F is for Francesco

It has been a couple of weeks since Canucks’ owner Francesco Aquilini did an on-air interview with Sportsnet 650, and there’s been much made about what he said and wouldn’t say. But two things really struck me. First, was his focus on those first 15 games of the season, and second was how he talked about the various roles related to the team:

“Owners own. Managers manage. Coaches coach. And players play.”

And you can’t really argue with that. To be honest, I’m just glad he didn’t go on to explain what analysts do.

Anyway, his point is clear. There is, or should be, a separation in roles that allows everyone to do what they are supposedly good at. If you get too involved in decisions that should be the responsibility of others, you wind up owning much more than the team: you own the results. The more you meddle, the less you can hold those that work under you accountable.

But that works in reverse, as well: the less you meddle, the more you can hold those responsible also accountable.

And that brings us to the GM. His name is Jim Benning.

Now, I have to admit. On first listen, I was ready to make a bunch of jokes about Aquilini and amnesia. I mean, there is nothing this team could have done over the first 15 games of this year that would erase the two burning car wrecks that passed for the last two seasons of hockey here in Vancouver. But there was Aquilini gushing about the start to this season as if it was Benning’s first year on the job.

And I guess in some ways it is.

There was a point about this time last year, where the situation was remarkably different. Sure enough, as the team slid further and further down the standings between when I wrote that in early December and the February trade deadline, Benning did nothing to address the holes in the roster. Not even the ones caused by injuries.

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And then, almost as if out of nowhere, Tuesday Jim appeared.

Benning had himself a great trade deadline, and things started looking up. Sure, there is much talk that the changes in the approach to rebuilding the team were being driven by Linden, and that Benning wouldn’t have traded Hansen if it wasn’t for the expansion draft, but I’ll still give him credit for making the deals he did. There was indeed some light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, I don’t know what happened between December and February, when active management of the team went dark, but I suspect there was some serious soul searching, plenty of meetings with ownership, a realization that this team was not where they thought it was, and a determination to try a different path.

And that brings us back to accountability.

Because I truly believe that Aquilini was ready to turf Benning following last year’s disastrous season. But somewhere along the way, whether they realized it themselves, or someone made the case, ownership realized they couldn’t pin it on Benning given how many decisions they had influenced over the last three years. Whether it was drafting Virtanen, or going all in on Lucic, which then led to Eriksson, or even the botched Hamhuis deal to Dallas at the 2016 trade deadline, Francesco had his fingerprints on a lot of key decisions. As a result, there was enough there to give Benning the benefit of the doubt and not hold him accountable for his disastrous tenure with the team.

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So, with a year left on Benning’s deal, Aquilini appears to be giving him a chance to redeem himself. He has wiped the slate clean, and given him a fresh start. If you take a step back and really listen to that interview again, you can start to see that this is a make or break year for Benning. And even more than that, it appears that Aquilini is even willing to not focus so much on performance at the NHL level, as long as the prospects continue to develop. It’s the same message that Trevor Linden had in his interview with Jason Brough for The Athletic:

“I’m really encouraged by what’s happening in the organization, not necessarily at the NHL level. Whether it be in Utica, where there’s some positive things with some young players coming in and playing some meaningful roles down there. Or whether it be the junior leagues or college or the European leagues. We’ve had some players really step forward and I’m excited about a group of players that aren’t currently on our team.

“I guess there’s always a part of it where your eye’s on the future and what that looks like. At the same time, when the season starts, you want to be competitive. You want to have a chance to win. You want to compete every night. But we’re certainly not going to mortgage the future to win now.”

That attitude from both ownership and Linden goes a long way to explaining both the gap-filling depth signings over the summer, and the apparent intention to start Brock Boeser in the AHL this season: put a competitive product on the ice, and develop the prospects.

But I’m still not convinced that Aquilini is sold on Benning. If he was, I don’t think he would leave Benning hanging with a lame duck contract like this. Again, both he and Linden are singing from the same song sheet here:

That’s exactly what you say when you’re intending to leave it to the end of the season. Otherwise, you would talk about working on a deal, or figuring out the details, or getting to the right number, etc. You don’t leave him hanging out to dry on an expiring deal.

Now, that doesn’t mean that they won’t re-sign him after the season is done, but I’m still not sure I like his chances. Because there’s another way this could play out, and that’s the way Toronto transitioned out of their ineptitude a few years ago. They let Dave Nonis do a bunch of the dirty work, turning veterans into draft picks, and then promptly turfed him as the Leafs bottomed out.

