The Jim Benning era is over for the Vancouver Canucks.
Less than 24 hours after the Canucks lost 4-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home and fans chanting ” Fire Benning” and a jersey was thrown onto the ice, Benning was told to pack his bags.
It was first reported by Irfaan Gaffer of TheFourthPeriod that Benning along with assistant GM John Weisbrod was let go. We will never know what Weisbrod did.
Rick Dhaliwal of CHEK TV’s Donnie and Dhali-The Team and Thomas Drance of The Athletic both reported that Stan Smyl will be named interim GM.
Hours later, it was made official.
So after 2755 days, the Benning regime ended with a team last in the Pacific in an all-in season and apathy among the fanbase.
It’s been a long seven years and seven months. The Benning era featured a lot of bad more than good.
Benning was brought in because of his reputation as a scout and under Mike Gillis drafting was poor. It looked like the Canucks had a promising future. Benning (you could probably credit Judd Brackett also) did end up drafting the likes of Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Vasily Podkolzin, and Nils Höglander, there were still mistakes made at the draft table.
The decisions to draft Jake Virtanen over the likes of Nikolai Ehlers or William Nylander and Olli Juolevi over Matthew Tkachuk did not age well.
Other than Demko and Höglander, the drafting outside of round one wasn’t that great. Sure, mid-to-late round picks don’t usually pan out but there is the opportunity to grab a potential steal. Adam Gaudette looked like a good fifth-round pick at first but he couldn’t figure out his defensive game and was eventually traded to Chicago. Players picked past round one during Benning’s tenure didn’t pan out, were traded, (like Gustav Forsling and Tyler Madden) waived, (like Kole Lind and Jonah Gadjovich), or became career AHLers or left the organization. However, players like Jack Rathbone, Michael Dipietro, and Danila Klimovich still have potential.
As Stephan Roget of Canucks Army pointed out, not a single player developed in the AHL became an NHL regular, and the last player to do that was Chris Tanev who made his NHL debut back in 2011.
Benning gave away draft picks like flyers and traded young players too early. Jonathan Dahlen and Jared McCann are doing well with the San Jose Sharks and Seattle Kraken respectively, and Gustav Forsling looks like a decent NHL defenceman.
Those futures were traded away to make the playoffs. There should have been a rebuild from the start. Maybe in some alternate universe, there was a rebuild and those Canucks are Stanley Cup contenders, who knows?
Benning “lived day-to-day” and there was never any long-term thinking. Trading for Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Sutter (and then signing him to a lucrative contract extension before he even played a game for the Canucks) were very questionable moves.
Oh yeah, then there were the free-agent signings. Benning bombed on a lot of those too. There are too many to name but Loui Eriksson, Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Myers, Tucker Poolman, Sam Gagner, and Michael Del Zotto were not good signings.
There were also some head-scratching contract extensions like Luca Sbisa, Derek Dorsett, and Tanner Pearson that took a chunk of the salary cap. Speaking of the salary cap, with all the money Benning spent the Canucks became a team with cap issues before their cup window even opened. That window remains shut.
Then there was the terrible asset management. Not trading Dan Hamhuis and Radim Vrbata was a bad move. It was mind-boggling that Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, and Tyler Toffoli all walked for nothing and not even one of them re-signed.
Toffoli himself even went out on record and revealed he wasn’t even offered a contract.
“At the end of the day, there was no offer from the Canucks’ end, so we had to go another direction,” wrote Toffoli in an article for The Players Tribune in May. “It was disappointing, but I knew that there was going to be a team out there that wanted me and saw me for the player I know I am.”
That showed the organization lacked good communication. Former Canuck Shawn Matthias played two seasons with Vancouver including Benning’s first year revealed on the Pucks on Net Podcast in March that he never was offered a contract and never even spoke to Benning once.
Trevor Linden “amicably” parted ways with the organization and it was reportedly because he wanted to steer the ship in a different direction but Benning and ownership had other plans. Brackett wanted autonomy over the draft and he left the club in 2020. That shows the front office became a dictatorship.
The Canucks made the playoffs twice during the Benning era. Other than that there was a whole lot of losing. Vancouver has a .487 winning percentage (per NHL.Com) since Benning was hired and that is one of the worst in the NHL since that timeframe not including the Kraken and Vegas Golden Knights.
Horvat is having his prime years wasted and players like Demko and Hughes are having their early years wasted.
One of Benning’s biggest downfalls was his inability to build a competent defensive core. The Canucks have given up 1867 goals since the start of the 2014-15 season. That is fifth most in the league during that time span. It could have been worse without goaltending from Ryan Miller, Jacob Markstrom and Demko. Only the Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and Edmonton Oilers have given up more goals than the Canucks in that time span.
With what looks like another lost season, Aquilini finally pulled the trigger. The Benning era and especially the last few months of it felt like the scene in Goodfellas where the helicopter follows Henry Hill around all day and he finally gets busted before he has the chance to meet with his Pittsburgh associates.
As a person, Benning seems like a good guy and he’ll eventually rebound from this. As a GM, he couldn’t build a winning team.
Years from now, the Benning era will be looked back as a tough and dysfunctional time of Canucks hockey.
It was clear Benning needed to go. It probably should have happened earlier but better late than never. It was arguably one of the darkest times in Canucks history
Who will be the next GM? What will the next he do to improve the team? Can he put behind the dysfunction of the Benning era behind us? We shall see.
As Linkin Park put it in their 2010 single Waiting for the End “The hardest part of ending is starting again.”