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Is Jim Benning the right man to lead the Canucks to the promised land?

Six years into Jim Benning’s reign as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks, he has been the epitome of mediocrity. Perhaps the children of Springfield sum it up best: “Adequate, forgettable, occasionally regrettable.” He has done a modest job up to this point. Is it time for things to start coming up Milhouse? Let’s take a look at why he has only performed tolerably.

Solid Scouting Prowess

Benning has earned a strong scouting reputation after cutting his teeth for eleven years as a scout and then director of amateur scouting with the Sabres. After his tenure in Buffalo he moved on to the Bruins, where he was the director of player personnel and assistant general manager and as Canucks fans know all too well, he was a part of the Bruins’ front office during their 2011 Stanley Cup run. He was able to bring what he learned in his previous experiences and fix the pro scouting department.

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A notoriously weak spot for the organization in year’s past has been the scouting department. Benning has assembled a scouting department into a capable group responsible for drafting elite superstars, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, along with many later round hits including Adam Gaudette, Tyler Madden, Aidan McDonough, and Jack Rathbone, to name a few.

Additions and Omissions 

In his time with the Canucks, he has bolstered the lineup with the additions of Josh Leivo from the Leafs and Tanner Pearson from the Penguins in exchange for Canucks fan favourite, Erik Gudbranson. Acquiring Gudbranson in the first place was a poor decision, Benning was able to semi-correct his mistake by replacing him with a consistent winger for Bo Horvat on the second line. His finest move was the acquisition of J.T. Miller. for a conditional first round pick. Miller was outstanding this season, leading the Canucks with 72 points.

Know Your GM Role

At times, during his first go around as an NHL GM, Jim Benning has embodied a fake it until you make it mentality. One might quip that he is as competent as G.O.B Bluth from Arrested Development. G.O.B thinks he is a marvellous magician similar to how some think Benning believes he’s a superior scout. However, there is a lot more to being a general manager than just scouting.

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Benning could learn to work smarter, not harder. A GM’s job is to generally manage and oversee operations which makes it difficult for scout GM Jim to evaluate prospects on a consistent enough basis like scouts who travel and watch countless hours of film.

Moreover, the Canucks’ recent draft success has come under the direction of Director of Amateur Scouting, Judd Brackett, whom the Wet Bandits, Jim and John, appear to be trying to oust out of the organization. An important role of a GM is to put the right people in jobs where they can succeed. Benning has put the right person in charge to oversee the amateur scouting department, now he should continue to trust in Judd Brackett and let him run the department with the same autonomy he was given in years’ past.

Free Agency Signing Blunders

During Benning’s reign, there’s no denying he has struggled when it comes to free agent signings. The Canucks should be taking advantage of the ELCs both Pettersson and Hughes are on. However, due to multiple flawed free agent signings and anchor-like contracts, the Canucks are hard-pressed to bolster their lineup at a very crucial time. Notably, the biggest anchors on the salary cap are:

Loui Eriksson: 6 years, $36,000,000total($6 million per year cap hit) until 2021-2022. Modified NTC, beginning 2020-21: he submits a 15 team no-trade list.

Jay Beagle: 4 years, $12,000,000 total ($3 million per year cap hit) until 2021-2022. Modified NTC, 2020-21 & 2021-22: he submits a 5 team no-trade list.

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Brandon Sutter: 5 years, $21,875,000 (4,375 million per year cap hit) until 2020-2021. Modified NTC, beginning 2019-20, he submits a list of 15 teams he cannot be traded to.

Micheal Ferland: 4 years, $14,000,000 total ($3.5 million per year cap hit) until 2022-2023. Modified NTC, beginning 2021-2022, he submits a 10 team no-trade list; 2022-23, he submits an 8 team no-trade list.

Antoine Roussel: 4 years, $12,000,000 total ($3 million per year cap hit) until 2021-2022. Modified NTC, beginning 2019-20 he submits an 8 team no-trade list; 2021-22, he submits a 5 team no-trade list.

Another weak spot is how he has grappled with prospect mismanagement. A few examples are Jonathan Dahlen, Petrus Palmu, and Tyler Madden who the organization shipped out in the Tyler Toffoli deal.

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Long Reign with Minimal Results

Benning is currently the 11th longest-tenured GM in the NHL. Also, he has now surpassed Mike Gillis as the second longest-tenured GM in Canucks history. He has had the longest leash out of any Canucks GM. Dave Nonis was fired after the Canucks failed to make the playoffs two out of three seasons. Gillis was fired after missing the playoffs once. Benning has only made the playoffs twice in six seasons and that’s including this year.