It’s not quite the same situation in Vancouver, but if the Canucks hit another rough patch heading into the trade deadline, we will likely see another firesale. And despite the apparent focus on a fresh start, I’m not sure Benning escapes the accountability that Aquilini is so set on holding him to.

Aquilini may be giving Benning some more rope this year, but you know how that saying goes…



  • Locust

    “Whether it was drafting Virtanen, or going all in on Lucic, which then led to Eriksson, or even the botched Hamhuis deal to Dallas at the 2016 trade deadline, Francesco had his fingerprints on a lot of key decisions.”

    You can have opinions but you cant change history to fit your narrative just because you are the one at the keyboard.

    Drafting is like fishing – you use your experience and hope for the best. If you want a “sure thing” – go buy fish at Safeway.

    All in on Lucic – then why isn’t he here? and somehow, that lead to Eriksson… huh .. ??

    Hamhuis was responsible for what happened, not the Canucks.

    You’re welcome….

    • It’s been pretty well established that the Canucks were “all in” on Lucic, and he *chose* to sign with Edmonton. Players are human beings and they have a say in the matter. Frankly, I’ll take Eriksson over Lucic, though both those contracts were bad.

      As for Hamhuis, again, it’s been pretty well established that a deal was in place to send Hamhuis to Dallas at it was nixed by the owners.

      • TK Smith

        “Pretty well established” by who? JD Burke? Jackson MacDonald? Jason Botchford? Blake Price? All of these contributors are well versed at creating a narrative through speculation and bias then running with that narrative in subsequent writings as if it actually a real occurrence. These are agenda toting writers whose limited credibility was used up some time ago. Merely repeating what you wish to be fact does not make it a fact.

        Convince me that what you say is well established has a basis in fact. Show me the real evidence not oft repeated rumours or opinion.

          • DJ_44

            I think they kicked the tires to see what he was looking for. Took him out for dinner.

            No one reported they made any type of offer. That may just have been because they were not interested in matching Edmonton’s 6×7 deal.

          • Dirk22

            DJ – He was their number one target. Eriksson was consolation prize. How is this even a conversation? they offered Eriksson 6 x 6 after Lucic signed with Oilers. You seriously think Lucic’s Deal was too rich for them ?! Even so, they obviously would have given him 6 x 6.

            “We’re going to try. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not” – Benning


  • myshkin

    So what is Linden’s role in all this and when does his contract expire? Willie got crucified last year and Benning gets constant criticism here but Linden seems to get a pass. Benning is often criticized for over paying players but presumably Linden has veto power over the contracts. If Benning is to be replaced, the president should be replaced first. Lamoriello would make an excellent president.

    • defenceman factory

      You make a very good point. The culture of the Bruins was known for being thrifty with player contracts. Linden, on the other hand, spent many years with the players union. It’s a pretty safe bet Willy D was not Benning’s coach.

      All the Benning haters want to attribute every decision entirely to him. Maybe some franchises give the GM carte blanch but with the history of Aquilini and Linden that seems unlikely. It is inconceivable Benning showed up here and invented the “rebuild on the fly” sales pitch all on his own.

      On the entire body of management decisions during Benning’s tenure he does not deserve to be resigned. This article appropriately raises the question of the extent of Benning’s responsibility for the most egregious of those decisions.

      Benning takes the most criticism for some pro scouting missteps, contract values and the drafting of Virtanen. It is reasonable to suspect he was following orders on many of those decisions. He has made significant changes to pro scouting personnel, Peterssen may turn out to be the best player in his draft class, Boeser. Lind is not the kind of play a strictly “meat and potatoes” GM gets excited about. He has made some very good decisions.

      If Benning gets re-signed it is time to stop blaming him for mistakes earlier in his tenure. Ownership will be accepting the accountability. If not re-signed ownership is holding him accountable. If Linden insists Benning extend the Sedins for anything beyond 1 year he should walk.

  • Cageyvet

    Maybe I’ve just lost all perspective with the history of Graphic Comments, but this is one of those rare times where I enjoyed the writeup. Sure, if I take a closer look there’s still probably a few cheap shots, but nothing over-the-top and it’s pretty absent of overall snark (usually the topic). More of this please, it was a story not an assassination, and there are some very valid points in there.

    • Bud Poile

      Lucic will always know how much we despise him.
      He would never sign here so this story is flatulence fodder.
      Petbugs got the Hamhuis story wrong.Not a clue.
      That leads us into the main story,which is as accurate and relevant as the first two.
      F is for fail.

