Benn comes west, Barrie heads east during busy day of free agents, trades

Jordie Benn was an improbable longshot. Tyson Barrie was a sure-shot prospect.

The pair of NHL defencemen from the Island, with disparate career paths, were part of the free agent and trade moves Monday. Barrie was traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a multi-player deal, while free-agent Benn was signed away from the Montreal Canadiens by the home-province Vancouver Canucks.

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Central Saanich-product Benn will step onto the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre ice, during Canucks training camp in September for the first time since his pro hockey career began in the ECHL with the hometown Victoria Salmon Kings in what seems like a lifetime ago.

“Being from the Island, the Canucks were obviously the team I cheered for growing up,” said the six-foot-two Peninsula Minor Hockey product, who turns 32 this month.

“Now I’ve come full circle and will play for the team I grew up watching as a kid and idolizing, with players like Trevor Linden and Geoff Courtnall. I’m really excited to come back home. It’s a good fit. I had the option of signing back with Montreal. But the offer being from Vancouver made it easier. It was not as hard a decision as it might have been. The Canucks said they are excited to have me. And my family is over the moon.”

Quipped dad Randy Benn: “It’s a good thing we like B.C. Ferries food.”

Jordie Benn’s career has been a study in persistence. Undrafted and unheralded despite a solid three-season junior career with the Victoria Grizzlies of the B.C. Hockey League, Benn took the only pro offer he got from the Victoria ECHL team. From there, the rise has been rather breathless through the Salmon Kings, Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League, Texas Stars of the American Hockey League and 473 career NHL games with the Dallas Stars and Canadiens.

“It’s been a crazy, long road taken,” said Benn, about his unlikely rise.

“Every player is so pumped when they get drafted. But if you’re not there yet, you’re not there yet. I was not even thought of by any NHL team in my draft year. But some of the guys who were selected in my draft year are not even in pro hockey now,” he added, by phone from his summer home in Dallas.

It runs in the family. Brother Jamie Benn was not drafted until the fifth round and has gone on to become a major NHL star, captain of the Dallas Stars and Olympic gold medallist for Canada.

A stay-at-home rearguard, Jordie Benn has 22 goals and 88 assists for 110 points and 196 penalty minutes in the NHL. The Canucks signed Benn for $2 million US per season over two years.

The moblie Barrie, meanwhile, is a different kind of player in many ways. He had NHL written all over him since coming out of the Juan de Fuca Minor Hockey Association and into the BCHL’s Grizzlies and eventually the Kelowna Rockets of the Western Hockey League. The 2009 third-round draft pick has 75 goals and 307 points in 484 career games with the Avalanche. He was moved to the Maple Leafs along with forward Alex Kerfoot, with forward Nazem Kadri and defenceman Calle Rosen going to Colorado. The Avalanche will pay half of the $5.5 million US salary remaining on the final year of Barrie’s contract.

“I was surprised, it kind of came out of nowhere,” Barrie told the Canadian Press.

That said, the Avalanche have recently drafted two similiar-style blue-liners in Cale Makar and Bowen Byram.

The 27-year-old Islander said he is looking forward to the new opportunity.

“I can’t wait to get there [Toronto] and try and win a Stanley Cup with these guys. I’m coming into my prime.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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