Vancouver Canucks: Is Jim Benning really committed to the rebuild?


The Vancouver Canucks parted ways with team president Trevor Linden last month, following a disagreement of the club’s direction with ownership. With Linden gone, is GM Jim Benning really committed to the rebuild?

Let’s call this year two of the Vancouver Canucks rebuild, because it was only April of last year where former team president Trevor Linden finally confessed that they were going to restart once and for all.

The Canucks have pieced together the best cupboard of prospects and young talent in their history. Brock Boeser was a Calder Trophy nomination last season. Bo Horvat has reached the 20-goal mark in two consecutive seasons. And yet, Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, Olli Juolevi and Quinn Hughes haven’t played a minute in the NHL yet.

However, Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province made some good points to suggest that perhaps general manager Jim Benning isn’t as committed to the rebuild as Linden was, keeping in mind that this team was linked to the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes:

"“Trevor Linden, the recently deposed president, lost his job because he favoured a patient, methodical approach to the team’s rebuild. He’s since told friends the Aquilinis wanted no part of that plan and when Benning presented a more aggressive approach, which included an offer sheet for John Tavares, Linden was dumped…So is the plan now to peel off three or four of those young assets to land a star? That’s the only way you’re going to land a Karlsson-type player and Benning knows that…It’s just the latest example of an organization which trips all over itself trying to tell its story.”"

It’s hard to ignore these points listed by Willes. The ownership group in Vancouver is known for always wanting to ice the best possible team they can, which is why they didn’t tear it all down after the forgettable 2013-14 John Tortorella-led season.

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Even though yours truly has been a heavy defender of Benning for a while, you can’t help but wonder how committed he is to this rebuild.

For one, the team was lucky to have landed Boeser with the 23rd pick in 2015. Vancouver made the playoffs that year; they did not draft Boeser with a high draft pick. They simply got lucky that he fell to them.

Pettersson will likely go down as the greatest pick ever under Benning, but let’s not forget the Canucks signed Loui Eriksson a year earlier to score 30 goals with the Sedins. Rebuilding teams don’t give $36 million to players on the wrong side of 30.

Vancouver wasn’t planning to have a top-five pick in 2017, they were trying to make the playoffs. Luckily for fans, it turned out they were the second-worst team that season, and hence got an elite talent with the fifth pick.

And just when you thought the Canucks were ready for a full-on rebuild in 2018-19, they added veterans Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Tim Schaller on overly-generous contracts. There has been zero effort to move out veterans like Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Ben Hutton. You know, players who are occupying roster spots that could go to the younger players.

So Willes is onto something here. Even though the Canucks are loaded with young roster talent and prospects, Benning and ownership may not be as committed to a rebuild as you may think they are.

They weren’t planning to pick in the top-five in 2016 and 2017. They were lucky to land Boeser in 2015. There haven’t been the efforts to trade out older players to make room. There were the Schaller, Beagle and Roussel signings.

Canucks fans can only hope that the Canucks don’t change gears and decide to rush a return to the postseason. But it is concerning if this team keeps looking at trades for the likes of Karlsson and Noah Hanifin.

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There have been signs that the Canucks may actually be trying to wait for the opportunity to mortgage the future for a chance to win now. Fans can only hope that the team stays on the rebuilding track. Otherwise, several seasons of hard work could go up in smoke. And quickly.