Jared McCann has been involved in two of the most important trades in recent Vancouver history. Certainly the trades have been the two largest transactions of the Jim Benning era in Vancouver.
Both have garnered some positives for the Canucks, but the end result is one that doesn’t portray Benning in a very good light.
It starts with Ryan Kesler. The disgruntled former star wanted out of Vancouver badly and used his no-trade clause to essentially demand a deal to the Anaheim Ducks.
That’s a tough spot for any general manager, and even tougher for Benning, who was freshly anointed in the top job at the time.
Benning picked up a first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft (2014), as well as a couple of youngish players in Nick Bonino and Luca Sbisa.
Getting rid of Kesler and not signing him to his next contract (which has since become an albatross) would prove to be the biggest positive for the Canucks.
None of the assets they got in return for Kesler would stay with the Canucks for very long. One, Bonino, was the subject of another routinely criticized Benning trade, which brought Brandon Sutter into the Canucks’ fold.
And Sbisa was quickly turned into the Canucks’ main whipping boy for a few seasons before he was claimed by the expansion Vegas Golden Knights.
But the first-round pick (No. 24 overall) was used to select McCann, a centre from the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound of the OHL
It only took one season of McCann in a Canucks uniform for Benning to decide he’d seen enough. The Stratford, Ontario native was jettisoned in a package that brought Erik Gudbranson to the Canucks. (Joining McCann in the deal was a second-round pick that became Rasmus Asplund, who looks like he might be a player.)
And while McCann was traded again last season from the Florida Panthers over to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the young centre started to come into his own as the third-line pivot behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In 32 games with the Pens last year, McCann put up 17 points. And, in two games this season, he has two goals and an assist.
Gudbranson, as we all know quite well at this point, didn’t work out in Vancouver (understatement, yes), and is also in Pittsburgh. He was traded for Tanner Pearson, who has played quite well as a Canuck thus far. So maybe Benning and co. are fine and dandy with the way the deals played out.
But here’s betting that stance become particularly untenable as soon as this season.
Solid two-way centres who can actually contribute at both ends of the rink are a premium in the NHL. Getting them cheap is an added bonus. McCann currently makes $1.2 million a year against the cap. Though one can expect that will skyrocket this offseason when his deal runs out, especially if he keeps his current pace.
We’re not sure what compelled both the Canucks and the Florida Panthers to give away McCann for players that there was more than enough evidence proving their ineffectiveness. (In the Penguins’ case, it was a past-his-prime Derrick Brassard and a never-good Riley Sheahan.)
McCann has been used primarily in defensive situations in Pittsburgh and has still pulled together decent underlying numbers. And to the naked eye, he’s about as effective a third-line centre as they come, with the potential for much more.
At 23 years old, there is still room for McCann to improve. Ask any Canucks fan if they’d want him or a 27-year-old Canucks Pearson, and only the most delusional would say the latter.
Seriously, how do you trade a first-round pick after one season for a veteran stay-at-home defenceman? (We know, this happened a long time ago, but still—it’s infuriating.) It would also be nice for Benning to admit a mistake just once. It’s not like there’s been any shortage of them.
That question is more rhetorical, since we all know the answer is "outdated hockey think about being 'good in the room.'"
So it’ll be hard for Canucks fans to not follow McCann’s career with a lingering sense of what could have been.
Going down the rabbit hole—maybe they wouldn’t have both traded for Sutter or signed Jay Beagle if they had a solid third-line centre already—is even more disheartening.
As it is, the Canucks have a plethora of bottom-six problems, many of which could be solved by a productive, young third-line centre. The Canucks are clearly hoping Adam Gaudette becomes that, and he very well could. He only has five goals to his name so far in the NHL, while McCann has 40.
But still, Gaudette is young. After all, he just turned… 23.
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