The changes in Vancouver weren’t limited to just the coaches as GM Jim Benning and assistant GM John Weisbrod have also been relieved of their duties. Stan Smyl will serve as interim general manager and be joined by Abbotsford Canucks general manager Ryan Johnson who will serve as interim assistant general manager for Vancouver. Owner Francesco Aquilini released a long statement, which in part reads:
These are difficult decisions, but we believed we would have a competitive group this year. As a result, I’m extremely disappointed in how the team has performed so far. I’m making these changes because we want to build a team that competes for championships and it’s time for new leadership to help take us there.
Our search for new leadership is underway. In the interim, Stan Smyl will lead our Hockey Operations team with the strong support of Ryan Johnson, Chris Gear, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Doug Jarvis and others on the team to ensure day-to-day continuity. Stan has been a very loyal and committed member of our Hockey Operations Senior Management structure for many years and is someone whose experience and leadership we value greatly.
Benning joined the Canucks back in 2014 after serving as an assistant GM with Boston for seven seasons. Over his tenure with Vancouver, they’ve only reached the playoffs twice, winning just one round which came back in his first season. His initial coaching hire in Willie Desjardins only last three seasons while Travis Green made it into his fifth year before being ousted today.
Benning has made several questionable decisions on the contract front over his tenure. Loui Eriksson received a six-year, $36MM contract back in 2016 which has not worked out well; he has scored just 38 times in 274 games since then. Tyler Myers received a five-year, $30MM contract in 2019 to bolster Vancouver’s back end and that move hasn’t gone as well as they hoped.
His penchant for handing out bigger contracts to bottom-six role players also proved costly as Antoine Roussel, Brandon Sutter, Jay Beagle, and Micheal Ferland all received deals well above market value and provided middling returns at best.
Benning also missed on two of his three highest picks as well. While he got Elias Pettersson fifth overall in 2018, he whiffed on selecting Olli Juolevi fifth overall a year earlier while Jake Virtanen never lived up to the hype of his six-overall selection in 2014. Fortunately for Vancouver, Benning’s other two top-10 picks have shown some promise; Quinn Hughes is already one of the more dominant offensive blueliners in the league while Vasily Podkolzin hasn’t looked out of place in his rookie season.
This past summer, he took a big swing on the trade front, acquiring Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland from Arizona for a package involving a first-round pick while also offloading Eriksson, Roussel, and Beagle’s contracts. However, Ekman-Larsson is signed through 2026-27 and even with the Coyotes retaining part of that deal, the Canucks are still stuck with a $7.26MM cap charge while Garland received a five-year, $25MM pact, one that at least looks decent so far.
As a result, Vancouver will continue to be battling the salary cap for the foreseeable future. They have over $70MM in commitments already for next season per CapFriendly with Brock Boeser owed a $7.5MM qualifying offer this summer. Bo Horvat and J.T. Miller are UFAs in 2024 while Pettersson will once again need a new contract in 2025 so more big-ticket signings will be on the horizon over the coming years while the new GM looks to try to improve the existing core at the same time.
As for Weisbrod, he also joined the Canucks in 2014 and previously had worked with Dallas, Boston, and Calgary. Prior to those stints, he had been the GM of the NBA’s Orlando Magic before resigning in his second year to join the Stars. Vancouver has one other assistant GM on their staff in Chris Gear who also serves as their chief legal officer.
Aquilini, Smyl, and Boudreau will each meet with the media on Monday afternoon.
The firings were first reported by Irfaan Gafaar of The Fourth Period (Twitter link).