
But when it comes to his own evaluation of talent and managing the salary cap, Holland has been a disaster for a few years now.
There are some that will campaign for him being hired in some “overlord” capacity, the way Lou Lamoriello was brought on by the Leafs. The problem is that the Canucks are already ostensibly employing Trevor Linden in that role. Should they bring on Holland to crowd the front office, just so they have his “expertise” in dealing with the league’s other GMs? Everything we’ve seen in the last several years suggests that would be a disastrous decision.
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