Dead Presidents

The Canucks have not had a President since Trevor Linden and the team amicably parted ways in July 2018. A president may be beneficial to Benning because he is a first time GM who could benefit from an extra set of eyes, someone who can offer critiques and play devil’s advocate. Currently, Benning is the highest on the totem pole, behind Aquilini, of course. He has no one to question or hold him accountable regularly. There’s a growing body of evidence that his right-hand man, AGM John Weisbrod, is a yes man who has a reputation for getting rid of those who stand in his way, just ask Judd.

Grading Benning’s Tenure 

The Athletic’s incomparable Harman Dayal, broke Canucks Twitter when he graded Benning’s 6 Years as the Canucks GM. 

He analyzed selling roster pieces for future assets, the age gap experiment, drafting and developing, the J.T. Miller trade, cap management and gave Benning a veracious grade of C+.

“Vancouver has a unique window over the next couple of years where all of their best players will provide a ton of surplus-value on their sweetheart contracts – it’s the type of opportunity that should give a team like the Canucks a chance to compete for a Stanley Cup given the high-end talent on this roster. Vancouver’s self-inflicted wounds put them in tough to progress fast enough to seize this chance, however.”

J.D. Burke was back at it tearing up the airwaves Friday morning on TSN 1040’s Halford & Brough. Never one to pull punches, Burke followed up Dayal’s piece with a ruthless grade of his own, a D.

“The Canucks are in their first year of not being one of the worst teams in the NHL. They pick once in the first three rounds, they’re facing absolute salary cap armageddon and they are a playoff bubble team. They are in year one of this cycle. If you see that as anything other than an abject failure, when you consider the fact they haven’t accumulated assets, they haven’t accumulated prospects, picks, you name it, through trades. In fact, they were a cap team over the 5 year period in which they accumulated the second-fewest points in the NHL, second only to the Buffalo Sabres who only had one less point than the Canucks. How do you grade that as a pass? It’s crazy how low the bar has gotten in this city.”

Replacement Candidates 

If the Canucks were to move on from Benning, they will need a replacement and here are a few candidates the team should strongly consider:

Laurence Gilman, Leafs AGM and Marlies GM. Canucks fans are very familiar with Gillis’ right-hand man who helped assemble the 2011 roster. He is a salary cap master manipulator which the Canucks may need as they are heading into a cap crunch with Pettersson and Hughes due for lavish new contracts. He is always thinking 12 years ahead.

Bill Zito, Blue Jackets AGM. Zito has been the assistant general manager of the Blue Jackets since 2013. He is analytics savvy and ready to take the next step in his career, becoming an NHL GM. He has experience as the GM of the AHL Cleveland Monsters. He was in the running for the Seattle GM position but withdrew his name due to his wife, Julie’s breast cancer diagnosis. He was won a bronze medal as Team USA’s GM at the 2018 IIHF World Championships.

Ross Mahoney, AGM Capitals. Mahoney has been with the Capitals organization since 2000. He started as director of amateur scouting and was promoted to AGM in 2014. He is an expert when it comes to drafting and developing players which led to a Stanley Cup in 2018. He played a key role in drafting Alexander Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom and John Carlson.

Ron Hextall, Former Flyers GM. Hextall served as the Kings’ AGM for six years including during their Stanley Cup triumph in 2012. He most recently served as the Flyers GM for five years and was responsible for drafting Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny. Also, he inherited unsavoury cap conditions from Paul Holmgren and was able to turn the situation around.

Mike Gillis Former Canucks President and GM. Canucks fans are all too familiar with the former head honcho who assembled arguably the greatest Canucks team of all time. He was a pioneer in sports science and thinking outside the box despite it not always working out in the end. He struggled with drafting and the Canucks should only consider Gillis if he has learned from his previous errors.

Travis Green

Travis Green should be retained no matter who the GM is. He has maximized the talent and potential of this roster in a way few other coaches could replicate which has earned him another year at the helm.

If the NHL proceeds with it’s 24-team playoff format, the Canucks would technically “make the playoffs”. This means GM Jim Benning will likely retain his position within the organization, which may be to the long term detriment to the team because of his track record with free agency, contracts, front office conflicts and minimal playoff appearances.

Expeditiously, we will find out if Benning is the man who can finally lead the Canucks to the promised land.