A primary problem that undermined the Mike Gillis era in charge of the Vancouver Canucks was a series of trades – bets – that went backwards.
The dubious Gillis acquisitions include forward David Booth and defenceman Keith Ballard, both of whom the Canucks ended up buying out.
Now, new general manager Jim Benning is taking calls and listening to offers involving another player Gillis brought in via trade: Zack Kassian.
Almost three years ago, at the trade deadline in 2012, Gillis surprised people when he sent promising young centre Cody Hodgson to Buffalo. In return came Kassian, whose prime attributes were things the Canucks needed: size and toughness. Kassian, a year younger than Hodgson, was a prototype power forward at 6-foot-3 and 214 pounds.
It hasn't worked out for either team. Hodgson played well at first in Buffalo, but this year has failed to generate scoring. Kassian started slowly in Vancouver, half-shellshocked by the media glare on his new team. His second year, the lockout season, he didn't make much of an impact. Last season, coach John Tortorella called Kassian a "project" and it was mostly a wipeout, even though he finished with 10 points in his last 10 games, when the Canucks were already done.
The taciturn Benning dismissed the promise shown in Kassian's season-ending spurt. "It doesn't really mean much," the GM said on Friday, after a Canucks practice, about the value of scoring when nothing is at stake.
Kassian returns to the Vancouver lineup on Saturday against the visiting Detroit Red Wings, after missing 13 games because of a broken pinky finger, and one game as a healthy scratch. He has five points in 17 games this year, and the Canucks front office has not been impressed with his inconsistent play.
Kassian has not, Benning said, embraced the style of a power forward.
The Canucks have taken calls from GMs interested in a potential trade. Benning said it's a balance between being patient with a young player – Kassian turns 24 later this month – and a deal that could help the Canucks.
"With any young player, you have to be patient with them. But having said that, if somebody calls us and we think we can make our team better, we're going to look at that," Benning said.
There is, he added, a "fair bit of talking going on" among GMs as teams assess where they are, and what they need. There's also more than just talk. The Edmonton Oilers shipped forward David Perron to Pittsburgh on Friday for a first-round pick and Rod Klinkhammer.
An X factor in Kassian's worth is his off-ice life. He has often been seen at Vancouver bars during his time in the city.
Teammate and mentor Brad Richardson referred to it in mid-November.
"He's hilarious and you want to be around him," said Richardson. "But you need to be ready for games, too. I'm not saying that was an issue, but as you get older you learn better how to prepare, and for a guy like him, he needs to learn to pull it in."
Benning has little tolerance for young men misbehaving. In his time as assistant general manager in Boston, he advocated for the 2013 trade of Tyler Seguin. Benning, in a Bruins video, said the team would miss Seguin's speed "in the regular season," but added that if they got good players in return, they wouldn't have to worry any more about "babysitting" the then-21-year-old Seguin.
Seguin was moved to Dallas in a blockbuster, seven-player deal, and this year he leads the NHL in goals and is second in scoring.
Kassian, meanwhile, offered mostly clipped answers to questions from the media scrum after practice on Friday. "Play well. Play well," he said of what he has to do. On elements of his game that need work: "Everything."
As for trade rumours and talk about his place and tenure with the Canucks, Kassian had a few more words: "There's always the other speculations, which are pretty funny out there. They're actually mind-boggling, actually."