The Vancouver Canucks finally introduced what was the NHL’s worst kept secret over the last six weeks, anointing Jim Benning as the clubs eleventh General Manager in franchise history on Friday. The 51 year old has enjoyed success at every level and after years of seasoning gets the chance to oversee his own team which is in need of some retooling.
Benning was a standout defenceman for the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks ahead of being chosen sixth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1981 NHL entry draft. Benning would enjoy a nine-year NHL career the last four seasons of which were spent with the Canucks through the late 1980’s. Current Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden was a young teammate of Benning’s for two of those seasons but insists friendship didn’t have anything to do with the appointment as the two hadn’t spoken in 25 years prior to this spring. Linden said Benning’s values, resume, success, experience and superior ability to evaluate young talent made him the lead candidate from the start of his GM’s search.
Following his playing career Benning joined the Anaheim Ducks staff as a scout before quickly moving on to work in the same capacity with the Buffalo Sabres, where he spent 12 successful years, eight of which were spent as the team’s director of amateur scouting. Benning then joined the Boston Bruins in 2006 as the Director of player personnel and was promptly promoted to role of Assistant GM to Peter Chiarelli. The two assembled several dominant Bruins teams that always displayed the rare combination of size, grit and skill, culminating in a game seven Stanley Cup championship win over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011.
Benning’s proven strengths include identifying and developing young talent, something that has always been a shortcoming of the Canucks organization, especially over the last decade. Benning spoke to his first priority with the Canucks in overseeing the scouting staff. “I come from a scouting background; we’re going to give these guys direction I’m going to communicate to these guys what we want, what we think a Vancouver Canucks player should be. I’m going to get out and see games, I’m going to be a part of that group to try and get this thing back in the right direction.” With the Canucks missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons this past spring, as conciliation or reward they hold the sixth overall pick in this summer’s NHL entry draft that takes place at the end of June in Philadelphia. Benning will get to work right away boarding a flight on Sunday to Toronto where he’ll oversee next week’s NHL draft combine for the club, evaluating and interviewing the top prospects.
Other notable remarks from Benning on Friday revolved around the teams aging core and his philosophy regarding the 10 existing no trade contracts on the club. The previous GM Mike Gillis who was fired last month had a strict rule about not approaching players about waiving their no trade clauses because of his background as an agent however Benning said he has to do what’s best for the organization and won’t hesitate to ask players to explore all options. Specifically to Ryan Kesler who reportedly asked for a trade this season, Benning said he thinks Kesler is a warrior and will try to talk to him next week to see what his feelings are, adding if it were up to him he’d like to keep the second line centre.
Benning also implied that he wants the Canucks to be a complete four line team that can specifically rely on the third and fourth lines especially in the tough Pacific Division where the Canucks have really struggled against the Californian clubs in Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles. “They’re big heavy teams so when we talk to our scouting staff one of our mandates is let’s try to get a little bit bigger, little more rugged so we can play both styles, we can play a skilled skating style when need by but when it’s a physical game we can play that style too.”
When asked if he’d prefer the Canucks next head coach to have lots of NHL experience Benning said that it wasn’t a pre requisite. “The candidate doesn’t have to have a ton of experience but we want a coach that has won at different levels.” The names that continually come up for the vacancy include former Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz, current Boston Bruins assistant coach Doug Houda, current LA Kings assistant John Stevens and current Texas Stars (AHL) coach Willie Desjardins.
It also appears that both current Assistant General Managers Lorne Henning and Laurence Gilman will stay on in their capacity moving forward.