Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning on core players and age

Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Jim Benning revealed a few insights to Canucks fans in a recent interview with The Canucks GM said something interested that I wanted to verify from the last 10 winners of the Stanley Cup.

I have to give it to Jim Benning. His brutal transparency may get him into trouble every now and then, but he provides a lot of information, even if much of it contradicts team messaging. Over four years of quotes are archived on a twitter account, making searching very convenient.

Sometimes, Benning can say some interesting things. In a recent interview with Mike Zersberger from, Benning spoke about the Vancouver Canucks‘ first round pick and expectations for Elias Pettersson. Rick Dhaliwal did a good job of transcribing quotes on his twitter account. However, the one thing that stood out to me was this:

Oh, boy. There is a lot to unpack from this. From the first sentence, it appears that Jim won’t expect the rebuild to be done for 6-10 years from now. Are you freaking kidding me? That’s a Ken Holland-style rebuild. With the four years already in progress, Jim wants over a decade to make the team relevant again?

Under that timeline, he is implying we can’t expect the Canucks to start winning until Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser and Pettersson are 28, 26 and 24, respectively. You don’t need up to 14 years to rebuild a team and anyone telling you that doesn’t have a clue. If the next six years are supposed to mirror the last four, that’s pathetic.

Regarding the final sentence, I wanted to see how true that statement was by looking at the last ten winners of the Stanley Cup. By the end of this, you will see how myopic Benning is being and ignoring what is truly happening.

Core players and their ages

Core players don’t have an easy definition. Generally, your core is the central player group that makes up the most important parts of the team. This could include your starting goaltender, top forwards, or best defencemen. To make this simple, I will focus on no more than four players per team. Otherwise, I will be here all day. It won’t always be the top playoff scorers since I wouldn’t count rentals as core players.

So, to refresh your memory, the last 10 winners of the Stanley Cup are as follows:

YearTeamCore Players (age)
2009Pittsburgh PenguinsEvgeni Malkin (22), Sidney Crosby (21), Kris Letang (21), Marc-Andre Fleury (24)
2010Chicago BlackhawksJonathan Toews (21), Patrick Kane (21), Duncan Keith (24), Brent Seabrook (22)
2011Boston BruinsDavid Krejci (24), Patrice Bergeron (25), Brad Marchand (22), Zdeno Chara (33)
2012Los Angeles KingsAnze Kopitar (24), Drew Doughty (22), Jeff Carter (27), Jonathan Quick (26)
2013Chicago BlackhawksPatrick Kane (24), Jonathan Toews (24), Duncan Keith (27), Brandon Saad (20)
2014Los Angeles KingsAnze Kopitar (26), Drew Doughty (24), Jeff Carter (29), Tyler Toffoli (21)
2015Chicago BlackhawksJonathan Toews (26), Patrick Kane (26), Duncan Keith (29), Brandon Saad (22)
2016Pittsburgh PenguinsPhil Kessel (28), Sidney Crosby (28), Evgeni Malkin (29), Matt Murray (21)
2017Pittsburgh PenguinsEvgeni Malkin (30), Sidney Crosby (29), Jake Guetzel (22), Matt Murray (22)
2018Washington CapitalsEvgeny Kuznetsov (25), Alex Ovechkin (32), Nicklas Backstrom (30), Braden Holtby (28)

Do you notice it? It appears Jim Benning is a victim of recency bias. Most of the winners on this list had cores between the ages of 21 and 26. Yes Jim, some of these players in their early 20’s can lead an NHL team.

NHL managers only look at what the latest winner did and Washington’s older group will deceive Benning into thinking this is the right path. A lot of luck goes into the Stanley Cup playoffs and it’s odd that the Capitals finally won with a team much worse than the ones we were used to in the past.

It certainly helps to have one of the best goal-scorers of this generation, but ultimately, it was just their time. Those things are largely unpredictable and you are playing a fool’s game to cross your fingers and hope you come out on top. Vancouver’s greatest team in franchise history could not get the job done, but they were damn close. Unfortunately, close counts for nothing in this league.

Why age matters

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The key thing here is that Benning is ignoring when these respective cores won their first championships. Chicago’s core was built from 2002-2007, winning their first Stanley cup in 2009. Those wins in 2013 and 2015 had older players because age advances with time (an obvious statement, but one Benning clearly ignores). That same core established a dynasty with three banners in six years.

We can apply similar principles to the success of the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins. All three had something in common. Draft picks (lots of them) build up those cores. The most important pieces came from the very top. When parts of the team were lost due to age or cap space, they were replaced by younger players to bolster the existing core.

This helps explain why the Bruins could facilitate their turn around more successfully than the Canucks. Vancouver had an older core with a more limited window. Boston had the older defence, but as you see, they have rebuilt it. Their younger forward group allowed them to serve the two masters of rebuilding and competing (mostly). Mike Gillis realized this too late and Jim Benning thought he could still re-animate a lifeless corpse. Both were wrong and spent years delaying the inevitable. Ownership played a role in this farce as well.

Getting the most out of your core

The key here is bringing in impact players. Rarely are they found on the trade market or free agency. You have to draft them. There are no shortcuts and if you exercise any sort of patience, the players you draft now could be important core pieces in three years.

These trades from Benning are no different than Jack trading the family cow for magic beans. Players like Brandon Sutter and Erik Gudbranson are add-ons once your team is established. They don’t begin the rebuild. When you acquire them early, they are just stop gaps that waste everyone’s time.

Waiting three years is more realistic than asking for ten. Saying just wait 6-10 years is lazily kicking the can down the road. And it’s not fair to the core players you have now. You have to ditch the players that won’t contribute towards a Stanley Cup. Dump them. Build a supporting cast. Just find a good one.

The next core deserves better

I know this is going to anger a lot of you, but let me ask you this. At the moment, the current Canucks core consists of Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser (established NHL players). Pettersson will add to that soon.

Do you want these guys to get one crack at a Stanley Cup like the last core? Or do you want them to have an elite team in three years, becoming legitimate contenders? The latter is possible if the team changes their outlook on rebuilding. Just let go of this roster.

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There’s no reason to cling so tightly to such a poorly-built team. Honestly, if the team keeps this pace, the former option above becomes our best-case scenario. I want this next core to succeed, but if the Canucks continue to take two steps forward, then one step back, then I don’t know why my expectations should be high. A team that fails to learn history is doomed to repeat it. I get more and more skeptical about his team’s long-term future. Especially if we have to sit through ten more years of this.