It's a pretty slow time of the year for non-playoff teams. How slow? Two days ago, we changed our Twitter avatar to a giant bee. Nothing else was going on.
But then something went on. Or, more accurately, Jim Benning went off, trading 19-year-old centre Jared McCann, along with the Canucks' second and fourth-round picks in the 2016 draft to the Florida Panthers, in exchange for 24-year-old blueliner Erik Gudbranson, and Florida's fifth-round pick in the same draft.
So when I say Benning went off, you might be tempted to add "the deep end" or "his rocker", and that's a fair first response to watching the Canucks ship out three assets (one of which was a dude who made the Canucks as a teenager) for the fourth defenceman on the Florida Panthers' depth chart.
Although if this move makes Benning a crazy person, then it's safe to say he's been a crazy person all along, because he's been making moves exactly like this since he arrived, turning kids into young adults overnight. Jim "Prom Night" Benning, they'll call him.
(He certainly doesn't waste time, unless by waste, you mean defeat. After all, time wasn't going to turn McCann into a twenty-something for five more days.)
McCann-for-Gubranson reminds of Forsling-for-Clendening, Jensen-for-Etem, and Shinkaruk-for-Granlund. In each case, the Canucks lopped several years off the development process, getting a player they could use right away, which would be ideal if those several years weren't typically the years when young prospects find an extra gear, and even more ideal if the prospects Vancouver acquired had, y'know, done that. (And if the Canucks hadn't thrown in extra assets for giggles, but I digress.)
Basically, it leaves fans to convince themselves the young prospects they'd imagined blossoming into homegrown superstars were never actually going to do that, which is a safer bet than not most of the time, but runs so contrary to fan psychology that both Canucks' and Panthers' fans are furious at Wednesday night's trade.
Many Panthers boosters saw Gudbranson as a future captain, and there's your silver lining: Florida fans are equally upset, and that includes the fans within the Panthers' locker room, like Willie Mitchell. Here's his reaction to the deal:
🙈 WTF— Willie Mitchell (@Willie_Mitch33) May 26, 2016
The "see no evil" monkey in response to something your management did? That's cold, Willie. Real eggplant move.
Panthers' fans are angry for many of the same reasons, too. McCann is nowhere near his ceiling yet, but neither is Gudbranson. At 24, he's still a few years away what many consider to be a defensive prospect's peak.
Benning certainly seems to think Gubranson is on the come-up.
“I’ve been following him (Gudbranson) for a long time," he told Ben Kuzma. "When we picked (Tyler) Seguin in Boston second overall in 2010 after Taylor Hall went first, Gudbranson went third and we really dug in that year and got to know him really well. He’s a high-character kid and in this last year, we saw signs of him coming into his own."
Two things, Prom Night: 1) Never bring up Tyler Seguin if you want people to trust your judgment. 2) He'd damn well better be coming into his own, because if Gudbranson spends the next few years hanging around the 4/5 spot in Vancouver's depth chart, while McCann rises steadily up Florida's, your fanbase will revolt. (We won't riot, though. These fans only riot when the GM has done a very good job.)
In Gudbrandon's case, coming into his own might involve putting up some points. From Dimitri Filipovic at Sportsnet:
A major part of the rationale for the move appears to be that the Canucks were desperate to bolster their blueline and help generate some more offence from the back-end in an attempt to keep up with the Western Conference’s elite. That argument certainly carries some water when you realize that only the Oilers, Devils, and Blue Jackets compiled fewer points from their defencemen this season:
But if this trade was made to help boost offence from the back end, then it’s truly baffling. Gudbranson has averaged roughly 11 points per 82 games played over the five years he’s been in the NHL. Trading for a player who struggles to move the puck and hoping it helps generate some more offence is a head-scratcher.
Alarming. Also alarming: the video packaged with that post, which sees Nick Kypreos and Elliotte Friedman give wildly different takes on the deal. Friedman likes it for Florida; Kypreos likes it for Vancouver. That doesn't exactly fill me with confidence.
That said, there are reasons to like this move. First of all, McCann was probably headed for the AHL this season, and with the Canucks likely to add a superior centre prospect at the draft, one had to wonder if they'd ever be able to make room for him to come back up. So as much as this move is a bit of a head-scratcher on the surface, there's some sense to it: the Canucks dealt from a position of strength and addressed a position of weakness, addressing a blueline that killed them last year by adding a young, top-four defenceman with upside -- one who conveniently plays the side of the ice opposite Ben Hutton.
Guys like that are hard to come by, and they tend to come at a hefty price, as Benning himself said, again to Ben Kuzma:
“It kind of came together rather quickly. We knew the price to acquire a top-four defenceman was going to be high and giving up McCann was a tough decision. But I just felt like we needed to add a top-four-guy to our group because the market is just so tough.”
The market is tough. Consider Vancouver's troubles trading a top-four defenceman away at the draft. (That'd be Dan Hamhuis, if you forgot, although if you didn't, you can probably forget him now, since Gudbranson's arrival likely means his departure.) Prices are high, there are more buyers than sellers -- it can be hard to get what you want. But by making this move quickly while other GMs were watching the presentation of the Campbell Bowl, the Canucks might have been able to avoid the insanity that was sure to surround a piece like Gudbranson in, say, June.
These moves tend to reek of impatience, but in this case, the haste may turn out to be prudent.
And in the short-term, it should benefit the Canucks, where a 30-year-old Alex Edler is suddenly the elder statesman of a top-four that has everything one would want: size, speed, youth, and a high degree of puckmovery. Edler and Chris Tanev are a strong duo, and Gudbranson could be a nice completement to Hutton on a second pairing. With a little chemistry, both players might even find a new gear next year, which would definitely help this trade go down a little easier.
It would also help if Jared McCann never amounts to anything. Not that we'd wish that on him. Just saying, it would help.