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Calling Jim Benning’s contract extension divisive seems like a significant understatement. Benning’s tenure as general manager of the Vancouver Canucks has inspired both ardent devotion and outright disdain in the fanbase.
It seems like fans keep inching towards the extremes: some are delighted to see Benning’s contract extended for another three years, while others are flabbergasted that he hasn’t already been fired. There are still Canucks fans camping out in the wide chasm between those extremes, who find room for both optimism and cynicism: the Canucks seem poised for future success thanks to Benning-era draft picks Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes, but they’ve still missed the playoffs in four-straight seasons and made missteps along the way.
The progress that has been made over the past few years, however, was enough to sell Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini on the plan for the future.
“[Aquilini] has been excellent with me,” said Benning. “He's real passionate, he wants the team to be successful, he wants to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Vancouver. So, for me to work with somebody like that, I like that. Because he's aggressive in wanting to spend the money to make the team competitive.”
There have been some questions regarding how that money has been spent. The team has moved to a leaner front office than in the pre-Benning years, with no President of Hockey Operations and just one Assistant GM, John Weisbrod.
Beyond those two, the Canucks have a small group of advisors and directors. Stan Smyl is in a Senior Advisor role, Chris Gear is the Vice President and General Counsel, Jonathan Wall is Senior Director of Hockey Operations and Analytics, and Ryan Johnson is GM of the Utica Comets, as well as the Senior Director of Player Development.
Trevor Linden “amicably parted ways” with the Canucks over a year ago and the team still hasn’t replaced him as President of Hockey Operations. Not long after, T.C. Carling was removed as Executive Vice President of Arena Operations. He had been with the Canucks since 1999. He wasn’t replaced either, with his role spread around to other people already on staff.
In fact, since Carling oversaw the fan experience side of the Canucks, you could argue that ownership has taken on some of his role. Francesco Aquilini, after all, has been known to make specific song requests during games and there are rumours he was heavily involved in the selection of the new Rogers Arena DJ, Barron S. That is, perhaps, a little more hands-on than most ownership groups in the NHL.
It’s not unusual for teams to not have a President of Hockey Operations or to blend that job with the role of General Manager. It’s also not unusual for teams to have just one Assistant General Manager. Having no President and just one Assistant GM does make the Canucks a little more lean than most teams, particularly Canadian teams and big market American teams.
The team has, however, spent more in other areas, like amateur scouting, with more changes soon to be announced.
“We've made some changes that we're going to announce here, we’ve got to still sign some guys to contracts,” said Benning. “And I'm hoping to have an announcement in a couple weeks about some of the moves we've made and the changes we've made within our hockey ops department.”
That could include officially announcing Chris Higgins' role, as he's been reported to be joining the team in a player development role, as well as adding more scouts, as several have left for other job openings in the NHL.
"We've made some changes in our amateur scouting staff, I think to continue to get better and do a better job in the later rounds and we'll announce those changes here in a couple weeks," said Benning. "And with Scott Walker leaving, we're going to replace him with what we feel is a real good replacement."
"Some of our guys got promotions in other organizations and got to move up in management positions," he added. "So we're happy for those guys that left and got better opportunities, and I think it's a feather in our cap that we're doing things the right way and other teams have taken notice and have hired some of our people."
Those changes likely won’t touch the upper reaches of the front office, however.
“I have an excellent supporting staff with John Weisbrod, Chris Gear, Jonathan Wall, Stan Smyl’s in the office and we talk to him on a daily basis,” said Benning. “So I feel comfortable with the group that we have.”
When asked about the lean team at the end of the season, Benning pointed to Doug Jarvis, whose official role is Senior Advisor to the coaching staff.
“We have a lot of people in place and a lot of people behind the scenes,” said Benning. “Doug Jarvis as an example. He does a lot of work for us with our big team here, he’s a sounding board for me, the coaches. He goes down to Utica two weekends over the course of the winter and watches them play and reports back to me what’s going on down there.”
The question is whether that’s enough for an organization as big as the Canucks. Would more people in management lead to better decision making, or would multiple voices lead to more muddlement and confusion?
3 - Jim Benning’s contract extension is for three years, but the details are murky. One rumour is that those years aren’t guaranteed. That means, if he’s let go partway through the contract (or before it kicks in) the Canucks might not be paying out all three years of the deal.
17 - No one should place much stock in summer league performances, but Brock Boeser has once again been a standout in the star-studded Da Beauty League, with 9 goals and 17 points in 7 games, good for 10th in scoring despite playing fewer games than all of the players above him.
Stick-Taps and Glove-Drops
I’m dropping the gloves with the Carolina Hurricanes, whose new road jersey apes the New York Rangers look with “CANES” written diagonally across the front. It’s similar to the “BOLTS” and “SENS” jerseys once worn by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators, and similarly ugly, with the additional demerit that a “cane” brings to mind the elderly more than a young, exciting hockey team.
A tap of the stick to Adil Bajwa, who won the Vancouver Canucks Chel Challenge this week, defeating all comers in the NHL 19 gaming tournament, the first hosted by the Canucks.