Willes: Benning stands firm in belief he has rebuilt Canucks the ‘right way’

 

 
 
 
 
Vancouver Canucks' GM Jim Benning is in the last year of his contract, and hoping for a new deal. Meanwhile he stands by his belief that he has rebuilt the Canucks in the right manner and they are well stocked for the future.
 
 

Vancouver Canucks' GM Jim Benning is in the last year of his contract, and hoping for a new deal. Meanwhile he stands by his belief that he has rebuilt the Canucks in the right manner and they are well stocked for the future.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, The Province

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In this, as with all things, it’s a matter of perspective.

When Jim Benning looks at the Vancouver Canucks these days, he doesn’t see a 28th-placed team that has won four of its last 18 games. He doesn’t see a team which has missed the playoffs two seasons in a row and will undoubtedly miss them for a third straight year. And he certainly doesn’t see a team which is over-matched at the NHL level.

No, that’s what the standings and the scoresheet say. But the Canucks’ GM sees something completely different when he looks at the team he’s helped create. He sees the rich vein of young players and draftees who will transform the Canucks. He sees a team that was pointed in the right direction before it was gutted by injuries a third of the way through the season. Mostly he sees an organization which has been rebuilt and reimagined, an organization which is positioned for a bright future.

Will Benning be part of that future? That depends on how the Aquilini family views the Canucks. But, wherever he lands after this season Benning takes pride in building this franchise, “the right way,” and now that his own future is in the balance, he’s not going to deviate from his blueprint.

“I know people in the media are bringing it up but all I can do is the job and I’ll continue to do the job,” says Benning, who’s on the final year of his contract. “I love Vancouver and hopefully I can see this whole process through.

“It’s been a lot of hard work. For (almost four) years I’ve been gone. Basically, I’ve poured my heart and soul into getting things right and drafting well. My hope is I get to see it through.”

Even if he knows the decision is out of his hands.

Benning was speaking Saturday at the Canucks’ game-day skate in Edmonton, his hometown. His team dropped a 5-2 decision to the Oilers before moving on to Winnipeg where they faced the Jets on Sunday, trapped in a miserable streak that has torpedoed their season.

But help is on the way. First-line centre Bo Horvat has rejoined the team, which will restore the Canucks’ lineup to full strength for the first since Dec. 5. That night, they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 to improve their record to 14-10-4. At that point in the season they  sitting in a playoff spot.

Benning believes those first 28 games were an accurate reflection of his team’s capabilities and the transformation under Travis Green this year. They still have 36 games left to prove him right.

“I liked the way we were playing,” Benning says. “I felt comfortable we had a chance to be competitive, no matter who we were playing. Now, we’re going to get everybody back and, hopefully, we can get back to playing that style of game. If we do things the right way, we’ll win our share of games.

“Travis has changed the culture. It just looked like our guys were starting to capture their confidence. I’m hoping we can recapture that with the continued development of our younger players.”

Ah, the young players. Any assessment of Benning’s work has to begin there and the Canucks might have assembled the richest store of prospects in franchise history under the GM’s watch.

Goalie Thatcher Demko is having an All-Star season in Utica with a 16-7-3 record and a .929 save percentage. Benning also says defencemen Philip Holm, Guillaume Brisebois and Jalen Chatfield, “are going to be NHL players with the proper development.”

Elsewhere, the Canucks will look to sign forward Adam Gaudette once his college season with Northeastern is completed. The 21-year-old leads the NCAA in scoring and might be the most NHL-ready of the Canucks’ prospects. But there’s a lineup behind him, led by Elias Pettersson and Olli Juolevi and running to Kole Lind, Jonah Gadjovich and Will Lockwood.

“We want to make sure we do the right thing with our young players,” Benning says. “If they deserve to be on the team and play we’ll make room for them. That’s the hardest part with my job. It’s waiting on the development of all these good young players.”

But while they wait, the Canucks continue to play veterans who’ve failed to make this team competitive. That’s one of the biggest criticisms aimed at Benning which is why these final 36 games shape up as a referendum on his stewardship.

“I’m excited about the future,” he says. “I think these guys are all going to be real good players. But we want to get to the point where we establish a culture of competitiveness as we bring these young players into our group.

“When I took the job, one of my goals was to draft well and I think we’ve done that. We’ve stockpiled young players in our system. We’re doing things the right way. If you look at the players we’ve drafted and the young players we have on the team, I think we’ve rebuilt the organization and we’re going to continue to do that.”

How long will he get to do it? Who knows. But he’ll put in the work because this much we’ve come to know about Benning. He’s all about the job and he’s a workhorse, not a show horse.

ewilles@postmedia.com

 
 
 
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Vancouver Canucks' GM Jim Benning is in the last year of his contract, and hoping for a new deal. Meanwhile he stands by his belief that he has rebuilt the Canucks in the right manner and they are well stocked for the future.
 

Vancouver Canucks' GM Jim Benning is in the last year of his contract, and hoping for a new deal. Meanwhile he stands by his belief that he has rebuilt the Canucks in the right manner and they are well stocked for the future.

Photograph by: Bruce Bennett, The Province

 
Vancouver Canucks' GM Jim Benning is in the last year of his contract, and hoping for a new deal. Meanwhile he stands by his belief that he has rebuilt the Canucks in the right manner and they are well stocked for the future.
Bo Horvat, the Vancouver Canucks top centre, returned to the lineup Sunday after a lengthy injury.
With elite prospects in the system like Thatcher Demko, Jim Benning believes the Canucks are well-stocked for young talent.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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