Jim Benning speaks: The Aquilinis, Desjardins, Virtanen, and Trade Rumours

The Canucks have experienced the highs and lows in the first month of the regular season. Starting out 4-0-1 was considered an accomplishment for the team, but most knew that they were bound to be challenged as their schedule became more and more tight. They’ve lost seven in a row and are back in the all-too-familiar bottom section of the league. Several thoughts have popped up during this time – Willie Desjardins’ coaching, Jake Virtanen’s ice-time situation, Jim Benning’s search for a 20-goal scorer, and the autonomy that the ownership group has supposedly provided.

Jim Benning was on the air with TSN 1040 earlier today to discuss these topics.

So what has management’s goal been this season? It’s pretty well known that they have their eyes set on the playoffs. Whether that works out or not – or is even realistic – remains to be seen. As of today, it would be hard-pressed to confidently say that the Canucks will be contending for a playoff spot. One can say that most of the team, except for the goaltenders, have struggled. Players have underperformed and that has taken its toll on the team.

Jim Benning: “We wanted to be competitive in every game and I think we’ve shown that. I’m trying to transition young players to be the next core group, and we have older players who are helping out with the transition. Bo Horvat has taken a step, I was expecting more from Sven Baertschi. In the last 3 or 4 games, he’s (Baertschi) played better and had more scoring chances, he just needs to finish them off. Ben Hutton has been real good for us, Jake Virtanen is making skilled plays that we know he can make. We’re on the course of getting this next group of core players going. If we keep playing like we’re playing and putting the puck in the net, we’ll start winning.”

Speaking of Jake Virtanen, his “calling-out” of Willie Desjardins’ allocated ice time seemed to only make matters more complicated and magnified. The entire situation sparked discussion amongst the media and Canucks fans, pondering essentially who’s side to take: Virtanen or Desjardins? I covered this situation last week and you can read that by navigating here.

Jim Benning on Virtanen’s ice-time: “I had this conversation with Jake a week ago, but that will be up to him. If he started scoring goals, Willie would have more trust in him and putting him out more. Ice time is something that young players have to earn, and they earn it by doing something that gains the coaches’ trust and wanting to keep putting them out there. The last three or four games, he’s shown us things he can do. For now, we need him up here and we need him to start scoring. We’re going to continue to work with him and hopefully he gets better.”

Earlier this week, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun broke the news that Jim Benning was searching for a goal-scorer. This is a player that the Canucks have been searching for even throughout the off-season, but no deals were made. Come the start of the regular season, the waiver wire was another last-minute addition tool that would have allowed Benning to claim a player at no cost. Scoring has, without a doubt, been the Canucks’ achilles heel this month. Had they scored a goal or two in each of their shutout games, their record may be different. And though adding a scorer would definitely help the team, the bigger concern is what would possibly be given up to obtain the goal-scorer. While LeBrun’s report is not exactly shocking news, Canucks fans gave of the impression of “oh no, what is he going to give up now?”

Jim Benning on adding a goal-scorer: I’m in constant communication with all the other General Managers in the league. If anything makes sense, we’re going to look to into trying to do it, but we’re not going to sacrifice any of our young players to make the team better now. I’m not moving Boeser, Demko, Juolevi. If we can do something that makes sense, we’ll look at it. I’m not going to do anything that it going to harm the long-term success of our group.”

The Canucks got off to a very hot, top of the league start in their after their first few games. One month later, they find themselves near the bottom. Comparing the start of the season to now, there must have been something that triggered the large fall-out. Coaching has always been a concern amongst Canucks fans, and Willie Desjardins’ deployment of some players has also raised eyebrows. More recently, the significant struggles of the team have lead to some fans calling for a release of the head coach, while others have insisted on staying patient and letting the team recapture their game.

Jim Benning on coaching: “I think they’ve done a good job. We asked them to play with more structure and discipline and we’ve showed that right now. We’re not giving up a lot of chances. The games are close but we have to figure out another way – whether it be on the power-play or 5-on-5 – to get to the net longer and get some dirty goals. Overall, they’ve done a good job.”

