I sat here trying to figure out what to write about the Jim Benning era, and honestly, I wrote about four different versions, unsure of which one to go with.
One was a scathing indictment of Jim Benning’s time in Vancouver, but honestly, we’ve been doing that for almost five years now. At this point, Canucks fans have memorized every single move made under Jim Benning and if you haven’t violently argued over Frankie Corrado and asset management then I question how dedicated you are to this market.
One was a blue sky, optimistic, looking ahead to the future version, but for all we know Dale Tallon is lurking around the corner, still unsure why people keep calling facsimile machines “fax machines”, but ready to lead the Canucks with Francesco anyways.
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One was so sanitized and removed of any sort of strong opinion, that the Canucks could have run it on their website.
And one was just kind of sitting back and talking about the relief of it all finally being over. About how bad it got near the end and why changes HAD to be made, because make no mistake about it, Saturday night against the Penguins was about as low as it’s ever been in this market. It was hard to tell who was more checked out of the game, the players, the coach, or the fans themselves. The firing of Jim Benning and Travis Green felt more like an act of mercy that came a little too late, akin to pulling the goalie after the tenth goal goes in.
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But you know what? It’s finally over.
And you’re allowed to be happy about that.
Think about it, you no longer have to debate Jim Benning’s track record in trades every single day.
If this isn’t a “sit around with a beer and excitedly talk in the locker room” moment, I don’t know what is.
You see, we have a lot to unpack in this article. Because while Jim Benning’s firing is the reason we’re all here (or as sports calls it, a “house cleaning”, as if the Canucks just needed to dust the place a little bit), it’s not about that. It’s about what watching hockey had become in this town. How the fan base had become so divided that I have honestly never enjoyed hockey discussions less in my entire life. You could not go online for a single day without seeing lines being drawn in the sand on every single issue.
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Don’t like a player’s contract? Well, prepare to battle fourteen random people screaming at you in your mentions.
Think the Canucks got one right? Well, prepare to have seventeen people remind you of how bleak things are and how this changes nothing.
When the team is losing, and there is no hope on the horizon, all everyone does is fight. Nobody is happy, nobody enjoys it, but there’s just nothing else to do. So you either fight and get angry, or you just check out and stop caring. Both are not conducive to selling hockey tickets.
Writing about a winning team? Nah, hit me with that debate about if calling Tyler Myers a chaos giraffe is body shaming or not, that’s the good stuff right there.
Getting a ton of views on your articles about the 20 game winning streak and impressing the bosses? Nah, hit me with people saying the media wants to be negative about the Canucks being near the bottom of the standings because it somehow generates interest in your articles.
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You know what I like hearing from readers? “Do I have to read your post game article tonight or can I just hit the awesome button and go to bed?”, pleading with me as if I was asking them to clean up the kitchen. Like I was forcing them to have to re-live an experience they’d just rather prefer to move on from.
The negativity in the market got to the point where people would just have constant moral battles with each other, each side trying to dig up real life “dirt” on the other person, trying for a mythical “win” that would get them, well, I don’t know what, really. A free Starbucks coffee? Getting to go the front of the line at the Jam Cafe? Is that what winning an online sports argument in Vancouver gets you nowadays?
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Hey, Covid got you down? Don’t worry, let’s fight about one of the things that’s supposed to take you away from all of that!
It felt like the actual act of watching hockey was no longer the point in this town, which just underscored how badly changes needed to be made. The very fact I get to retire the term “Bitter Bro” and “Benning Bro” gives me more joy than you will ever possibly know.
Do you know how fundamentally broken an NHL fanbase has to get for parts of it to cheer on losses in November? To cheer on the Boston Bruins of all people to win a game against Vancouver?
I can promise you people didn’t enjoy doing that. None of them wanted to celebrate every failed powerplay, or every goal against. That’s a truly awful way to watch sports, one in which you’re grimly doing your duty like you’re stuck at a family dinner, and the only way out is if Mom burns the pot roast so you can fire her and replace her with Laurence Gilman.
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I could not think of a worse way to have to consume sports than what it had become in this town lately, knowing that terrible losses might be the only way forward.
