Canucks: Why Jim Benning should not be returning to this team

BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: Jim Benning of the Vancouver Canucks attends round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BUFFALO, NY - JUNE 24: Jim Benning of the Vancouver Canucks attends round one of the 2016 NHL Draft on June 24, 2016 in Buffalo, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

Barring an unforeseen change in circumstances, Jim Benning will return to the Vancouver Canucks for his eighth year as general manager in 2021-22.

Canucks fans, media members and everyone in between seems to have an opinion on Benning. To say his tenure has been highly scrutinized would be the understatement of the century. Every move has been looked at under a microscope, with every decision being analyzed down to the finest detail. Part of that is because Vancouver is a hockey-crazed market, but a large chunk of that is because Benning has shown, time and time again, that he isn’t capable of making the right decisions.

When Benning took over as general manager in 2014, he inherited a mess. The Canucks core was aging, the roster was filled with AHL players, and Ryan Kesler wanted out. Henrik Sedin led the team with just 50 points in 2013-14, and Tom Sestito played 77 games. They had no clear-cut starting goalie, no prospect pool, and minimal young talent on the roster.

To Benning’s credit, he salvaged what was left of the core and got the team back to the playoffs in 2015, but that was really one of the only bright spots of his tenure. The team entered a rebuild after and seemed to be headed on the right track until he started throwing money at fourth liners (more on this below).

He’s generally drafted well, hitting home runs on three first rounders, while also finding success in the later rounds, but that was about the peak of his success. And even through that, Benning missed badly on Jake Virtanen and appears to have done so as well with Olli Juolevi. You can look back at draft mistakes for almost every franchise, but how much better would the Canucks be right now with Nikolaj Ehlers and Matthew Tkachuk in their line-up, instead of Virtanen and Juolevi?

He has been hasty in his use of draft picks, trading picks away for the likes of Derek Dorsett, Linden Vey and Sven Baertschi. In his first two years, he dealt two promising players in Gustav Forsling and Jared McCann for Adam Clendening and Erik Gudbranson. Forsling and McCann have become legitimate NHL players while Clendening gave the Canucks 17 games. Gudbranson ended up an overpaid, notoriously poor defender, a trend which continued in Vancouver.

And, of course, you can’t forget the free-agent fallacies.

Benning issued massive contracts to the likes of Loui Eriksson and Tyler Myers, and badly overpaid for Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel and, most recently, Tanner Pearson. It pushed the Canucks right up against the cap and didn’t allow them to re-sign either Jacob Markstrom or Chris Tanev last off-season if they had so chosen.

For many though, the Tyler Toffoli saga was the nail in the coffin. Rather than re-sign the proven player in Toffoli, Benning allocated what little money they had to Virtanen, then claimed “he ran out of time” to sign Toffoli. Virtanen scored five goals in 38 games, while Toffoli scored five goals in his first two games against Vancouver, en route to the best year of his career in Montreal.

This next off-season is crucial for Vancouver. Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson need to be signed. Goaltending coach Ian Clark HAS to be brought back. There’s an expansion draft to be considered. And the Canucks need to find a way to shed some of their bad contracts and fill in several gaps on the team, specifically in the bottom six and on their blueline. In other words, they need a calculated, strategic general manager to make these decisions. And there’s no evidence to suggest that Benning fits that description.

Now, to be fair, Benning did get head coach Travis Green re-signed, albeit at the last second. He took responsibility for the Canucks shortcomings this season, and said they would consider using buyouts in order to free up cap space. If that actually comes to fruition, it gives the Canucks a little bit of room to work in order to bring in some fresh faces and to fill some voids.

But then the concern circles back to the free-agent struggles.

Excluding re-signings, Benning has been terrible in free agency. He has failed to upgrade the team through free agency since his first year, when Radim Vrbata and Ryan Miller were solid in Vancouver. Thomas Vanek was good for a half-season, but outside of that it’s been a lot of the likes of Eriksson, Sutter, Beagle and so-on – overpaid players who don’t produce anywhere near what they’re being paid.

And this is the biggest reason that he has to go. Get a competent general manager in, and there’s a chance the Canucks can quickly turn around. They have a core to build around, something that usually can’t be said for bad hockey teams. The talent is there. But they need someone to round out the roster with smart, well-thought-out financial decisions.

There are players out there that can help the Canucks. And players that can do so on good contracts. But Benning’s reputation doesn’t suggest good contracts. It suggests giving someone like Mathieu Perreault 12 million dollars over three years, or Cody Ceci five years at 3.5 million each. Those are the moves that could cripple the Canucks for a long, long time, as we’ve seen firsthand over the past few years.

And if Benning is desperate to compete, those are the types of moves that could be a realistic possibility, which is why, now more than ever, someone else needs to be in charge of making the decisions for this team.

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