It’s safe to say Troy Stecher has been a pleasant surprise this season. Should he have been given an opening-night roster spot? Some, if not most, would say yes because he’s a puck-mover and has looked very steady defensively. Stecher is on a two-way contract, meaning the Canucks can call him up and send him down to Utica seamlessly. With the NHL expansion draft occurring at the end of the season, it appears that Luca Sbisa and Alex Biega, who are both on one-way contracts, will likely be exposed for Las Vegas. With that being said, one might say that the draft is also a reason as to why Troy Stecher is not a full-time Canuck.

Jim Benning on Stecher: “He’s coming from college hockey where they’re only playing on Friday and Saturday nights. For him to learn the pro game (through Utica) and play three or four games a week is a good learning experience for him. It’s good for us because, if we have injuries, he’s a guy we can call up and know he is going to be good.”

There have been rumours that the underlying root cause of the Canucks’ playoff mentality has been the ownership group. I view this thought as being a sensitive situation because owning a professional sports team is an immensely massive investment. I know I have no right to judge or interpret how the Aquilinis oversee the Canucks, so I will just let Jim Benning do the talking.

Jim Benning on the Aquilini ownership group: “Francesco (Aquilini) is a really good owner. He lets us do what we need to do to try to be competitive. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him, he doesn’t interfere with anything that we’re doing. He’s supportive and he’s a great owner.”

And finally… here is Benning’s message to the fans that are understandably impatient and frustrated:

“Just be patient with us. We want to be competitive and we’ve showed that. Once we start scoring, these losses that we’ve suffered will turn into wins.”

Source: TSN 1040

  • Killer Marmot

    Most of what the current management does makes sense to me. Not all of it, but most. And the results have been a substantial rebuild in a remarkably short period of time. I count only seven players on the roster who played for the Canucks prior to Benning, and one of them (Markstrom) had only a few games.

      • Killer Marmot

        It’s not all been rebuilding — that is, lowering the average age — but much of it has. Benning has introduced the following young players onto the roster over the last 2.5 years:

        Baertschi, Gaunce, Granlund, Horvat, Virtanen, Gudbranson, Hutton, Stecher, Tryamkin

        Around 40% of dressed players in each game are under 25 years of age. The average age of the Canucks is now about typical for the league, despite the fact that the Sedins, Burrows, and Miller skew that number.

        Those demanding a rebuild are getting their wish. They just need to pay attention.

        • Freud

          No, rebuilding is creating a team that will challenge for a Cup.

          Rebuilding is improving on what you are replacing.

          This list does neither, rather it’s turning over average players with younger, average players.

          You can not compare a team against it’s former self, rather you need to compare it to the teams that are rebuilding around it.

          You just need to pay attention.

          • Killer Marmot

            Okay, so you think the players Benning is bringing up are of average quality. I’m not sure I agree, but let’s go with it,

            What would you do about that?

          • Jamie E

            Oh really? When did Montreal get torn down? When did the Lightning get torn down? When did Dallas get torn down? When did San Jose get torn down? and on and on.

            This idea that there is only strategy to build a winning team is ludicrous.

            PS – Have you pondered the NEW DRAFT LOTTERY RULES? Tanking so three years ago.

        • The Fall

          A rebuild is not trading away picks and prospects for NHL ready plugs.

          Baertchi and Granlund were unloaded on Benning from Calgary. They are spare parts — Similar for Gubranson. The team needed those picks they gave away for AFTER the Sedin era.

          • Killer Marmot

            A rebuild is not trading away picks and prospects for NHL ready plugs.

            If you look at Benning’s overall trade record, he has traded for picks about as much as he has traded away picks. These days most clubs are protective of their draft picks and do not trade them away easily. Every team is in the process of rebuilding to some extent.

            Baertchi and Granlund were unloaded on Benning from Calgary. They are spare parts — Similar for Gubranson. The team needed those picks they gave away for AFTER the Sedin era.

            Calgary had to “unload” Baertschi because they grossly mismanaged him. Their ineptitude cost them.

            I like Gudbranson. Sound defensemen are nothing to sneeze at.

            Whether the Granlund trade was sound will take a few years to figure out.

          • Dirty30

            Re Granlund … isn’t that like marrying Suzycue123 and saying it will take a few years to figure out if it was a sound idea or not?

