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) /
2 of 4
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 6: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during an NHL game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON – FEBRUARY 6: Loui Eriksson #21 of the Vancouver Canucks skates during an NHL game. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /

The early years – 2014 to 2016

During Benning’s first year in Vancouver, the team was actually able to bounce back big during the regular season, building off of the skill and leadership of their core players. They finished second in the Pacific Division with 101 points, succeeding under the coaching regime of Willie Desjardins, who was hired on June 23rd, 2014 to replace bench boss John Tortorella.

During the season, Benning acquired Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames in exchange for a second round pick. Baertschi had three productive seasons in Vancouver starting in 2015-16, recording 28, 35 and 29 points respectively, but was eventually moved down to Utica once the offence dried up. The Flames would also end up using that second round pick to select defenceman Rasmus Andersson.

That same year, Benning also dealt Forsling to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Adam Clendening.

Clendening only played 17 games with the Canucks, recording two points during that span. Forsling signed an entry-level deal with the Blackhawks, posting 27 points in 122 games. He was eventually dealt to the Hurricanes in 2019, who placed him on waivers twice, and was scooped up the second time around by the Florida Panthers. The 24-year-old is now a key piece on the left-side of their blueline, averaging just under 20 minutes of ice time. He also registered two points in six playoff games this past season.

The Canucks’ regular season success was short-lived, however, as the team was swiftly eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, falling to the Calgary Flames in six games. This would end up being the last playoff series played for many of the veterans, including Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and would mark the beginning of turbulent times.

It didn’t start off all bad, fortunately.

The Canucks entered the 2015 NHL Entry Draft with the 23rd overall pick, selecting right winger Brock Boeser from the University of North Dakota. Benning also selected forward Adam Gaudette in the fifth round, and defenceman Guillaume Brisebois in the third round. The pick used on Brisebois was acquired from the Eddie Lack deal, who was sent to the Carolina Hurricanes that same offseason.

On the trade market, Benning dealt away fan favourite Kevin Bieksa, who had one year left on his deal at $4.6 million, to the Anaheim Ducks. In exchange, the Canucks received a 2016 second round pick, which was eventually included in the trade package to acquire centre Brandon Sutter from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sutter had one productive season in 2016-17, recording 34 points, but has been hampered with injuries since then, significantly impacting his contribution as the team’s third-line centre. In that deal, the Canucks also sent away Bonino and Clendening, while also acquiring a 2016 third round pick, which was eventually used to select forward Will Lockwood, who made his NHL debut just a few weeks ago.

Finally, Benning also made changes in the front office, relieving Lorne Henning and Laurence Gillman of their assistant general manager duties to make way for current right-hand man John Weisbrod, who had only been with the organization since 2014. He also hired Judd Brackett as Amateur of Director Scouting, as well as former Canuck Ryan Johnson as Assistant Director of Player Development.

The rebuild officially began during the 2015-16 season, with the team falling to 28th in the league standings after 82 games. It was a disastrous end to the campaign following the trade deadline, as the team lost 11 of their last 15 contests, which included a nine-game losing streak. What most fans remember, however, is how the team was able to rattle off three consecutive, meaningless wins against their Californian opponents to end the losing streak. They also wrapped up the season with a shootout victory over the Oilers.

The Canucks finished the season with 75 points, six more than the last place Toronto Maple Leafs, who were eventually awarded with the first overall pick in 2016. The Canucks fell to fifth overall, losing out on the Auston Matthews sweepstakes in cringe-worthy fashion, which, as we all know, would become a trend for the franchise moving forward.

The Canucks used their first round pick to select defenceman Olli Juolevi.

After battling numerous injuries in the AHL, the Finnish blueliner was finally able to make his NHL debut this past season. The jury is still out on Juolevi, who has only played 23 games with the Canucks, but it’s also hard not to compare him to other players in his draft class.

On the blueline, Benning missed out on solid defencemen such as Charlie McAvoy, Mikhail Sergachev and Jakub Chycrun, all of whom are excelling with their current teams. They also dropped the ball on some forwards, skipping over Matthew Tkachuk, Clayton Keller and Sam Steel.

Unfortunately, two of Benning’s most memorable moves also came during that offseason. On May 25th, 2016, he traded away McCann, as well as second and fourth round picks, to the Florida Panthers, in exchange for big-bodied blueliner Erik Gudbranson.

McCann still continued to develop with the Panthers, recording 53 points in 143 games as a middle six forward, before being dealt to the Penguins at the 2019 trade deadline. The now 24-year-old seems to have found his scoring touch and stride in Pittsburgh, and appears to be one of their more promising young forwards for the future. Gudbranson, on the other hand, has suited up for four other clubs since his time with the Canucks, and has yet to live up to his third overall draft pick status.

The other mistake, of course, is still rearing its ugly face today.

On July 1st, 2016, Benning signed forward Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million contract. Since signing with Vancouver, Eriksson has only registered 90 points in 252 games played, essentially playing his way out of the line-up and into the press box on a permanent basis. To this day, he is without a doubt Benning’s worst transaction as general manager.

Fortunately, not all was lost for Benning this season. He traded away fan favourites Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen in under 72 hours at the deadline, receiving young prospects Nikolay Goldobin and Jonathan Dahlén in return. Unfortunately, neither panned out as expected at the NHL level, with the latter never actually playing for the Canucks (aside from in Utica), but it was a promising step for Benning and co. at the time.

The Canucks finished the 2016-17 campaign one position lower in the standings than the previous year, sitting only above the tirefire that was the Colorado Avalanche heading into the 2017 offseason.

This prompted Benning to fire Desjardins and his coaching staff, making way for Green to transition from the AHL to the NHL.