TSN 1040 Canucks reporter Jeff Paterson caught up with Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning at the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo ahead of what will surely be a busy month of June with the NHL Draft at Rogers Arena and beyond that run-up to free agency starting on July 1.
Q: Jim, let’s just start with the news of the day that you are moving your development camp up a week and holding it right after the draft this year instead of in the first week of July. Is that simply because the draft is in Vancouver and all of your staff and scouts will already be in town?
A: We’ve talked about it in the past. Lots of teams do it that week right after the draft. This is a year we decided to do that. That was the reasoning more than anything else.
Q: You’ll have a lot on your plate that week with development camp and the ability to court free agents
A: It will be fun to get out and watch the kids we’ve drafted and our young prospects and I’ll be available to talk to free agents. We’ll be bringing some guys in, I’d imagine. It’s going to be a busy week, but it should be a fun week.
Q: What about the next month or so. It’s June 1st on Saturday and three weeks to the draft. Beyond that, it’s free agency. It’s a great time of year for fans. Is this an enjoyable time for a manager knowing that these next four weeks can really give you a sense of what your hockey club is going to look like next season?
A: First of all, we’re really excited to have the draft in Vancouver. It’s going to be a fun time for our fans and the city. This has been a good week so far talking to other general managers and to agents. I think there will be lots of talk between now and the draft. Picking at 10, I feel we’re going to get a really good player, but we’re also going to look to all of our options, too. We want to do what we can to improve our team, but if we hold on to the 10th pick I think we’re going to get a really good player. It’s a fun time of the year. This is when a lot of things get done and it kind of shapes what your team is going to look like for next year.
Q: You’ve assembled a core that has people excited. But obviously, it takes more than just a handful of players to get you where you want to go as a hockey club. Do you anticipate significant roster turnover for next season or how different do you anticipate your roster looking when you get to training camp in September?
A: I think it’s too early to tell right now. I can answer that question better as we get through these next three to four weeks. With the playoffs still going on, there hasn’t been a lot of talk between teams but I expect that to change over the next few weeks. We’re excited about our young players. If there are things that we can to do continue to support them and their development and improve our quality of players, then we’re going to look to do that. I’m going to keep all my options open. If we can do some things to continue to get better and take that next step, then that’s what we want to do.
Q: You’re at the combine now. As a group, what is the process once you leave Buffalo in terms of taking the information you gain this week and finalizing your draft list?
A: I think the combine is an opportunity to spend some time with the kids and to get to know them a little better. Then we take off on Friday and our strength and conditioning coaches come in over the week and they watch the physical testing and we’ll get a report from them mid-to-end of next week. This is all gathering information for us to get to know the players as well as we can going into the draft. We’ll continue to talk about our list. There will be changes. There are always changes after we find out more information about players. I guess our list isn’t officially for sure finished until that week before the draft when we meet again and tighten things up.
Q: What kind of hours do you keep at the combine and over the course of the week, now many prospects will you and the scouts meet with face to face?
A: We start at nine and finish at four each day. We meet with 15 to 18 guys a day and I think we’ve got 70 total.
Q: I know you held organizational scouting meetings prior to the combine. The team released a short video that took us inside that meeting room. How would you characterize what went on behind closed doors this year? Are you all on the same page as a scouting staff or are their dissenting views in those discussions?
A: We’re in a good place. Those are our amateur meetings. We’re talking about trying to figure out the players. There is always discussion on each player and on some players there is heated discussion. We’re not always going to get along on all the players. But as a group, we have a tight group. Those guys know the types of players I want to draft. We work together to try to figure out which guy we want to take with that first pick. We work toward creating a good environment that will allow us to draft good players and be successful for a long time.
Q: Have there been any off-season changes on your staff whether in coaching, management, scouting or hockey ops?
A: No. No changes.
Q: You made it clear at the year-end media availability that you want a contract extension. Has there been any progress made on that front?
A: I’m not going to comment on that right now. If something happens, that’s when it will come out.
Q: Why doesn’t Alex Edler have a contract extension yet?
A: I don’t comment contract negotiations. That’s just my philosophy. But we’re trying to work through it to get to a place where Alex feels good about what the new deal looks like and it makes sense for us. We’ll continue to talk to his agent and talk to Alex and hopefully we can find some common ground and get a deal done.
Q: Are you confident you’ll get something done?
A: I’m not going to comment on the negotiation. I know his side is working hard and we’re working hard from our side and as soon as we have any good news to announce, you’ll be the first to know. But we’re continuing to work on it.
Q: The organization definitely wants Edler back?
A: Yeah, we want him back. I thought he had a good season for us last year. He’s important to our young players and an important player in our room. These things don’t happen overnight, so we’re going to continue work with his group and hopefully get something figured out.
Q: Can Edler, at 33, and coming off a couple of significant injuries the past few seasons still be the lead guy on your blueline?
A: He had a real good season for us last year. My goal is to improve our defence so we don’t have to rely on him as much as we have in the past. We want him to continue to be part of our group. But if I can make our group better and if we can stay healthy on the back end and we don’t have to rely on Edler and [Chris] Tanev to play crazy minutes for us, then it gives them a break and hopefully helps them with not getting injured, too. That’s my intention this summer is to make the back end better, so I’m working toward that and we’ll see what happens in these next three or four weeks.
Q: You’ve talked about changes on defence. There are reports that the club is moving on from Derrick Pouliot (and also Brendan Gaunce). Are you able to confirm that those players will not be back?
A: I don’t know where the reports have come from. I’m not going to confirm that. They’re still our players until the end of June and we own their rights. So at this point I’m not going to comment on that.
Q: I know as an organization you review each season and look for all areas in which you feel you can improve. I don’t think the schedule did you any favours last season with three separate six-game road trips and 17 of your first 26 games on the road. Did you learn anything from last year’s schedule that can and will be addressed whenever the new schedule is released?
A: What happened last season was that Edmonton started the season in Sweden so other teams didn’t want to do their West Coast swings until the Oilers got back home. So we started with an early road trip and then we also had the World Juniors in Vancouver and were forced out of our rink for close to two weeks. The league does the schedule and we can go back to them and ask to change a date here or a date there, but it’s a big master schedule they do. The way it happened we ended up playing 26 of our 41 road games by January 5th. By not having the World Juniors in Vancouver, I’m pretty sure our schedule will be more balanced this year than it was last season.
Q: And finally, you mentioned injuries at your year-end press conference and there is no doubt your team suffered a lot of them last season. Have you reviewed the injury situation and were you able to draw any conclusions that may help your players moving forward?
A: We really didn’t have a lot of soft tissue injuries. It was broken bones through either hits or blocked shots and there’s just not going to be any way to get around those kinds of injuries. We didn’t lose a whole lot of (man) games through pulled groins or pulled muscles, it was more contact injuries that are going to happen on a yearly basis. As I said as the year-end press conference, we want to get to a place where we have bigger, stronger players so that we can get through an 82-game schedule without having the injuries that we’ve had the last couple of years.