            Picking through the scrap heap for players and potential partners is one thing, but giving up assets for that slag doesn’t make much sense at all.

            Particularly when you consider that players that could be as good or better than Granlund could have been obtained for no cost off waivers.

            If you’re willing to invest the time in the development of a player like a Granlund then you should be willing to invest time in players like Shinkaruk etc rather than tossing them out for another reclamation project.

          • Killer Marmot

            When I first heard of the Granlund – Shinkaruk trade I didn’t like it either Now, however, I am starting to reassess. Shinkaruk is 22 years old and still not in the big leagues, and his defensive play needs a lot of work. I may have to entertain the idea that Benning knows more about hockey than I do.

            But one trade you didn’t like hardly establishes much. At least it was one young player for another young player.

    • Ca-nuckle head

      Glad someone said it. Defence and goaltending look pretty good going forward. Just need to focus on finding some offensive pieces. Be nice to see Rodin play. He looked decent in pre-season.

  • Suzycue123

    Delusional linbenning.

    So saying virtanen is better to play 8mins a night in the NHL as opposed to playing double that in the AHL is good for his “development.”?????

    How long do u have to see if he can “earn” more ice. It’s all fools gold cuz he can’t do it. Doesn’t work hard. Doesn’t do optional skates. First one off practice.

    Need a say more than….BUST.


    Any guy from the farm can play 8 MINS in the NHL.
    Do ppl not see this pish poor management???

    Jello!!! Lol. Come on peeps stop drinking the imitation koolaid.

    More like foolaid.

  • Rodeobill

    If we can get our defense, goalie, and systems sorted this year, I’ll call this season a win even if we tank out and go for draft picks.

    I am happy to see them win, but I am also content to see them play well regardless. There are many facets of the game to appreciate. I’ll be ok to play possum this year, work on those details and tank if it means next year we can ice all of that PLUS a good offense with boeser, Horvat, Eriksson,a good draft, and whoever is finds their game before then. Sedins and Hansen have to be the best “second” line around if we could make it work

  • EddyC

    Ok, I’m going “full retard” We are getting good scoring chances. The games are really close and more than half the time we are out playing the other team. The rebuild on the fly is way better than waiting for 10 years then hitching your team to 1 player and hoping he doesn’t get hurt. e.g. McDavid, he goes down and it’s another top pick next year. I think Benning is doing a great job. Boeser is coming Stecher is coming Oliolevi is coming Tyamkin Pedan. From what I heard from Willie was that they went over the games and there was 40 good scoring chances during this drought and normally that would convert to 8 goals, 1 in 5. If that was the case we would of won the majority of the games we have played. So everyone (especially the media) step back from the cliff. But like everyone knows “you should never go full retard” You can start hitting the trash button now

  • Marvin101

    Basically Benning said nothing. The radio station that carries the broadcast tossed a little batting practice.

    I am none the wiser for having read this article but at least I didn’t have to listen to Pratt.

  • EddyC

    So if you think that Benning isn’t doing anything for the future? Check on the kids he has sewn up this year. Lockwood just pantsed a D for a goal. He has found some gems for the future

  • krutov

    except maybe the part about virtanen getting more ice time if he scores more. that’s reasonable, but maybe not something a gm should say out loudto the media about a very young guy who arguably should be playing in the ahl but is there because aparently management “needs” him in the nhl.

  • Fred-65

    Virtanen is the first Benning pick to play an NHL position. How do you rate him. Most fans give more praise for the players that are still pre NHL than is due. Lets hope Boeser/Demko/Juolevi turn out to be genuine quality prospects. McCann in 11 games has zero points, Demko in the AHL has a 0.861 GA Juolevi in 11 games is 1 + 7. Boeser built up a stat on lessor leagues ( WCHA & AHA ) although I might add Bemidji State is the top team in the WCHA.

    here’s the point Vcr fans tend to get real excited way to early about a prospects likelihood of enjoying success in the NHL. Virtanen may yet turn out to be a McCann in disguise

    • Killer Marmot

      Vcr fans tend to get real excited way to early about a prospects likelihood of enjoying success in the NHL.

