Vancouver Canucks: GM Benning Part 2

Hello mid-February. And oh those negative echoes are getting louder along with those ever swirling rumour mills. Sell. Trade. Change. Sell. Trade. Change. Sell. Trade. Change. Let him go. Re-sign him. Waiver drops and waiver pick ups. Roster moves.  Oh yes, it’s that ever active time of the NHL season leading up to the trade deadline. Buyers and sellers. Over payment. Under valued. Oh the moves that will be made in the coming days as rosters get locked into post-season mode versus building for future.

One rumour mill can finally stop spinning. The Vancouver Canucks made their first official announcement ahead of the deadline by re-signing GM Jim Benning.

It’s no secret that many Canucks fans are split on the decision to bring back Jim Benning. There are those who say, it may have been better to let Benning go and move into a new direction. And there are those who say bring him back and allow him to keep growing the depth within the organization.

Was bringing him back the right decision? Time will tell, everyone is entitled to have whichever opinion they choose but I think he has more than earned his shot. Is Jim Benning perfect? No, absolutely not but neither is any team’s GM. Has he made mistakes? Sure, but so have most people in his position.

When Benning came to the Canucks in 2014, their prospect pool was not very deep, youth was not a part of the equation on the main team, an organization that needed to take some time.The organization needed to rebuild from the bottom up. No, it didn’t happen over night and they are still in the thick of it but that doesn’t mean it’s not starting to move up throughout the organization. Depth begins with the prospects and development of the young players as a new core emerges. Moves were made sending some veteran players to new teams while bringing in some new players to the team, youth was injected into the lineup, and draft picks acquired.

Was every move a hit out of the park? No, but that’s the nature of the game. Sometimes you gamble and win, sometimes you make the gamble and people call it a bust. It’s not a perfect formula but all GMs fall into the risk of the gamble when they make any trade.

People screamed for the team to get younger and veteran players moved. They started this process and yet still it was not good enough. The thing that is so often forgotten is that while everyone wants the team to play all the young players, they can’t just drop a full line of young inexperienced players without a few veterans to help guide them. Progress doesn’t always happen over night much as many wish it would, it takes time to draft depth and develop that depth properly. Veterans like Henrik and Daniel are a huge part of that process despite what so many on the outside will say.

Four years later, the Canucks have one of the strongest prospect pools in the league: Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Adam Gaudette, Olli Juolevi, Elias Pettersson, Jonathan Dahlen, Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich, Michael Dipietro, Petrus Palmu. That’s just part of the list, and there’s a whole lot to be excited about these young players moving their way up the systems.

Looking at this particular season, has this season been anywhere near perfect? No, I acknowledge that truth but there have definitely been some standout moments. Brock Boeser’s having a rookie season for the Canucks record books and that has been all kinds of awesome to witness. It doesn’t matter who he is lined up with, he brings that consistent edge to his game every single game. Daniel Sedin became the 2nd player in Canucks history to surpass 1000 NHL points. Bo Horvat despite missing a significant chunk of time due to an injury, has found another gear to his game continuing to learn to lead by example on and off of the ice. And yes, I know those small moments don’t make a season, but those are the ones I’ll long remember when the final buzzer goes out on the season not the negative headlines.

Who’s to say a new GM won’t come in and trade away some of the those highly touted prospects or someone like Bo Horvat and the process of building up organizational depth would have to start all over again? The reality is that despite the split of who should be the GM, Jim Benning is still at the helm and the process continues. So, no while I understand that many don’t view him as perfect, he doesn’t get enough credit for the good that he has brought to the organization.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

Playoff Dreaming…

Change is coming, change IS here. Did you believe that statement would be true prior to the start of the season? It truly is incredible to witness what the Vancouver Canucks have accomplished this season. Yes, it is true, that it is not a record breaking year and from the outside looking in, it might seem hardly remarkable. This season was supposed to be a season focused on rebuilding following the disaster that was the 2013-14 regular season or at least that’s what the media told us. And after the season that was last year, who could blame them for thinking that is what comes next?

Just who are these Vancouver Canucks?! These are the Canucks brought to you by, former captain Trevor Linden. Along with Linden for the ride is GM Jim Benning and newly minted head coach, Willie Desjardins. The trio was determined to turn things around THIS season while at the same time building for the future. They may not be winning every game or necessarily the games that people would expect them to, but they are finding ways to be competitive more nights than not. They have maintained a playoff position for most of the season and continue to be in a competitive race for a second place finish in the Pacific Division with 90 points and eight games remaining still to be played. Through 74 games, Desjardins has coached the team to a 43-27-4 record. The odds unlike last season, are actually in their favour heading down the stretch drive to the post season.

There have been a lot of surprises this season. Who knew that when GM Benning signed Radim Vrbata that he would become such an integral piece of the Canucks puzzle? He leads the team in goals with 29 and has proven to be valuable on ANY line he is playing on in every situation. He is consistently consistent every game. He scores goals with finesse, like THIS one:

And then there is the curious case of Alex Burrows who notoriously struggled on the Torts regime due to multiple injuries and a lack of understanding between player and coach. THIS year he has once again proven to be reliable in all areas of the ice and at times has been rewarded by reuniting with the Sedin twins for goals like THESE:

“Reunited and it feels SO good…”!

The Sedins may not be quite a point-per-game pace but they certainly are looking more and more like the dependable players that they were before the 2013-14 NHL season. In true twin fashion, they are tied for the team lead in points each with 66, the only difference being that HENRIK has one more goal and DANIEL has one more assist.

Goal-tending was also an area that team WilLindEnning addressed this summer with the signing of veteran goalie, Ryan Miller. Many questioned whether he would fit with the Canucks and what this would mean for Eddie Lack. Millsy had a resilient season picking up 28 wins that included 6 shutouts prior to an injury in late February. He’s a massive reason as to why the Canucks have been able to maintain their playoff position all season long. Since the injury to Miller, Eddie Lack has stepped up to fill in and raised his level of play and helped the Canucks stay in the playoff hunt.

Does this mean Lack is the number one now or that Millsy gets back the net come playoff time? To be honest, I do not care WHO is in the net, just that they play to the best of their abilities when they are in the crease. Do we need another goal-tender controversy in Vancouver? Say it with me, NO! We do not need to create another controversy among the goalies and this city. It would simply be incredible if down this stretch and however far this team goes into the playoffs that THIS city would SUPPORT whichever goalie is in the net.

Jim Benning also did the seemingly impossible by locking down Christopher Tanev for five more seasons much to the delight of Canucks fans. Tanev has proven to be an integral part of the defensive core with ever growing potential. He’s often a goalie’s best friend on the blue line making crucial blocks and the odd game-saving goal-line save. It was paramount to get his deal done before season’s end or the free agency frenzy. Well done, Jim, well done.

Most surprising of all this season is that despite a depleted lineup during January and February, the team was still finding ways to be competitive and win games. 74 games down, 8 to go. 15 spots remain to be claimed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Will the Canucks clinch a spot down the stretch? That remains to be seen, but unlike last season, the odds are not down to a long shot but simply solid play in the games that remain. Are you ready for what these last 8 games will reveal? Regardless of how it ends, it sure has been exhilarating to witness this team find a little bit of its tenacity once more. This team is playoff dreaming once again. Slowly but surely, Trevor Linden has this team turning this city into BO-lievers and despite the odds on paper at the start, anything is possible.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

Benning Times

Do you feel it? That sense of hope that was lost along the way this last season that is once again surrounding the Vancouver Canucks? I’m not saying that things will immediately be amazing BUT with the news of GM Benning becoming official that black cloud that has followed the team all year has been lifted ever so slightly.

In his official first day as GM, Benning was asked MANY questions on how he would improve the team (he answered them) BUT first he noted his excitement to be back with the team: “My family and I are very excited to come back to Vancouver.” Welcome back Jim, we’re happy to have you here!

On his thoughts about this team and if he likes them, we were not left in the dark long as was quick to state: “I like this team. I like the core players. This is a team we can turn around in a hurry.” Now perhaps that surprises some people that he would imply maintaining the core…but it shouldn’t. Benning does not want to completely dismantle this team but rather build it back up and bring depth back to support the core. Wouldn’t that be something?

So what about that pesky term “Boston Model”…what does it mean? Even Benning was confused on that notion, simply stating: “I don’t know what the ‘Boston Model’ is to be honest with you. Our goal in Boston was simply to make the playoffs ever year and roll four lines.” Basically the goal here in Vancouver should be the same…for the team to be a four line team that will play their best in every game all year while focusing on extending their season beyond April.

Will we see some confidence be brought back to the players on ice game? According to Mr.President that will be a priority: “Our priority will be to bring confidence and fun back in to the on-ice product and game.” – Linden

Do the new GM and Mr. President see eye to eye on the organization? “Trevor and I share the same values on players and team building.” Sounds like a match made to work together harmoniously on a level that the players will respect moving forward.

Benning re-iterated that he likes the team’s core: “I feel they are high character people. I believe in our core players, we’re going to try and help them out by adding more depth, playing four lines.” BUT made sure to make very clear that he will not be afraid to ask make that bold move if it helps the team: “We won’t be afraid to approach players and ask them to waive their no-trade clauses IF it’s the right decision for the team.” Linden and Benning are not going to make a trade or move a player just because it is speculated by the media BUT rather IF and ONLY IF it is the right decision for the team. Sounds like a refreshing concept, no?

Also on that note…he was asked for his thoughts on Ryan Kesler as everyone and their dog seems to suggest he should be traded or wants to be traded. Benning had this to say about Kesler: “He’s a warrior, he’s a big body guy, and good skater. We’ll sit down with him, see what his thoughts are and go from there. I love the way Kesler plays. He plays hard, he plays the way you win. If it’s up to me we KEEP him.” (Spoiler alert: Multiple times, Kesler, himself has already said he DOES NOT want to be traded!).

The aim that Benning would like to see become reality is to be able to roll four-lines next season: “We want to become a four-line team. We have some work to do. We want to be a complete team.” The ability to have four lines makes that team a contender on any given night and makes a massive difference come playoff time when every line can step up in any situation.

What about the head coach conundrum? What are Linden and Benning looking for in the newest Canucks HC? According to Benning they have a list and the interview process will begin stat! – “We’ve compiled a list of names and will probably start the interview process next week. We want a coach who has won and had success at all different levels.” **note that Barry Trotz is no longer on this list as he has officially been named the Head Coach of the Washington Capitals.

How does he feel about the current Canucks prospects? He named one Bo Horvat specifically: “I really like Bo Horvat, I think he’s going to be an important player here going forward.” He did note that he will be working with the Canucks scouting staff (he does have a lot of pro-scouting expertise after all!) helping to strengthen the scouting team in their search for prospects that will add depth to the organization at all levels.

Long story short, Benning simply said this: “We’re going to work hard to get this thing back in the right direction.” It will not be an easy task and they DO have a lot work in front of them BUT it does give one a sense of hope that things are beginning to look not so dark on the Canucks horizon.

What did the first 48 hours as the Vancouver Canucks GM look like? Something like this:

Jim Benning has a BIG task in his hands but something tells me he is more than up for this challenge. Are ready for what comes next Canucks fans? Can you feel the hope that is beginning to sneak it’s way back into the Canucks?

***The countdown is ON: 125 days until the leaves change and October arrives bringing with with it a new NHL season.

As always, until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.

And So Begins the LINDEN Era (AGAIN)

The Canucks season was definitely not their best and warrants many changes to come. The first of the major variety is the return of Trevor Linden to the organization. Welcome home Mr.President!

Shall we start at the beginning? Rumor has it that is best place to begin any story. Flashback to the 1988 NHL Draft where on June 11th the Vancouver Canucks drafted Trevor Linden second overall (behind Mike Modano). Who would have guessed that young rookie would become a franchise leader, captain, fan favourite, and now the President of Hockey Operations for the club where he spent 16 of his 19 NHL seasons?

