What the heck is going on with the Vancouver Canucks?

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Is Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning incompetent or is he the hapless puppet of an activist owner whose hockey operations decisions have turned this franchise into a rudderless vessel pointed at the rocks? 

Neither of the choices are preferable for Benning, mind you, but one is likely closer to the truth than the other, depending on what you want to believe about the Dan Hamhuis trade that never happened.

Hamhuis waived his no-trade clause for two teams: The Chicago Blackhawks and the Dallas Stars.

To hear Benning tell it, the Stars simply decided that they wanted Calgary Flames defenseman Kris Russell more than they wanted Dan Hamhuis.

“We talked about what the framework of a deal would look like. That’s kind of the deal we came to. They had Kris Russell rated ahead of Dan, and that’s where they decided to go,” said Benning.

Hey, these things happen, right? It’s not possible that the Canucks and Stars had a deal in place, and then the Canucks reneged on the trade because they wanted Dallas to sweeten the pot? That didn’t happen, right?

“That’s not true. You never let facts get in the way of a good story, and that’s not true,” said Benning.

So Russell went to Dallas.

But to hear Jason Botchford of The Province tell it, the Dallas Stars originally liked Kris Russell more because they thought he could come cheaper. The Calgary Flames were asking for too much. So the Stars balked, and then went to the Canucks about Dan Hamhuis.

They negotiated a deal that was “pretty similar” to the one that eventually landed Russell from the Flames: a conditional second-round pick in 2016 along with defenseman Jyrki Jokipakka, forward Brett Pollock. If Dallas makes the Western Conference Final and Russell plays in 50 percent of his team’s games in the first two rounds, the second-round pick becomes a first-round pick.

Please keep in mind that the majority of fans and media consider that haul for Russell to have been as close to a fleecing as we saw on Monday.

But the Canucks came back and asked for more, and then the Stars decided to give that deal to the Flames for Russell.

Why did the offer increase? According to Botchford, Vancouver ownership wanted a “premium” price from Dallas for Hamhuis before deadline day. Benning took the offer from the Stars to the Aquilini family, and they asked for that "premium" price.

So Dallas balked.

After making the Russell trade with Calgary, GM Jim Nill circled back to Vancouver for another crack at Hamhuis and the Canucks weren’t having it.

Now, about the Aquilini interference here: Botchford had previously written about the heat between them and Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi.

The Province reported that Benning was aware of the rivalry and was given the green light by Canucks ownership to seek a trade with Dallas despite of it. 

Please recall that Gaglardi sued Francesco Aquilini for half-ownership of the Canucks in 2005, but the courts ruled in favor of the current Canucks owner. So yeah, things are bitter. 

But hey, we’re not saying Aquilini subverted his general manager and somehow short-circuited this trade. Because when you start talking about Vancouver’s owners getting involving in hockey operations, that’s when lawsuits start happening.

In Benning’s defense, there are differences between Russell and Hamhuis, in circumstances as well as talent. Russell’s expiring contract has a $2.6 million cap hit. Hamhuis’s is $4.5 million. The former player might be able to be retained on another contract; the latter has expressed a desire to return to Vancouver after this season as a free agent. 

“We could have maybe done a third-round pick for him, but if you look at some of those good teams, that’s nearly a fourth,” said Benning, who rationalized that having Hamhuis on the roster of a non-playoff team was more important than acquiring a third-round pick.

“We want to be competitive and compete every night, and Dan’s a good role model for our kids,” he said.

It’s spin, to be sure, and one wonders if he’s covering his own behind or for his bosses. But the Canucks’ deadline failure goes deeper than Hamhuis – Radim Vrbata didn’t move, either.

“He’s been great through all this. He could have given us a list where we had no chance, but he gave us a fair list. We talked to 3-4 teams that had an interest in him, but the was like the fifth option,” said Benning.

“There’s gotta be a marketplace for those players. This year, going forward, managers in this league don’t know where the salary cap’s going to go. Restricted and unrestricted players seem to want more money now. The currency, or what everybody’s trying to use to get better, is draft picks and young players. We did everything that we could to try to recoup draft picks and young players,” said Benning.

Just think if they could have had that second-rounder that becomes a first, like the Flames had. How much the narrative about Benning and the Canucks would have changed. 

But Benning didn't, or couldn't, make that trade.

“The marketplace wasn’t there to do it," he said. 

Especially when someone’s trying to price gouge a rival. Depending on what you believe.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.