      All fans do that. I would be disappointed if Vancouver fans didn’t get excited over their prospects. It’s one of the joys of being a fan.

      • Dirk22

        Well you must be excited about the prospect group too right? You argue against a rebuild so you must think that what they currently have in the pipeline is going to be competitive. That’s exciting! They must be really good!

        • Killer Marmot

          It’s just hockey. Dial it back a notch. No need to get all snarky.

          I’m not “against a rebuild”. All teams should be rebuilding almost all the time. I’m just not a fan of a complete tear down, as the damage it does outweighs the benefits. A more moderate approach is likely to be more successful and more entertaining for the fans.

          In regards to prospects, the Canucks have one of the stronger pools with Demko, Juolevi, and Boeser, although the lack of exciting forwards beyond BB is mildly disconcerting.

        • Bud Poile

          Some still have yet to come to terms with the fact that this is a rebuild.

          Many like to sit on their couch with beer and condiments thinking they have a professional NHL GM’s experience and stature.

      • Fred-65

        Yeah bad wording by me. What I wanted to say is vcr fans inflate expectations before the evidence is showing. Some times unreasonable expectations… and then are disappointed when players hit the NHL and are less than anticipated. Frankly I’m not that excited with Virtanen. I’m uncertain of his Hockey IQ and skill. In addition it seems like he needs an attitude adjustment. Right now from what he’s presented is he’s a bottom 6 forward IMO

  • andyg

    No prospect is a guaranty. Arizona has the best prospect pool in the league. So they say! They are at the bottom of the league with us aren’t they?

    The oiler’s drafted top 5 over and over but never built a defense or ever acquired goal tending.

    We are building from the bottom up. People only notice the score sheet. If the team becomes a solid defensive group. If they become hard to play against and are always in every game. If we end the year with a group who buy into playing solid defensively but lack goal scoring.

    How long would it take to add some goal scoring?

    • I am Ted

      Let’s be honest, if the Coilers hadn’t fluked out and landed McDavid, they’d still suck. McDavid got Lucic over there and the rest of the team is still developing (the young guys, anyway). The D is iffy and so is the depth. McDavid cures a lot of what ails the Coil.

  • LTFan

    Lots of good discussion back and forth for the most part. One thing about the prospects pool, it is growing, but slowly. The Comets are where most of the Canucks prospects are playing and the Comets are struggling so far this season. IMO it will be a couple of seasons of more pain than pleasure.

    For the moment it is up to the players on the team to find a way to score and win a few games as the road trip continues.

    As for Virtanen, I would say all Canucks fans want him to succeed. He certainly has the physical assets, good size, speed and a strong shot. Hopefully it will turn around for him sooner than later.

  • TheRealPB

    Is anyone truly disappointed by Benning’s responses? For those arguing that there should be a rebuild isn’t this evidence enough (beyond our results) that we are actually IN a rebuild? This is actually probably the most realistic set of public statements I’ve heard him give, without too much talk of competitiveness or the playoffs. There’s no way this group actually feels this is a playoff team because it’s not.

  • Suzycue123

    Dorsett is a bonafise 4th liner with absolutely nothing to give of value. The way he runs around the rink trying to pick a fight is sad really. I’m sure he was bullied as kid and is out to prove himself to….himself.

    But hey! Let’s sign him to 2.5 MiLLiON $$$$$ to play less than 10 mins a night.

    Wow. Great MANAGEMENT.


    Eriksson looks like a steal tho, I mean all those goals hes been scoring- I mean, damn has he scored yet??

    Btw he has 4 apples thus far.

    He’s making 1.5 MIllION PER ASSiST!!!!!

    Crazy talk.

    Again awesome management.

  • MattA75

    I never liked the Eriksson signing, and I didn’t necessarily like Lucic at what he was going to cost either, but at least Lucic would have brought some leadership and balls to this team. He also might have been a good influence/mentor on Virtanen. Again, not worth what Edmonton paid him, but I’d rather have paid him that than paid Eriksson at all.

    The prospect pool looks promising, but the team is still paying for not blowing it up after the 2012 disaster against the Kings. And while I’ve liked most of Benning’s trades, the Kesler trade is a pretty big black mark on him.