To say that this hasn’t been the safest of spaces for Jim Benning is a gross understatement. Canucks Army has long been vocal proponents and innovators in the field of hockey analytics, while Benning hangs his hat on the qualitative elements of player evaluation.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg though, if we’re being entirely honest. I could wax poetic on the long-standing diametric opposition in philosophy for another three pages, but I think you get the point. One of the more contentious, if not prevalent disagreements is on the merits of throwing a season in the hopes of acquiring a high draft pick and stockpiling futures.
The topic was broached in an interview with Benning on TSN 1040 Radio this morning. Benning may not have given the answer that Canucks faithful hoped for, but his response held merit all the same.
Dave Pratt and Jake Edwards were conducting the interview, which took place near the end of their morning slot. They didn’t go straight for the rebuild jugular, but rather, began by touching upon some of the highly touted draft eligible prospects which will be available towards the top end of the upcoming draft. Upon getting the Master Scout in Chief’s opinion on the likes of presumptive first overall selection, Auston Matthews, they remark on the steps necessary to secure him.
“in the light of that, how do you react to both media and fans when they start talking about the tank?”
Benning responded in kind:
“Yeah, well, I understand the thinking in that, but we have too much pride in this organization. I know how bad our fans want to win, but that’s just not an option for us. We’re going to go out and compete hard every night and try to win games. I’m confident in the job we’re going to do scouting, wherever we pick, we’re going to get a good player in the first round.”
It is often remarked that advanced statistics take the romance out of hockey. I’ve found the sentiment a remarkably base one, but I understand wherein the roots are planted. It’s not the statistics themselves, but rather the cheque and balance mindset one has to adopt which lets them take hold.
Growing up, I envisioned myself as Martin Brodeur, securing another Gold for Team Canada in the Olympics. I didn’t care for his save percentage, nor his goals against average – with respect to the latter, I figured out it was useless by the time I was nine anyways. I just wanted to win. It’s why I played the game.
If these are the overriding sentiments on which Benning is stubbornly planting his flag, I’ve all the time in the world for it. There’s something noble in refusing to lose for the sake of some cheap reward, whether I think the time for such platitudes has long since passed in a cheques and balance league. It’s admirable as hell, frankly. Also, considerably more relatable to the average fan than harking on the importance of playoff revenue.
Objectively speaking, one can’t help but remember when the Calgary Flames were at this same crossroad. It was downright embarrassing to hear them invoke visions of playoff contention, year after middling year. How can I look at the Canucks trajectory and not feel similarly dismayed by their course? Well, honestly, I can’t.
I can certainly respect the process though. I can stomach getting behind the stubbornness of a front office which is so confident in themselves as talent evaluators that they feel as though they can cheat the more traditionally ascribed to methods of building a contender. Fighting for pennies on the playoff dollar, much less so.