When the Canucks chose not to give Ben Hutton a qualifying offer, it opened up a hole on the left side of their defence.
While the left side is where the Canucks have the bulk of their prospect depth on defence, including top-ten picks Quinn Hughes and Olli Juolevi, it seemed unlikely that they would want to enter the season with two rookies on the blue line. Even if Juolevi didn’t start the season with the Canucks, that would have meant someone like Ashton Sautner, Guillaume Brisebois, or Josh Teves in the opening night lineup; that’s not the end of the world, but not ideal either.
That’s what made it important for the Canucks to add a little veteran depth on the left side. If they weren’t going to re-sign Hutton — which was still a possibility even without a qualifying offer — then they needed someone else. They got that someone else in Jordie Benn.
Benn cut his teeth with the Victoria Grizzlies in the BCHL and even played a full season in the ECHL with the Victoria Salmon Kings after trying out for the Canucks as an invitee at training camp. That adds a nice “coming home” angle to Benn’s signing, but it’s not just a feel-good story: Benn provides a lot of value in a cheap package. He’s a steady, hard-working, physical defensive defenceman that should solidify the Canucks’ third pairing behind Hughes and Alex Edler.
The Canucks signed Benn to a two-year contract worth $2 million per year. Reports indicate that Benn will also have a limited no-trade clause, which is odd for a bottom pairing defenceman, but not a dealbreaker. The contract comes well under projections from Evolving Hockey, which predicted a 4-year contract, with a cap hit closer to $3.5 million.
Benn averaged 18:12 per game for the Montreal Canadiens last season, bouncing between the second and third pairing, and even occasionally filling in on the top pairing when injuries struck. He’s not a great fit for a top-pairing role, but that at least provides some insurance in case Edler gets injured.
There’s also some versatility to Benn’s game, as he’s equally adept at playing on his off side on the right, with one Montreal Canadiens writer suggesting he’s actually better on the right. A lot better. If that proves true, it could complicate things, but versatility overall is a plus. If Juolevi impresses at camp or in the AHL, a call up could then move Benn over to the right side.
Benn is coming off a career year when he scored 5 goals and 22 points, but the Canucks shouldn’t really count on offence from the 6’2” defenceman. At 31, he’s unlikely to be transforming his hockey career and becoming a two-way defender, but the ability to move the puck up ice and pop in a couple points now and then is a good thing.
Analytically, Benn looks like a solid signing. His heatmap from Hockey Viz shows some solid work defensively over the last three seasons, even if he doesn’t create much at the other end of the ice. He also looks to be an above-average penalty killer.
Overall, Benn looks like a solid depth signing for the Canucks and should provide an upgrade on defence at a reasonable price.
As an added bonus, Benn won’t have to play against Elias Pettersson, which will protect him from dangerous ankle injuries in the future.
Most importantly, Benn significantly boosts the Canucks' beard quotient, which had been lacking since they traded away Erik Gudbranson. Benn's beard is glorious and nearly worth $2 million per year on its own. That the beard is attached to an effective third-pairing defenceman is just an added bonus.