Canucks: Revisiting Jim Benning’s tenure in Vancouver so far

Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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vancouver canucks
Vancouver Canucks Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The Vancouver Canucks have entered one of their most important offseasons in recent history.

The team finished the 2020-21 season with a 23-29-4 record, putting them dead last in the Scotia North Division and 24th in the league standings. They missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last seven years, and boast a underwhelming .493 points percentage over that span. To put that into perspective, only five other teams finished below them.

In other words, the Canucks will need to start navigating their way out of mediocrity and disappointment as soon as they can this summer, and it appears that they’ll be doing so with general manager Jim Benning still firmly planted at the helm.

Despite rumblings of drastic front office changes throughout much of the season, all signs are pointing towards Benning staying on as general manager in Vancouver. The 59-year-old has one year left on his current three-year deal, and appears to have the full support of ownership to steer the ship back in the right direction for next year.

To no one’s surprise, the city of Vancouver immediately erupted with anger and annoyance when this news broke. Canucks followers are known to be one of the most passionate fanbases in the entire league, and have been longing for any signs of long-term planning and organization from their team’s management group since 2014, something that Benning has failed to do for most of his time in Vancouver.

Most recently, he and newly-signed head coach Travis Green addressed the media during their year-end press conference, where he stated his intention to “be aggressive in the trade front and in free agency” this summer, a quote that undoubtedly brought about shivers and created déjà vu for the fans.

Yes, management has had some decent moments throughout their tenure, but, for the most part, Benning and co. have continued to drop the ball on multiple occasions, and will have one final chance to right their wrongdoings before it’s too late.

With that being said, let’s look back on all of the key Benning moments over the past seven years that brought this organization to its nearly-inevitable tipping point:

The first few months

On May 23rd, 2014, Benning was announced as the new general manager for the Canucks. He replaced Mike Gillis, who previously held the position from 2008 to 2014. During those six years, Gillis helped lead the team to consecutive President Trophies, five division titles, one conference title and five playoff appearances. The latter, of course, was highlighted by the team’s Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2011.

At the time of Benning’s hire, however, the team’s outlook was drastically different than it had been in years’ past, and the former assistant general manager for the Boston Bruins knew he had work to do.

The Canucks finished the 2013-14 season a game over .500, with a record of 36-35-11. More importantly, the team was eight points out of a wildcard playoff spot after 82 games, missing the playoffs for the first time in five years, and were starting to feel the ramifications of an aging core, prompting Benning to make his first wave of big moves.

Benning hit the ground running with his new organization leading up to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, making a splash in both the free agency and trade markets.

Benning acquired tough guy Derek Dorsett from the New York Rangers in exchanged for a third round pick, as well as forward Linden Vey from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for a second round pick, but was able to recapture that pick by dealing away defenceman Jason Garrison to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The biggest trade, of course, was sending Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for Luca Sbisa and Nick Bonino, as well as first and third round picks for that upcoming draft. This wasn’t a shock for fans, as Kesler had demanded a trade out of Vancouver earlier in the season.

Benning was also busy in the opening days of free agency, landing netminder Ryan Miller on a three-year, $18 million deal, as well as forward Radim Vrbata for two years at $5 million per.

During his time in Vancouver, Miller served as a suitable replacement for Roberto Luongo, posting a .914 SV% and 2.68 GAA, which were decent numbers given how the team played in front of him. Vrbata was a huge hit in his first year, posting a career-high in points and leading the team in goals with 31, but ultimately saw a dip in his production the following season.

However, Benning was also unable to deal either player at the trade deadline during the final year of their contracts.

And finally, Benning’s final big move happened during the draft itself.

With two first round picks in his pocket, Benning selected forwards Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann. To this day, Virtanen has played all 317 career games with Vancouver, but has only recorded 100 points over that span, and McCann would go on to only play 69 games in Vancouver (more on that to come).

Fortunately, Benning didn’t completely strike out in 2014. He also drafted netminder Thatcher Demko in the second round, along with Gustav Forsling in the fifth round. What will always be the cherry on top of this draft class, something that Canucks fans will never be able to forget? Benning missed out on a few eventual star players in this league, including William Nylander, Nikolaj Ehlers and David Pastrnak. Ouch.

And this was just the first summer.