The age of ineptitude in the Jim Benning era

Are Vancouver Canucks fans so afraid of mediocrity that they'd rather remain good than take a chance at greatness?
Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks
Jim Benning, Vancouver Canucks / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

Now that we have finally, comfortably put the Benning era behind us, we can enjoy the Canucks as they were meant to be enjoyed – as a team trying to win a championship. 

For several years, they weren’t. That is a wild thing to be able to say about a professional team of any sort. I’d like to clarify this point, because the reader may look at tanking teams and posit that they aren’t trying to win either.

On the contrary, tanking teams are recognizing the low ebb of their cycle and setting themselves up on the most direct path back to contending: high draft picks with which they hope to land a generational talent or at least a franchise player. Oddly, the Canucks were doing neither.

It will take time to heal from the Jim Benning era

Content to stay in the mushy middle, the Benning administration effectively drove its fanbase crazy. Nothing they did made sense, leaving most fans confused, angry, and in disbelief. Their schizophrenic behavior was allowed to go on for so long that an entire generation of fans knew nothing different, while “old faithfuls” were thrown into psychological submission. 

There was a time when fans were allowed to imagine what it would be like for the Canucks to win the Stanley Cup; Planning parade routes in their mind, envisioning the team's captain hoisting it for the first time, wondering who they would pass it to first, picturing the party the city would have instead of a riot for once.

After so long without the team itself even truly striving for this, it seems even the older fans have forgotten that this is allowed. We became so accustomed to caring about draft picks and prospects that we forgot that they are actually just there to supplement what really matters, the team chasing the Stanley Cup. So pathetically attached we became to the draft lottery simulator that it appears some fans in Vancouver now value picks and prospects more than the prospect of winning a Cup. 

Is it just fear?..... fear of falling back into that purgatory of irrelevance? If so, it’s understandable. The Benning era scarred the best of us. The PTSD is real!  

I’ve noticed on social media that many fans are already married to Tom Willander and Jonathan Lekkerimaki. Granted, the prospect pool has been very weak for a long time so it is nice to finally have some promising youth in the pipeline. As the NHL nears its annual trade deadline there is much talk in Vancouver that the Canucks are heavily interested in acquiring Jake Guentzel.

Jake is one of the best wingers in the entire NHL and could instantly make the much-improved Canucks a perennial contender. He would provide Elias Pettersson, who’s been playing with the likes of Sam Lafferty, Pius Suter, Andre Kuzmenko and Ilya Mikheyev, the latter of which hasn’t scored since before many of us put up our Christmas trees, a legit top 6 winger, an elite one in fact.

Guentzel is the type of player that could actually make Pettersson, on pace to be a back-to-back 100-point scorer, better. That’s how good he is. Yet when it’s suggested that the Canucks should consider trading Willander to land Guentzel in a sign and trade with term, the majority of fans I've talked to balk at the idea.

“You don’t trade “A” prospects for 29-year-old wingers.”

“That’s Benning thinking, trading the future for the present.”

“Benning’s gone, he can’t hurt you anymore, let it go.”

That last post especially intrigues me because it’s the inverse of what I’m saying here. It suggests that by wanting to let go of a top prospect for a win-now piece, I’m damaged by the abuse I endured from Benning. If the Canucks were still wallowing in mediocrity, as they were when so many go-for-it moves were made in the past, I’d agree with the poster. But the Canucks are chasing a Presidents Trophy.

Things have changed. The window for the team has creaked open and one of the most glaring holes left to fill is an elite winger to play with Petey. Filling that hole, for now, and in years to come, could slam the window open and turn the Canucks into a powerhouse. Despite this, the risk of giving up a player, who may or may not be a contributor 3 years from now, seems to be enough to dissuade many fans from taking this leap. 

It seems the Benning era was so damaging to the psyche of fans that many are hesitant to pursue the ultimate goal out of fear of losing the certainty of not being a bad team again. It seems many fans in Vancouver would rather be a good team in perpetuity than kick the door down and win a cup the city's been waiting 53 years for. 

Rutherford, Allvin and Tocchet have changed everything. It’s just happened so fast that most of us haven't had time to adjust. For my money, they have earned the benefit of the doubt, and faith from Canucks’ faithful that they can take the team to the promised land.

So to the last poster, who said “don’t worry, Benning’s gone, he can’t hurt you anymore, let it go,” I would repeat their sentiment right back. It’s ok to root for your team to go for it. It’s ok to be a bit reckless and hope your team chases the ultimate prize. That’s what being a sports fan is all about. There are no guarantees of capturing glory, but after witnessing years of chasing mediocrity, I for one am excited at the idea of dreaming big once again.