It’s 16 games into the 2021/22 season, the Vancouver Canucks are 5-9-2, and the writing is already on the wall.
If the writing were any more on the wall, we’d be inside the Overlook Hotel.
Change is coming to Vancouver. If not now, then in the immediate future. The reasons are numerous and obvious. Let us explain… no, there is too much. Let us sum up.
Travis Green and an indeterminate number of his coaching staff are going to be fired. His team is off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. He’s got several of his most talented offensive players playing the worst hockey of their career at the exact same time. He’s got a league-worst-performing blueline that is absolutely squandering the Vezina-calibre play of Thatcher Demko. He’s the owner of one of the worst cumulative special teams records in NHL history.
And for every reason listed to justify Green’s firing, there’s a reason to move on from Jim Benning lurking somewhere in the background. Who put together the roster that is failing Green so badly? Who kept Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes out of training camp with terse contract negotiations? Who compiled a defence corps that analytics warned would be a disaster? Who dealt legions of prospects and draft picks, leaving the team lacking depth and looking to replacement-level journeymen to provide it? Who hired Green in the first place and signed off on extending him even after last season’s debacle?
Benning. Benning. Benning.
And yet, here we are, 48 hours after a downright demoralizing 0-3 road trip, and nothing has happened. Both Green and Benning remain employed by the Vancouver Canucks, and there are few indications that suggest that will change between now and Wednesday night’s matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.
Which, if one really thinks about it, is kind of ridiculous. The Canucks responded with consecutive losses featuring seven goals against. If ownership was truly looking for a sign, they got it in true Vegas neon fashion.
Reports are coming in from Jeff Paterson, Satiar Shah, John Shannon, and others, that ownership has decided that this upcoming homestand will determine whether change is necessary. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what that really means, or what’s almost inevitably going to happen.
Sat said organization is nervous about crowd reaction on Wednesday but they are also hoping it's not that bad. In the past they have thought social media is more negative than the season ticket holders. Negative reaction or empty seats on Wednesday could lead to change.
— Taj (@taj1944) November 15, 2021
Shannon basically confirming what Sat said that he has been told what happens during this homestand will impact if they make changes. Mentions if apathy sets in or if fans show "passion" that could play a role.@sekeresandprice
— Taj (@taj1944) November 16, 2021
Canucks ownership has kind of, sort of put it out there that they’d be willing to replace the coach or the GM or both if fans made such desires vocally apparent. And Vancouver fans have never been shy about expressing themselves.
They’ve also left the door open — again, kind of sort of — to completely forget about the last stretch of hockey their team has played if they can string together a couple wins on this homestand and if the crowd is positive enough.
Fans didn’t need an invitation to chant “Fire Gillis!,” and they’re not going to pass up an open invitation to chant “Fire Green!” and “Fire Benning!” It might not happen in the first period of the homestand, it might not even happen in the first game, but it’ll happen as soon as the Canucks trail by a significant amount, and that’s a near-certainty these days. The homestand begins with a game against the Avalanche, the same team that pasted the Canucks to the tune of 7-1 a week ago.
That doesn’t bode well, and the response will be loud and unignorable.
What happens then?
The Canucks almost definitely fire Green, and they probably fire Benning, too. They each get to spend their last moments in the Vancouver organization hearing chants about them losing their jobs.
That’s a pretty ignominious departure for a coach from Castlegar who coaxed three consecutive Calder finalists into the NHL and is a season removed from winning two playoff rounds.
It’s a cruel farewell for a first-time GM that brought Pettersson, Hughes, Brock Boeser, Thatcher Demko, Nils Höglander, Vasily Podkolzin, Jack Rathbone, and more into the organization through the draft alone, to say nothing of the acquisitions of players like Conor Garland and JT Miller.
Professional sports can be harsh, and sometimes hurt feelings are an unfortunate necessity. But that’s the thing. None of this is necessary. Canucks ownership already has plenty of reason to end both Green and Benning’s tenures.
A situation in which the Rogers Arena faithful chant Green and Benning out of employment is one that should be avoided at all costs. Instead, Canucks ownership is choosing that situation as one of their preference. They’re embracing it. They’re hiding behind it.
It’s a cowardly move, any way you slice it.
Francesco Aquilini had a lot to say when some fans crowdfunded a “Fire Benning” banner to fly over the city.
Aquilini on the Banner: "I think that's a cheap shot – no class. People that do that have too much time on their hands. He has a family, would you like to see your Husband or Father get hung out like that? No class." #Canucks
— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) October 14, 2021
“He has a family,” Aquilini opined. “Would you like to see your husband or father get hung out like that? No class.”
On the eve of Green and Benning being thrown to the coyotes of Rogers Arena, those words ring incredibly hollow.