Well, here we are two months and almost 25 games after Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini let the world know how pleased he was with the first 15 games of the season.
You have to wonder how pleased he is now.
If the tone of this piece from Iain MacIntyre is any indication, and it should be, given the level of access to Trevor Linden he enjoys, things are not looking great for Jim Benning…
Both the quotes from team president, Trevor Linden, and the language that MacIntyre uses are consistent in being non-committal on the idea of granting Benning an extension any time soon.
Sure, Linden offers up some platitudes on Benning’s performance to date, but refuses to discuss the idea of a contract extension before the season is over:
“I’m not really going to get too into that at this point. I think it doesn’t serve anyone, any purpose. I think we’re focused on having a good second half here. I know that Jim’s focused on that. He came into a challenging situation and I think we’re trending in the right direction. I like the job Jim’s done. But beyond that, I think we’re focused on the next couple of months and the deadline, and then finishing and having a good season.”
I mean, it’s great that the Canucks are trending in the right direction and all, but so was the Titanic before it hit the ice:
The important part remains steering the Canucks’ ship safely back to the playoffs, and at this point there’s little indication that this will happen any time soon. If anything, the team is sinking faster than the Titanic and the only thing preventing it from hitting rock bottom is that they will land on the Arizona Coyotes.
And yet, with the team sitting at 27th in both points and goal differential half-way through the season, there are still fans and media alike, that believe Benning should and will get a contract extension:
That is some low bar to clear, Squire.
Not only that, but even if you go on drafting alone, since when do you only get to count the hits but not the misses? Surely hitting on Elias Pettersson is washed out by missing on Nikolaj Ehlers or William Nylander? And if you want to credit him on Brock Boeser, what about the miss on David Pastrnak?
Don’t get me wrong, I like the way Benning has drafted overall. The net impact of his draft picks has been good. But those incremental gains do not, on their own, make up for the asset management blunders on the professional roster. And you can fault the contract situation he took over all you want, but he’s just as handcuffed by the deals he gave to Brandon Sutter and Loui Eriksson as he was by any he inherited from Mike Gillis.
But I digress. Everyone has their take on how well Benning has steered the course over his three-and-a-half year tenure at the Canucks helm, and I’m not going to change anyone’s mind.
The fact remains that the only opinion that matters here is that of Francesco Aquilini. And while Boeser’s breakout, and the emergence of Pettersson are certainly positives, I’m not sure Benning has done anything this season to save himself. The on-ice results aren’t there, and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to turn things around any time soon. This ship is hitting the iceberg, the question now is how much can be salvaged.
And the answer will be in how he manages three critical items over the next six months:
  1. Erik Gudbranson: can he break even on what it cost to acquire him? Rumour is they’d like to get a young prospect and a high draft pick for him. Um…
  2. Trade deadline: will we be seeing Tuesday Jim again this year? Ideally, they’ll move Gudbranson before the deadline, but if not he needs to go then, along with Vanek, and even Del Zotto if there are any takers.
  3. Entry Draft: can he repeat last year’s haul? A lot will depend on the bounce of the lottery balls, but it will be interesting to see if the drafting strategies under the new Director of Amateur Scouting, Judd Brackett, continue to find value in the later rounds.
But I’m still not convinced that Benning will be back even if he manages to outperform on all three of these issues. As I wrote back in November, Aquilini was preaching accountability coming into this season and at some point, someone has to be held accountable for what is happening on the ice. The coach is new. The owners have stepped back. This time around, Benning might have to go down with the ship.