But that was the mindset of many Canucks fans, that unless the team played so bad that even Elliotte Friedman was like “ehhh, maybe they need to make changes”, things would stay the same forever. Because it always seemed to stay the same here. For eight long years we watched the Disney Plus reboot of Groundhog Day that nobody asked for.
It’s cold out there every day.
Do you remember the roster when Jim Benning took over? Ronald Kenins and his golden shovel was a big thing for a minute. Nick Bonino wasn’t yet up in the shootout next. And who can forget Brandon McMillan’s big playoff goal that season?
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Eddie Lack was even an actual NHL goalie at this point in time! Seriously, he played in the NHL.
Do you also remember how we once debated Nikita Tryamkin for like three years because there was just nothing else to talk about? Like the extent of Canucks coverage in 2016 was “Hey at least they have this huge guy that can rag doll Jordie Benn.”
Then remember how when Tryamkin left that it turned into a weird Clockwork Orange story of how the Canucks forced him to watch a bunch of Chris Pronger highlights to try and teach him how to stomp on legs and concuss people or whatever?
Eight years man. It’s been a long ride full of a lot of random stories like this, and far too few on actual playoff runs.
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This fanbase has had to watch a team excel at being mediocre to the point that changes never happened. Never bad enough to out-pace the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres in the dumpster fire race, never good enough to be a contender. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and you know what, that feels pretty accurate.
So yes, you can forgive fans in this market celebrating the news of the firings with a little too much exuberance.
It reminded me of a scene in the Simpsons where Marge has ruined Itchy and Scratchy by forcing the creators to remove all of the things the kids loved about the show. The violence, humor, and, well, violence, were all gone. In its place were two pals, having lemonade on a porch, rocking back and forth in their chairs. Probably talking about signing a bottom pairing defenceman to a 7 year deal.
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Anyways, with the main draw of the show gone, the kids do the unthinkable: They turn off the TV and they go outside. They rub their eyes, blinking at the sun, and start playing a variety of games long forgotten. Skipping rope, playing tag, working the monkey bars, just, you know, remembering what it was like to enjoy things again.
You can just picture it now, Canucks fans going outside, looking at hockey sticks, and smiling for the first time in years.
“Remember enjoying goals??” they’d nervously ask each other, wondering what this feeling of contentment in their heart was.
Because at the end of the day, no matter how much this fan base argues and yells at each other, they truly all want the same thing. They want to enjoy hockey again. That’s all they’ve ever wanted, even if they have different ideas of how to get there.
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Fans in this market are as passionate as any fan base. People always talk about the bad side of playing in a Canadian city, but let’s not forget the good side; the side where if you win a Cup here, you will be immortalized forever. Boston barely remembers the name of that really tall guy that used to play defence for them, but if Vancouver had won in 2011, Jeff Tambellini would have had a statue of his backcheck against Nashville ready and completed by the 2012 season opener. Hell, Victor Oreskovich probably would have gotten a statue of him watching Henrik Sedin lifting up the Cup.
This is a fan base that is on a first name basis with NHL agents. People tweeting at Rick Dhaliwal to get JP and Pat on the line to get updates on Elias Pettersson. Klimovich-mania is an actual thing in this market. People went to war for the right for Höglander to get his umlaut. This is a fan base that loves hockey so damn much.
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People just want to believe again, you know?
This city wants nothing more than to be able to love hockey again. To watch a team that has an actual plan in place. To believe in the vision of the front office. To not have to hear about how much depth the team added before the season only to hear about how depth was an issue when the season ends.
To finally see a team secure enough draft picks to let Ryan Biech cook.
It’s been so many years of in-fighting and arguing over the same damn topics that this city has almost forgotten what it’s like to watch a hockey game with no agenda other than enjoying the game.
I’ll say it again, you no longer have to talk about the Gudbranson trade unless you want to. You no longer have to debate the merits of Jim Benning’s vision. We actually get to yell at a new person’s vision soon, and that’s downright exciting.
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You know what’s going to be fun this week? Watching a fan base united again in wanting the Canucks to beat the Bruins. Watching a fan base cheering on victories because they’re no longer being used as currency to keep management in place.
For the first time in many years, there is a strange feeling in the air — the feeling of optimism and hope. Hope that things can change for the better. Hope that the Canucks will find their way again.
And let me tell you, hope is a much better fuel than anger.
Even if it’s a very cautious type of hope.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
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