      • defenceman factory

        Cageyvet has given a fair evaluation of the article. Bud you seem to have skipped past the main point of the article and condemned Petbugs based on his past performance.

          • defenceman factory

            seems a bit rugged to think Benning should be re-signed based on recent performance and then skewer petbugs for a somewhat reasonable article due to past performance. I agree some of his work has been really bad but as you said this piece isn’t.

        • Bud Poile

          I read the article-twice.
          The author offers conjecture on Benning.
          Since he blew it on Hamhuis and Lucic this is entirely an opinion piece.
          A step up for Petbugs into the Botchford level.

  • Class of 2011

    Absolutely laughable that this inept clown Benning is even being considered for an extension and Francesco knows this, otherwise he would have signed him up already.

    Benning’s drafting has in reality been terrible… ONE legit NHL worthy pick (Boeser) in his first three drafts is not good enough for a rebuilding team desperate for young NHL ready talent. The number of elite available draft picks this so-called guru passed on is a disgrace. McCann, Juolevi and Virtanen over Larkin, Sergachev/Tkachuk and Pastranak???? Only a m(u)g or a tr(o)ll refuses to see that THAT is terrible drafting…

    The only way Benning gets extended now is if he makes the playoffs, so i expect him to be immediately let go when that doesn’t happen and Trevor Linden will continue the rebuild as GM and President of the club like his mentor Pat Quinn.

    This is a results business guys not a charity or on the job training. Benning hasn’t delivered in the league or at the draft table – time to go dim jim and good riddance. The facts do not lie. Thankfully Francesco knows this… so who cares if you don’t.

  • speering major

    Benning has been hit and miss. If he had any lottery luck, he’d look like a genius right now.

    Virtanen. 6th overall. With any lottery luck it could have been Draisaitl or Eckblad. Lets not forget that picks 4,5, and 7 have also been major disappointments. Now, should Benning take heat for not picking Ehlers or Nylander? Of course, but let’s not pretend 3 other GM’s dropped the ball here also. That clearly demonstrates it wasn’t a “no brainer”
    McCann 24th overall. Was that a genius pick and a steal or is Benning the worst GM of all time for trading him? you can’t have it both ways. I think Gudbranson was another mistake but its not over yet. It was a a 24th overall pick, far from a sure thing. They might get something for Guddy in trade or sign him to a depth D contract yet.
    Demko at 36th. This is looking like an absolute steal. Demko in on the Corey Schnieder path right now. If Demko comes close to that comparison, its a home run. If Demko reaches or surpasses Schneider, this draft is a massive success.
    Tryamkin at 66. Again, is this a genius steal by Benning (like McCann) or is management a disaster for letting him go back to Russia? you can’t have it both ways. The Tryamkin story isn’t over either.

    Boeser at 23. Absolute steal. If you are re-drafting, He goes 3-5
    Brisebois at 66. Might become a depth guy but too early to tell
    Gaudette at 149. C.A. has him ranked 7th in prospects. This could be another steal

    Juolevi at 5. Again with any lottery luck, Benning takes Laine or Mathews and looks like an absolute genius. Picks 3 or 4 haven’t produced anything noteworthy yet and they are forwards who develop faster. If Juolevi turns out to be a solid top 4 D then this is a fine pick. Tkachuk went 6th so he’s going to draw comparisons. He’s done well, much better than 3,4, and 5 so far, but it’s still early. Keller or Sergachev might have been the pick to make also. The Jury is still out if this was even a mistake (like Virtanen) never mind a blunder

    Petterson at 5. He might turn out to be the #1 or 2 player (or forward) in this draft. Many scouts had him ranked much lower. Petterson is absolutely lighting it up right now.
    Lind at 33. This also looks like a great pick here. Lind is putting up numbers comparable to the other forwards selected in the top 10.

