This past weekend Jim Benning sat down with Bob McKenzie to discuss a whole gamut of topics pertaining to the team he inherited back in May, and has wasted no time putting his imprint on.
It runs nearly 15 minutes and you can listen to it for yourself here, but I’ve gone ahead and taken the liberty of transcribing the main talking points stemming from the interview, as well. As unenthused as Benning may appear above the discussion itself is actually rather worthwhile, especially given the sentiments he echoes on the plan heading into the coming season, particularly as it relates to providing the Sedins with support.
On people saying the team’s ‘window’ has closed:
“I understand what people are saying, but when I went in there and took the job — I talked to Kevin Bieksa, I talked to the Sedins, I talked to Dan Hamhoos, I talked to Alex Burrows — those guys are competitive guys. They still want to win. They’re still at the age where they can contribute and be a part of a winning team. We sat down with our scouts, and discussed the direction we want to go.. we decided ‘let’s give these guys some support. Let’s sign some guys to help these guys out along the way and let’s see where it goes.’
So signing Vrbata to play with the Sedins and help them out, signing Ryan Miller to give us depth in goal and stability in goal, and some of the trades we made were to give these guys a chance to 1) make the playoffs, and 2) see where we can go once we’re in the playoffs.”
On if he views the job as a “reload, retool, or refresh”:
“I don’t really like using any of those terms. We’ll have 6 new players – that’s a 1/3 of our team. I think when you bring young players in to your organization they add enthusiasm and energy. What we tried to do is, with the support of our core players, we tried to add depth and be a 4 line team. You look at LA, Anaheim, San Jose; they’re 4 line teams, they can wear you down and they can play a physical game.
In adding some younger players, we added some energy to our lineup. I think that’ll be good for our group.”
On what he sees from a 34-year old Ryan Miller who was just ‘so-so’ during his most recent stretch in St.Louis:
“I have a long history with Ryan Miller. When I was in Buffalo we drafted him there, so I know the type of personality he is. He’s an intense guy, he’s a focused guy, he wants to win. This year we have a lot of guys on our team that have something to prove whether it’s to themselves or to each other. They want to prove that they’re still a playoff team.”
“Ryan, I’ve seen him lots being in Boston through the years. And before he got traded to St.Louis, he was excellent in Buffalo. Some games he’d get 45, 50 shots and keep his team in the game. I think it’s hard to pin it all on Ryan Miller. At the end there St.Louis ran into a lot of injuries, those last couple of weeks a lot of their core guys got hurt and they might’ve had a different fate had they gone into the playoffs healthy.”
On Eddie Lack v. Jacob Markstrom for the backup gig:
“We’ll see where it goes. Eddie Lack played well in the games he played the last half of the year. In our market in Vancouver we have a tough travel schedule, so on back to back nights we now have two good goalies that can come in and help our team win.”
On the Sedins:
“First of all, I’ve always from the outside looking in always been impressed with the Sedins. But when you get in, when you get close to them they’re amazing athletes. They work hard. When I took the job on May 20th and I was going in for the announcement they were in the gym, working out for 2 hours. They worked hard for the whole summer. They want to prove to people that they’re still elite players in this league, and they still are.
They had a lot of chances to score last year, and their numbers didn’t reflect it. But I expect them to come back and be real good players.”
On Radim Vrbata potentially filling the role of 3rd wheel to the Sedins:
“When we talked about how we could support them, Radim is like a give-and-go player. He jumps into the holes, he’s a finisher, he has a good shot. We think that’ll be a good fit him with the Sedins. So Willie is going to try it out.”
On a ‘less is more attitude’ with the Sedins:
“That’s how we talked about having more depth. Our 3rd and 4th lines are going to be important pieces to the team because we’re going to have penalty killers in that group. I think Willie has talked about getting them back to where they’re at their best. Whether it’s cutting down on their minutes, maybe it’s not killing penalties, letting them have more offensive zone starts, letting them thrive at what they’re good at.”
On the #2 centre vacancy left by Ryan Kesler’s departure:
“Training camp will bear that out. Nick Bonino had a very good year last year in Anaheim, he’s a solid 200-foot player. He has good hands around the net, he sets his teammates up for scoring chances. Over the course of training camp and their exhibition games that’ll sort itself out.”
On Bo Horvat potentially making the team out of camp:
“He’s going to have to come in and prove to us that we have to move one of those guys out to mark room for him. Bo Horvat is a very good young player, he has proved a lot at the Junior level already. It’ll start this weekend, it’ll give him a jump start on training camp. Some of those guys you mentioned [Bonino, Vey, Matthias, Richardson] can play at the wing too, so if he deserves to be on the team we can shift things up to make room for him.
I think we’ll look at him as a centerman. I don’t know how much he has played on the wing at Junior, we want to keep him where he’s comfortable — and that’s playing at center ice.”
On what they saw in Linden Vey:
“Linden Vey is a guy that we feel is ready to make the jump. He has played in the American league for 3 years and that’s one of those deals where we identified that LA may have the best center ice in the league with Kopitar, Carter, Richards, and Stoll. There might not have been room for him to crack that lineup there in LA, but he’s going to come to us after having played well down in the minors there. I think he’s a guy that has needed a chance and a shot to earn his keep and he’s going to come to our organization and get that opportunity.”
On Willie Desjardins, and the style they expect him to implement:
“Trevor and I talked about the things that we wanted when we hired our next coach. Willie is a tireless worker, first of all. His teams have always bought in and worked hard for him, whether it be at the Junior level or the American Hockey League level. He has a way with his players where they give him everything they’ve got.
I expect us to be a team that uses our skill, instead of playing a dump and chase game we’re going to come across the blueline with the puck and we’re going to use our speed and skill to create scoring chances. Get back to the type of style of game that they played previously.”
On the dynamic of working with Trevor Linden:
“He’s involved. I came from Boston where we had Cam Neely and Peter, and that’s a dynamic that you see through the league. Trevor is involved in all of the decisions that we make. When we’re going to do something we sit down, we talk about it, we hash it out, and we come to a conclusion on what we’ll try to do.”
On his background in scouting:
“That’s my passion. My passion is in the scouting and player personnel side. In a Canadian market, I’ll be with the team quite a bit. But when I get a chance to get out I’ll get out and see the top players in the draft.
It’s a good draft, but our goal is to make the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, I’m happy picking 15th to 22nd.”