The Vancouver Canucks continue to waddle in mediocrity after giving general manager Jim Benning a three-year extension
The Vancouver Canucks have been treading the waters of the NHL for the better part of the past four seasons. It’s not a coincidence this has coincided directly with the tenure of general manager Jim Benning, who was hired in the summer of 2014. The Canucks have made the playoffs once in four seasons since then.
Benning has prolonged what could have been a relatively painless rebuild. He’s made two good “rebuild” trades by getting elite prospect Jonathan Dahlen for Alex Burrows and a second-round pick for Kevin Bieksa. His reward for doing a very bad job? A three-year extension, of course.
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Let’s take a completely unbiased look at Benning’s defining trades with the Canucks. First, some context. When he took over, the Canucks were admittedly merely a shadow of the team that nearly won the 2010-11 Stanley Cup. But they had still made the postseason in five of the past six seasons.
Since being hired, Benning made the playoffs in his initial season. The Canucks got blown out in the first round and have not made it since. It’s safe to say the 2014-15 season was an anomaly at best.
Vancouver has since missed the postseason in two straight years, finishing among the bottom three teams each year. Currently, they’re in fourth to last place, as of Feb. 14. The job of any GM is to help his team improve. There’s more to evaluating “improvement” than results. But so far, the Canucks aren’t any better off from when they signed him.
Benning’s Good Moves
Again, Burrows for Dahlen was an outstanding move. Benning got something for someone who has minimal at best value. Even if Dahlen never plays a single game in the NHL, it’s hard to argue this trade wasn’t a win. By the way, he’s averaging roughly a point per game in Sweden’s top hockey league.
Getting a second-round pick for Kevin Bieksa was another great move. So was acquiring Markus Granlund for nothing. It’s not a huge win, but anytime you give up an AHLer for an NHL forward (even a bottom six one) is a net positive. A similar move was getting Sven Baertschi for a 2015 second-round pick.
Benning made a very good trade, getting a second round pick for Jason Garrison, Jeff Costello, and a 2015 seventh-round pick in 2014. However, he made up for it by trading that pick to the Los Angeles Kings for Linden Vey, who put up 36 points in two seasons with Vancouver.
We’re desperate to find some good moves, so Bo Horvat’s extension definitely counts. It’s reasonable and he has earned it. Getting Derrick Pouliot for a fourth-round pick is the kind of move rebuilding teams should make. But it’s been a fairly uncommon one for Benning’s Canucks.
Benning’s Bad Moves
This list is a lot longer than the good one. His worst non-free agency move is debatable, but they both involve Brandon Sutter. I don’t know what’s worse – giving up Nick Bonino and a second-round pick for him, or handing him an extension that includes a no-trade clause. Regardless, Sutter has been disappointing for the Canucks.
The job of any GM is to help his team improve. There’s more to evaluating “improvement” than results. But so far, the Canucks aren’t any better off from when they signed Benning.
The Ryan Kesler trade was not a good one for Vancouver. Sure, they had to trade him because they knew they were going to lose him. But the Canucks have nothing to show for him. All of the assets they acquired are gone. Derek Dorsett (acquired for the third-round pick the Canucks got in that trade) was the last remaining part of the return.
Benning’s worst free agency move is without question giving an aging Loui Eriksson a long-term deal with a no-movement clause. But signing Michael Del Zotto and Sam Gagner to multi-year deals while claiming to be a rebuilding team are worth considering. If the Canucks don’t trade Thomas Vanek for something, that’s another huge loss too.
Finally, we can’t talk about Benning’s time with the Canucks without the Erik Gudbranson trade. He’s a gritty defenseman who can kill penalties. That’s about it. Benning traded Jared McCann (picked with the first-round pick he got for Kesler), a 2016 second-round pick and a 2016 fourth-round pick for Gudbranson.
What’s worse, Benning has signed him to multiple one-year extensions. And instead of trading him this year, the Canucks are considering extending him. That’s fireable.
But what’s most condemning of Benning is Vancouver’s lack of organizational depth. The Canucks are one of the worst teams in the NHL. That’s fine if they have the elite prospects to rebuild. If Elias Pettersson, Thatcher Demko, Adam Gaudette, Olli Juolevi, and Kole Lind can be as successful as Brock Boeser has, they’ll be good in a few years. However, if more than one of those guys fail, the Canucks lack the prospects to make up for it.
The list could go longer and you can read his history of trades here if you’re bored. It’s mostly a bunch of head scratchers, a few good trades, and more bad trades than good ones. The Vancouver Canucks desperately need a rebuild. Benning has made three trades proving he is capable of handling a rebuild since being hired. He accidentally stumbled upon one of them. So his extension is a bit concerning for Canucks fans.