    Then you look at moving Hunter for Granlund, The Baertschi pick up, and Stetcher. That’s some solid work in producing contributors from nothing. I’m not certain but I believe the Hamhuis and Erickson mistakes had ownership finger prints all over them. I think ownership has been pushing Benning to make moves that will help ticket sales, not the team. I think he got good value for Hansen and Burrows. I think if you look at it mathematically, with anything but bad lottery luck, the Canucks would have one of Eckblad, Draisaitl, Mathews, or Laine. Instead of Virtanen or Oli. If you look at the picks Benning has made, I would say he made a bad pick in Virtanen (so did 3 other GM’s, 2 before and 1 after). All considered I would rate his draft picks a B. Although the McCann trade was a mistake it’s hard to tell if it actually harmed the team at this point. When you look at Bennings other moves, I would say he has come out on top in trades also. Bennings worst area has been Free agency. I could be wrong but I believe those mistakes were from ownership wanting to sell tickets. If Benning was the one pushing for Erickson and that contract, then that alone could be justification for dismissal. If Benning isn’t responsible for the Erickson signing, I would definitely keep him on. It’s a rebuild, and free agent signings aren’t the key, acquiring prospects are and he has been good in that area imo

    • crofton

      Good post, but I’ll quibble about a few things. He didn’t get good value for Hansen and Burrows…he got Great value. Most of your post was about how well you think JB did, and I agree, implying, at least that he should be re-hired on that basis, but then you say if he was responsible for acquiring Eriksson, then he should go, as in zero tolerance, one mistake and you’re gone. Thing is, while he may have overpaid for him, pretty much anyone you asked would have told you they expected Loui to be a 25 – 30 goal scorer. I know I did. So if he got even over 20 last year ( an underachievement), would this still be a thing? 30? Or would you not have signed any FA’s at all and thrown all the rookies in there, like Edmonton?

      • speering major

        It’s not so much that it’s an unforgivable mistake, but it is a big one and this is a business. Signing Lou for that amount and term was very expensive for the business. A contract that large and for that long can cripple a teams ability to compete. Game changers make that much money. This contract was an expensive mistake financially and in the teams ability to compete over the next 5 seasons. One of the reasons they liked Lou was his chemistry with the Sedins. The Sedins haven’t been top line producers for two seasons and never will be. They are old, this is not a surprise. I believe the signings were a push to sell tickets though. If thats the reason then I don’t fault Benning. If I’m an owner and Benning sold me on this Lou signing, I’m thinking to myself that this GM used poor judgement on multiple levels here and made a massive blunder we will be paying for the next 5 seasons. I can’t trust him, I have to move one. Personally I think it was ownership pushing in that direction and Benning has done a good job in building a prospect pool, but only they know how this went down

        • Dirk22

          I always wonder about the financial argument of selling tickets when you’re signing a $36 million dollar contract. Is Eriksson making the Canucks so competitive that he’s bringing inthat sort of extra cash? How many extra tickets, extra jerseys sold is his presence going to be worth. $36 million?

      • Dirk22

        Signing Eriksson wasn’t a mistake because he is not scoring 30 goals like he did earlier in his career. Signing him is a mistake because he’s over 30 years old (32 now) and you had to commit to him for 6 years at $6mill. It makes no sense to make that sort of commitment to a player when you’re in the position the Canucks were/are. Doesn’t mean you need to throw the rookies to the wolves – plenty of other cheaper options that wouldn’t strain the salary cap into the 2020’s – Benning’s free agent spree this year wasn’t amazing but much more prudent.

        • speering major

          Exactly. High profile FA’s are for contenders, not a rebuilding team. A big reason to sign Lou was how he played with the Sedins… But why are you finding a high profile for the Sedins when their days as a top line are over, and then signing that high profile 30+ year old winger for 6 seasons? Its a terrible idea on multiple levels. The Canucks went a much better route this season with their signings. They only issue I really have is giving Gagner a 3rd season. In two years from now the Canucks could have 9 million in unmovable contract for players that might not even be an upgrade from your rookies.

          The comparisons to the Oilers don’t hold. The Oilers had no D and weak leadership. That has absolutely nothing to do with high profile signings. That was just terrible team composition.

  • DJ_44

    This article, like much of @petbugs work, is directly out of the Trump playbook. Nothing has to be true, just frame it in a way so @petbugs “base” will believe it and then …… boom….. it becomes quoted back as fact in the echo-chamber.

    He wrote a similar unfounded piece last season, and even referred to it in passing in this one:

    Because I truly believe that Aquilini was ready to turf Benning following last year’s disastrous season. But somewhere along the way, whether they realized it themselves, or someone made the case, ownership realized they couldn’t pin it on Benning given how many decisions they had influenced over the last three years.

    Benning’s work at rebuilding (or transitioning) the team from the massive hangover left by the Gillis/Gilman regime might just work.

    I gotta hand it to him though: with this article, I think he has gone full Putin.

    He is attempting to appeal to the character traits of Mr. Aquilini: ridiculing him: (paraphrasing): “it is either Franceso or Benning; one or the other, which is it sir?”