With the Canucks formally kicking off their 2015-16 campaign Wednesday night, it's time to relegate the preseason to the annals of the past. That's fine. But before we do, we need to decide who won.
I'm not talking about the games. We already know who won the games. (Except for the games that ended with one team in the lead, and then the other team won the game somehow in 3-on-3 overtime.) I'm talking about microvictories, the small W's that we humans rack up in social situations. Like when you're the best-dressed dude at a party, thanks, in large part, to your fashionable Fluevog boots. Sure, it wasn't a competition, and most people weren't playing. But you still won. Way to go, you.
To that end, there were several winners at Canucks' training camp, and before we move on to more meaningful competitions, we would like to acknowledge one, in particular: Jim “The Hammer” Benning.
This is no small victory for Benning. It's a Cinderella story. He wasn't supposed to win training camp. After all, he definitely didn't win the offseason. That Brandon Sutter trade looked iffy then, and it looks even iffier now that Sutter somehow went from the number two centre to the number five centre (first line winger, they're calling it) without playing a single regular-season game.
The Zack Kassian trade, on the other hand...
People were furious when Benning sent Kassian to Montreal, and even more upset when they saw the return: Brandon Prust -- basically the player Kassian will become in seven years if he doesn't reach his potential. (It was a pretty fatalistic move by Benning, come to think of it.) That didn't seem like much value added, and when we learned that Benning had also gifted the Canadiens a draft pick, the outrage picked up.
But Kassian's recent car accident and subsequent, second trip to rehab – not to mention the revelation that his first trip happened during his time as a Canuck -- serves to explain why Benning had to bundle him up with a pick and take salary back. Kassian's reputation, which was worse than the public even knew, preceded him.
It vindicates Benning somewhat. He looked like a chump this summer. Less so now. (For Kassian's sake, however, I hope he finds a way to turn this around, get the help he needs, settle himself, rediscover his game, and make Benning and everyone else who doubted him look like a chump once more.)
Benning's win goes beyond that, though. One criticism of the trade was that it ran counter to Benning's stated goal of getting younger. (Younger? You just traded a young guy for an old guy. Explain yourself.) But then training camp got underway, and the Canucks wound up keeping two teenagers, something that hasn't happened in two decades.
And, to cement the win for Benning, he drafted both youngsters just last year, giving credence to the "Jim Benning: Master Scout" image we've been sold since he arrived.
Criticize his other moves all you want. It makes no difference. Benning is a wartime GM. No one expects him to do everything perfectly – we just expect him to guide us through this time of crisis, as the Canucks try to rebuild fast enough to give the Sedins one more chance at glory. And when you're churning out blue-chip prospects at a rate no one's ever seen in this city before, you can mismanage all the assets you want – Hell, you can bleed young, right-handed blueliners, for instance – and still be considered a runaway success.