Does the Travis Green uncertainty mean Jim Benning's job is in jeopardy?
If you're committed to watching the Vancouver Canucks play out the string, I hope your schedule is flexible.
With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to kick off on Saturday, the Canucks have been assigned some creative game times for their final games of the season.
Thursday's matchup against the Flames in Calgary goes at 6 p.m. PT, as we've come to expect. But you'd better write down the rest of these — or set your PVR.
Saturday May 15 at Edmonton: 12:30 p.m.
Sunday May 16 vs. Calgary: 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday May 18 vs. Calgary: 1 p.m.
Wednesday May 19 at Calgary: 12:30 p.m.
As soon as those games are complete, the North Division playoffs begin almost immediately, with Montreal at Toronto at 4:30 p.m. PT on Wednesday and Winnipeg at Edmonton at 6:00.
After Tuesday's 5-0 shutout loss in Winnipeg, the Canucks go into Thursday's game four points behind the Flames in the North Division, with one game in hand. All of Calgary's last four games are against Vancouver; the Canucks also have one more meeting with the Oilers on Saturday.
Both Vancouver and Calgary had their playoff torches snuffed on Monday, when a single point for the Montreal Canadiens put them out of reach in fourth spot.
Thursday's game will be the first for the Flames since their elimination. The well-rested group has played just three games so far in May — a 4-1 loss to Edmonton, a 4-0 loss to Winnipeg and a 6-1 win over Ottawa last Sunday.
By comparison, the Canucks are running on fumes — 2-5-0 through the seven games they played during the first 11 days of the month.
At his pre-game media availability on Thursday, Travis Green confirmed that Thatcher Demko will return to the net after getting the night off on Tuesday, and that Jack Rathbone will get a rest as Olli Juolevi draws back in after sitting out for seven of the last eight games.
And — transaction rules currently prevent Jonah Gadjovich and Will Lockwood from getting into the lineup, though it sounds like those rules will be lifted after the Utica Comets' AHL season wraps up on Sunday.
With the season winding down — and another coach dismissed on Wednesday, as the New York Rangers cut ties with David Quinn — the main topic of conversation around the Canucks this week is the future of Travis Green and, to a bit of a lesser extent, Jim Benning.
I'm starting to wonder if Benning's status is what's holding up the decision on Green. If ownership is still undecided about whether to keep Benning in his position, it's unlikely that they'd go ahead and re-up the coach. We often see new GMs make their own hires, even when a coach is already in place.
Two recent examples that pop into my head are Kevyn Adams dismissing Ralph Krueger in Buffalo this season and Bill Guerin choosing to part ways with Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota last year. An exception would be Florida, where Joel Quenneville arrived a year before Bill Zito and probably won't be going anywhere anytime soon.
For what it's worth, this was the timing the last time the Canucks had a regime change:
• Mike Gillis was fired on April 8, 2014 — one day after the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs for the first time in six years, and with three games left in the season.
• Trevor Linden was hired as president of hockey operations on April 9, 2014 — one day later.
• John Tortorella was fired as head coach on May 1, 2014 — one year into a five-year contract signed under Gillis, and nearly three weeks after the end of the regular season. That decision came from Linden.
• Jim Benning was hired on May 21, 2014 — about a month before the draft.
• Willie Desjardins was hired on June 23, 2014 — four days before the draft in Philadelphia.
Last week, New York Rangers head honcho James Dolan talked about his timing in firing president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton. He said that he wanted to make the change before the end of the season so that he could have new GM Chris Drury in place in time for the club's exit meetings, and that those meetings would determine the fate of the coach. Also, he wanted to pull the trigger while the Rangers were at home, before playing their last two games of the year in Boston.
If that's any kind of template, then maybe we'll get some news sometime between Sunday and Tuesday, when the Canucks play their last games of the year at Rogers Arena?
I hadn't been thinking that a Benning firing was likely, but this apparent twisting in the wind is making me wonder.
When I see tweets like this, it really does seem like nothing has been decided yet about Green.
And there's historical precedent for this organization losing out due to inaction, as Tyler Toffoli reminded us today in his Players' Tribune piece:
At this point, the main reason why I think Benning could still be safe is financial. It would go against everything we've seen from the Aquilinis since the pandemic hit for them to suddenly commit to a big-money deal for a new 'name' general manager and/or president of hockey operations.
But remembering back on how one playoff miss spelled the end for Gillis, it really does underscore how far this team has sunk in what is now seven years under Benning.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, the Canucks rank 25th in wins (and Vegas is 31st simply by virtue of not having been around the whole time). They're 26th in points and points percentage, 25th in goals per game, 27th in goals against per game, 22nd in power-play percentage, 17th in penalty-killing percentage, 27th in shots per game, 26th in shots against per game, and 20th in faceoff win percentage.
Not in the top 16 in a single category. Pretty grim.
But to close on a slightly more cheerful note, Mikey DiPietro has decided to extend his season by signing on as Canada's third goalie for the World Championship in Latvia, which gets underway next Friday.
He played the same role in 2018 in Denmark, serving as a practice goalie and not getting any game action. This year, he'll be backing up Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill, both of the Arizona Coyotes. Kuemper was also the No. 1 in 2018, when Canada finished fourth following a loss to Team USA in the bronze-medal game.
Troy Stecher is also returning to the Canadian blue line, after winning silver in Slovakia in 2019.
Team USA also announced its roster on Thursday — no Canucks content there.
Understandably, the rosters for the Canadian and U.S. teams are shorter than usual on star power. After all these months of lockdown, it's not surprising that players aren't keen to travel to Europe for another month or so in a bubble-type environment.
I haven't seen full rosters yet for the European teams, but I'm expecting that Podkolzin-watch will be back on with Team Russia, at minimum. Curious to see whether players like Nils Hoglander and Marc Michaelis end up suiting up for Sweden and Germany, respectively.