VANCOUVER - He may be able to remake a team, but Jim Benning could use some help from Martha Stewart redecorating a workspace.
Three months into his job as the Vancouver Canucks’ general manager, Benning’s office remains sterile white, largely uncluttered by artwork, pictures and memorabilia.
The last occupant, former GM Mike Gillis, had a big photo of himself and a trophy fish. Brian Burke proudly displayed a portrait from his minor-league playing days: Burke bloodied but stoic. (He was injured in the warm-up).
Benning could show off a photo, too — for instance, holding the Stanley Cup he won three years ago.
“I just cleaned my office up,” Benning said Thursday. “I usually have these sheets spread out all over the office. I like to keep wall space available.”
Benning is an active thinker. He writes down ideas, makes lists, charts. He has a hand-written roster of his team, with age, salaries and contract status noted by the players’ names. Another poster-size sheet displays the traits he believes a Canuck should possess. But Benning’s masterpiece is a positional depth chart that includes every team in the National Hockey League, penned by Benning on feltboard and arranged by team rank. It contains the colour-coded names of more than 700 NHL players and occupies most of the south wall of Benning’s office at Rogers Arena.
It’s like what Michelangelo might have created for the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel were he a hockey nerd and not a Renaissance genius.
“This is my work space,” Benning explained. “I need to know every player in the league. This is just an example, but if I’m talking to Anaheim and (GM) Bob Murray and I say I want Jakob Silverberg or Kyle Palmieri included in the Kesler trade, and Bob says, ‘I can’t do that or I’ll have no right-wingers,’ I can say: ‘Actually, you still have Corey Perry, Palmieri, (Devante) Smith-Pelley and (Tim) Jackman.’ ”
Benning, of course, traded Kesler to Anaheim on June 27 for centre Nick Bonino, defenceman Luca Sbisa, a first-round draft pick and a swap of third-rounders, which allowed the Canucks to acquire Derek Dorsett from the New York Rangers.
It was the most important day in a titanic draft week in which Benning and team president Trevor Linden profoundly altered the Canuck landscape, making the team younger and deeper. That week began with the hiring of Willie Desjardins as head coach and was followed by free agency and the signing of starting goalie Ryan Miller and offensive winger Radim Vrbata, who will probably play this season with Henrik and Daniel Sedin.
Benning packed a year of change into 10 days. If ever someone needed a summer holiday, it was Benning.
“I put some pressure on myself because I know ... that’s one of those times in the year you can get stuff done,” Benning said. “I understood I had a window. I’m glad we were able to do the things we did because it pushed up the curve for us to have success.
“We have six new players from last year — that’s a third of the team. I think we did the things we set out to accomplish. If we go into the season with this group, I’m happy. I think we’ve gotten younger, I think we’re more enthusiastic and have more energy, we’ve got a deeper roster and when Ryan Miller is on his game he’s one of the top six goalies in the league.”
As non-B.C.-based players trickle back into town for the start of training camp in Whistler in three weeks, Benning said he likes the projected lineup far more now than when Linden hired him on May 21.
“From the players that were here last year to the players we acquired, they all have something to prove,” he said. “The players that were here want to recapture where they were the previous couple of years, and the players we acquired all have something to prove to themselves and each other.”
Benning is emphatic that the Canucks can be a 100-point playoff team and doesn’t accept the popular theory that even if they are that, their Stanley Cup tournament will be over early against a Pacific Division monster like the Los Angeles Kings.
He is equally emphatic that the wave of newly acquired Canucks doesn’t preclude prospects like Bo Horvat or Nicklas Jensen from making the lineup.
“If these guys come in and show they deserve to be on the team, then I’ll move somebody to make room for them,” Benning said. “But it’s going to be earned, not given. Coming from the organizations I worked for previously (Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres), we let players develop properly in the minor leagues. I don’t want to rush our players on development. I’m glad we have good, young players. But they have to earn their spot on the teams, and when they do we’ll make room for them.”
Benning’s summer holidays consisted of a few short visits home to the Portland area, where he and wife Rhonda own a rural acreage and horses. Mostly, he has continued working, walking to his office from the couple’s Olympic Village condo.
Benning returned this week from the Canucks Autism Network fishing derby in Haida Gwaii. Benning, who hadn’t gone saltwater fishing since leaving Vancouver as a player 24 years ago, caught an 18-pound salmon. He said a sea lion stole his biggest fish as it was being landed. For a change, the big one got away from Benning.
“The last four days, I spent with Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Stanton,” Benning said, referring to Canuck defencemen. “I said to Willie: ‘Crap, if all of our guys are high-end guys like this, we’ll have something here.’ If you get a group of guys together that have the talent to win, then want to support each other and help each other, and be responsible and accountable, then there’s no ceiling on what they can accomplish.”
The ceiling, too, is blank.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun