Three years after Boston upended Vancouver to seize the Stanley Cup, the Canucks have signed on one of the architects of the Bruins to revive their own flailing fortunes.
Jim Benning, assistant general manager of the Bruins, was officially announced as the new general manager of the Canucks on Wednesday night, a decision widely expected for weeks and unveiled by team president Trevor Linden at an event for season ticket holders.
The work ahead for Benning is significant, as Linden once again declared that the Canucks aim to fight their way into the playoffs next year. This would be a considerable revival after their worst season in 14 years, during which they scored the fewest goals for a full season in the four-decade-plus history of the franchise.
Benning has significant decisions to make about the roster, one that fired coach John Tortorella called "stale" when the season ended. Most important players are at least 28 and many are in their 30s. The Sedins turn 34 in September and Ryan Kesler will be 30 in August. The fate of Kesler is a key, keeping him or trading him. The Canucks will also be active in free agency, though the options are slim.
“We’ve got some work to get done this summer and I do believe that we will be a playoff team next year,” said Linden in an interview about the hiring posted on canucks.com.
Benning, 51, will get to work immediately, released from his tenure in Boston to join Vancouver as teams next week assess draft prospects at the NHL combine. A search for a new coach to replace Tortorella also gets fully going, with a new man in place in a month or two, according to Linden.
Benning brings Vancouver the success of having “built teams,” said Linden – with experience as a scout and head of amateur scouting in Buffalo, where he helped put together a team that reached the Cup final in 1999, and eight years in Boston, the past seven as assistant GM, on a team that reached the Cup twice in three years, won once, and is a primary contender again next year.
Reworking the Canucks will be tricky. The team is loaded with no-trade clauses. Linden said Benning did find last year’s draft picks to be a promising group.
In the push for the playoffs, rather than a more significant overhaul of the team, a rebuild of several years, the risk is becoming the Calgary Flames. The team spent the latter half of the last decade as a mid-ranked squad while believing they were a true contender, bumped out of the first round four consecutive years as their best players aged before missing the playoffs the past five seasons.
The Canucks plan to introduce Benning on Friday, first in a webcast on canucks.com at 11:15 a.m. PT and then a press conference at noon. Linden, who was hired in early April after team president/GM Mike Gillis was fired, had Benning as his top candidate and the news leaked on Monday when TSN reported it was a done deal.
Benning’s NHL life began in 1981 when the Edmonton-raised defenceman was the No. 6 overall pick in 1981 by the Toronto Maple Leafs. He played his final four NHL seasons in Vancouver, finishing in 1990, spending the last two as teammates with a teenage Linden.
While personnel moves on the roster are certain, the future of the front office could be in flux. Linden on Wednesday expressed confidence in long-time chief amateur scout Ron Delorme, whose draft record has been criticized. Assistant GMs Laurence Gilman and Lorne Henning are Gillis’s guys. Gilman also had been a candidate for the GM job..