Donald Trump wasn’t the only person to have a terrifying interaction with the media on Thursday. Sure, Trump’s press conference is bigger news because it mentioned the looming threat of thermonuclear war and, as Trump said, “nuclear holocaust would be like no other,” but Jim Benning’s interview on TSN 1040 also raises questions about whether he is a competent leader.
The moment in the interview that left me flabbergasted comes at 8:38. Blake Price asks Benning, “Would you agree that it is still a seller’s market?”
There is a long awkward pause, then Benning says, “Well, the problem is there’s not a lot of teams selling right now.”
Yes, Jim. That is the definition of a seller’s market.
Jim Benning, the General Manager of an NHL franchise worth an estimated $700 million, apparently doesn’t know what a seller’s market is.
You have the supply, meager though it may be. The other teams in the NHL, the ones that are actually good and in the playoffs or at least in the hunt, they have the demand. With so few teams selling, there’s more demand than there is supply. It’s a seller’s market! This isn’t complicated!
It’s almost as if a team that was aware of this could take advantage of it and drive up the price of their tradeable assets. But that’s crazy talk: why should the General Manager of a hockey team be aware of the basic principle of supply and demand?
It’s a moment full of Curb Your Enthusiasm-level cringe, but it’s not the only moment in the interview that left me shaking my head.
According to Benning, the Canucks are going to be using every game possible to evaluate where they’re at:
“Including tonight’s game we’ve got five more games before the trade deadline, so I think we still have some time. We want to see where we’re at going into the deadline and then, like I’ve said all year, we’ll talk to players and find out what their thoughts are and go from there.”
First of all, that’s not what you’ve said all year. What you said earlier this season was that you wouldn’t trade players with no-trade clauses. Not even that you wouldn’t ask them to waive them or discuss it with the players and let them make the decision, but that you simply wouldn’t trade them.
Sure, you’ve backtracked on that since, but don’t pretend like you’ve been saying the same thing all year.
Second of all, do you really need those five games to evaluate where the Canucks are at? You've had 58 games to evaluate this team! Guess what? They're not very good! Even if the Canucks made up ground in the playoff race heading into the trade deadline, that wouldn't change the fact that they're not very good. The Canucks could win their next four games and it wouldn't change the fact that they're not very good.
Are the Canucks seriously going to make the choice of whether to be a seller at the trade deadline based on five games? Have they seen this team? They're not making the playoffs and even if they do by some miracle, they'll get slaughtered in the first round. This is readily apparent to even the most optimistic homer.
Next, Price asks a question about the expansion draft and whether there’s market out there for players that are eligible to be exposed, using Matt Bartkowski signing with the Calgary Flames as an example. Benning responded:
“We’re covered, all of our players have played the games to meet the criteria for the expansion process. We haven’t gone through it too much with the other teams. That’s an exercise that we’ll do at the end of the year going into the expansion draft, where I think you’ll see a lot of trades being made for those specific reasons. But we’re more concentrated on the trade deadline and just trying to figure out if there’s teams that might have a surplus of wingers and maybe we have some depth on defence that it’s a match, so we can improve our team here for the long term.”
First off, the Canucks concerns when it comes to the expansion draft shouldn’t have anything to do with being “covered.” It’s about who they’re going to have to expose. They’re not going to be able to protect Brandon Sutter, Jannik Hansen, Sven Baertschi, and Markus Granlund.
That speaks to the second issue: they have to be thinking about this now, heading into the trade deadline. It is inexcusable to wait until the end of the season to worry about the expansion draft, when that may be too late. If they determine that they need to trade Jannik Hansen or risk losing him to Las Vegas, they’ll likely get significantly better value in a trade now, as teams load up for the playoffs, than in the off-season.
But this has been a constant refrain of this management group: an inability to focus on more than one thing at a time.
Next, Benning was asked if he’d talked to any of the Canucks about the trade deadline. He hasn’t.
“We haven’t had any conversations with any of the players, my thinking on it is we want them to concentrate on these games, we’ve got three games coming up before the break that are important games for us, so I’m just letting them think about hockey and trying to do everything that we can to win these games and then we’ll see where we’re at. We have a five-day break and maybe during that time we’ll have conversations with certain players.”
Argh! The trade deadline is less than two weeks away and Benning is going to wait until the week before the deadline to talk his players about waiving no trade clauses or providing a list of teams.
Am I crazy to think that this is a conversation he could have initiated weeks ago? And that it’s less distracting to have that conversation and get everything out on the table than to have all this uncertainty until literally a week before the trade deadline? Would it not be easier to tell Hansen, for instance, that they’re going to ask him for a list of eight teams, whether or not a trade actually occurs?
The interview eventually gets on safer ground for Benning: scouting. Benning went to Europe on a scouting trip and as soon as he starts talking about prospects he immediately sounds more confident and self-assured. It’s almost like he should be a scout or possibly in charge of scouting instead of the GM.