Things are getting interesting in Vancouver. On the eve of their season finale, a disappointing season at that, rumors are swirling around the Canucks. Earlier reports suggested that sweeping changes could be coming to the organization, including a potential return of Daniel and Henrik Sedin in front office roles. Meanwhile, head coach Travis Green is still working on an expiring contract and there has been no indication that a resolution is in sight. Given all of this mystery and speculation, the Canucks have made perhaps the most surprising move they could: retaining GM Jim Benning. The often-criticized executive has been informed that he will be back with the team next year, reports Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.
As Friedman relays, given all of the uncertainty that has arisen over the past 24 hours, ownership indicated to their front office leader that he would be returning. It’s a major decision to make ahead of a crucial off-season, as Benning will be charged with managing the Canucks’ approach to the NHL Expansion Draft (made more important by the Seattle Kraken becoming a geographical rival right away), properly executing a top-ten overall draft pick, and otherwise handling an off-season in which his roster must significantly improve despite sorely lacking cap space.
Therein lies most of the criticism of Benning as well. The GM, who has been on the job since 2014, has made some questionable decisions in regards to his most precious resource, cap space. Benning has deemed the likes of Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson, Sam Gagner, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, Sven Baertschi, and Micheal Ferland as being worthy of sizeable commitments during his tenure, which has hurt the team on the payroll and in opportunity cost. It also forced the departures of superior players, such as Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev, and Tyler Toffoli last off-season. Those losses were felt this year as the Canucks, fresh off a run to the Western Conference semifinals last year, lived in the basement all season. Benning is left having to pick up the pieces and will try to find a way to squeeze more talent into his roster this summer.
Why is it Benning fixing the problem though? For starters, his track record on the trade market and in the draft at least come close to balancing out his contract negotiation mistakes. Since the 2018-19 trade deadline, Benning has added core members Tanner Pearson, J.T. Miller, and Nate Schmidt at below-market prices. His recent draft picks also include current and budding stars such as Quinn Hughes, Nils Hoglander, Vasili Podkolzin, Jack Rathbone, Michael DiPietro, Jett Woo, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, and more. So while some of Benning’s criticism is fair, too often his successes are ignored. Despite allegedly wanting to make major internal changes, the Canucks understand and appreciate what Benning has achieved and what he is trying to build in Vancouver. It seems that he will now be given at least one more year to show that he is still steering the organization in the right direction. It’s unlikely to appease the fans in the meantime, but the club hopes that their loyalty will be rewarded.