Linden’s hockey playing career spanned 20 years in 1,382 regular season games played (1140 of those were with the Canucks). In his 1,382 games played, Linden amassed 375 goals and 492 assists for a total of 867 points. He hung up his skates June 11, 2008 and walked away from the game to focus on various business ventures before coming back to where it all began. The first Linden era had come to a close and many wondered if he would ever consider returning in a management position.

Even before the news broke of Mike Gillis being let go, the rumors of Trevor Linden returning the Vancouver Canucks organization began swirling through both the local media and social media. Rumor became fact on April 9, 2014 when the Canucks announced they had named Trevor Linden as the President of Hockey Operations. As he put it, he never wanted to¬† work for another organization, he is a Canuck and wants the organization to win just as much as, if not more than the fans. (**Admit it, how epic would it be to see the Canucks with Linden at the helm win the cup one day? Is your answer amazing?…because THAT would be incredible to see one day).

ONE very notable change from the very moment that Linden was introduced as the President is the fact that he IS willing to talk to the media and the fans in such a personal manner that Gillis NEVER did in his entire 6-year tenure with the team. One of his first comments was a promise to the fans in bringing back excitement to the Canucks game that got lost somewhere along the way during this last season. He followed that up with some very important comments on when and why the team will make a change and how he believes that despite what many have said that the team CAN be competitive next season.

“We’re not going to make a change just to say we’ve made a change. It’s got to be the right change and it’s got to be for the right reason. It’s got to be for the right pieces, that’s important. Making a change because people want it or expect is not going to the way we’re going to do things.” -Linden

“I think we CAN be competitive next year. In fact I know we CAN. I know we’ll be exciting and I think we’ll have a real good opportunity to be in the tournament as they say and that is where you want to be.” -Linden

There will be endless questions of whether hiring the former Captain Canuck was a the right decision until results from any decision Linden makes is seen. Two immediate decisions that will be judged and over analyzed when they are announced: the name of the new General Manager and the new Head Coach. On May 21, 2014 the search for the new GM came to a close with the breaking news that former Bruins Assistant GM, Jim Benning had agreed to terms with the Canucks.

Benning has been at the top of the list from the very beginning of the search so the announcement came as no surprise. Even though Benning was the frontrunner, it was a process as he had to await getting special permissions to talk to many of his candidates and for the second round of the 2014 playoffs to come to a close before he could speak with Benning (as the Bruins went all the way to 7 games deep with the Montreal Canadiens). Yes he comes to the Canucks after working for the Bruins for 8 seasons (& yes that includes the 2011 Stanley Cup) but prior to that as a player he played for the Vancouver Canucks for 4 years (1986-1990). Jim Benning will be joining that Canucks immediately and among his first tasks, he will be attending the NHL combine.

The official  introduction by the Canucks will to take place first with a fan Q & A (11:15 AM) followed by a press conference at 12:00 PM on Friday May 23, 2014. We can now call him GM Benning! Welcome back Jim!

His next decision that will come under fire will be the hiring of the newest head coach. Everyone will have an opinion on who they think should be named coach and will express it loudly as they always do. There are many candidates for that position including Barry Trotz (former Nashville Predator coach) and John Stevens (LA Kings assistant coach). Benning will be assisting Linden in his search for the RIGHT coach that will be the RIGHT voice for the team moving forward.

Among his most important qualities that he is looking for in a coach, Linden said: “I’m a believe that a coach with experience is critical. We want a coach that shares the same values as myself and Jim do.” The process of hiring the next coach may take weeks or it may take months but however long it does in fact take, Linden wants to make sure that whoever comes in IS the best fit for the team.

The NHL draft in which the Canucks have the 6th overall pick will be yet another choice made that will be over-analyzed by the fans and the media alike until the results are seen. In regards that 6th overall pick Linden has made it very clear that the type of player he wants to select WILL be a franchise player. The list of decisions does NOT end with the draft as there are many many more decisions that will need to be made prior to the start of the new season. We are in for an interesting off-season to say the least as each day gets us closer to October and the new NHL season.

And so begins the Trevor Linden Era (again) as he has the difficult task of showing WHY he IS the right fit for this organization.

Are you ready for what comes next, Canucks fans?

As always until next time, nuck said.

Sarah E.L.