Canucks’ fans have a tendency to look backward more so than project forward. The team loses a game and you need to fire everyone. They win a game and you need to plan the parade route. There is very little patience for the long game. The serious fan base divides itself into extremes as well that some on Canucks’ Twitter have coined the #BenningBros and the #BitterBros.
The first group branded as pollyannaish followers of their saviour and gentleman genius Jim. Then, there is that second group which is said to be comprised of people blinded by their hatred of the dim witted Benning, the man they say can do nothing right when it comes to building a hockey team.
Obviously, the work of the respected hockey executive falls somewhere in between those two extreme views. What does the future of the franchise really look like after nearly six seasons of mainly his imprint on the team and where is it headed? Is it aimed for the first Canucks’ dynasty in team history or is it doomed to another decade of disappointment?
Benning’s roots readied him for success
Jim Benning’s hockey roots started with his childhood at the feet of his legendary hockey scout father Elmer Benning. The elder Benning passed away late last year after nearly half a century as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens. Amongst his drafting coups was convincing the hockey hierarchy in Habs-land back in 2005 to spend a 1st round 5th overall pick on a goalie of all things. That goalie was and is Carey Price who is currently in his 13th consecutive season guarding Montreal’s nets and has Hart, Vezina, Jennings and Lindsay NHL trophies on his crowded den shelf at home.
It is easy to imagine a young Benning tagging along with his father, soaking in knowledge like a sponge as he watched oodles of games with his dad. It wouldn’t be too long after his childhood ended that he too would blossom into a top hockey prospect taken in the first round, sixth overall in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by Toronto, one pick before his dad’s Habs’ seventh overall pick.
Defenceman Benning amassed an incredible 139 points in 72 games in his final WHL season for the Portland Winter Hawks. Unfortunately, he landed on a Maple Leafs’ team owned by an elderly, cheap owner in Harold Ballard who insisted his general manager and coach play Benning right away alongside two other teen-age rear-guards (Bob McGill and Fred Boimistruck) on the same blue-line in order to save money. The team was a defensive disaster but he still managed to score seven goals and 24 assists for 31 points to go along with his -27 in his rookie season.
Eventually, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks and cites Canucks’ legend Pat Quinn as one of his mentors for how he believes organizations should treat players and staff. He had a respectable NHL career playing nine seasons and scoring 243 points in 610 regular season games. Playing on bad Toronto and Vancouver teams for the most part during his career he only got to play in seven playoff games, scoring one goal while adding another assist.
You wonder if he’d been picked instead by his dad’s Montreal club one pick later and hadn’t been rushed into NHL action before he was fully ready might his career would have turned out even better. His own past experience as a player probably explains his patience with his own draft picks and his reluctance to push them into action before they are ready.
Most points by a defensemen, prior to his 19th birthday:— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) December 23, 2018
57 – Phil Housley
38 – Bobby Orr
31 – Jim Benning
31 –Doug Bodger
29 – Aaron Ekblad
26 – Ray Bourque
25 – Rick Hampton
24 – Scott Stevens
21 – Petr Svoboda
20 – @rasmusdahlin00 #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/cRsGGjPlP7
Once his hockey career ended, Benning eventually decided to follow in his pop’s foot-steps and take up scouting. He was successful and paid his dues and eventually in 2014 was chosen by then Canucks’ new team President Trevor Linden to succeed Mike Gillis. One could debate endlessly every single trade and pick that he has done or made since then and whether or not he was constrained by ownership and/or newbie hockey executive Linden in the beginning. The #BenningBros and #BitterBros of Canucks’ Twitter will probably do so until the end of time itself but it is time to look at the present and the immediate future and determine where Benning has taken the Canucks and where they are likely to end up.
Why Benning’s Canucks are a rising powerhouse
I think the Vancouver franchise is currently in the best shape it has ever been.
They are stocked with a young core four of players led by Captain Bo Horvat (Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes) all 24 years old or younger.
They are bolstered by savvy established NHL veterans (Jacob Markstrom, Alex Edler, Chris Tanev, Jordie Benn, J.T. Miller, Jay Beagle, Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel and more).
They have young support players some of whom may yet still join the young core four (Troy Stecher, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, Thatcher Demko and more) as untouchables.
They have young pros playing in the AHL many of whom will press for employment on the big club (Michael DiPietro, Brogan Rafferty, Kole Lind, Guillaume Brisebois, Lukas Jasek and more).
Lastly, they have a slew of promising prospects playing in both North America (Jett Woo, Tyler Madden, Jack Rathbone and more) and overseas (Vasily Podkolzin, Nils Hoglander, Toni Utunen, and more).
Whatever you think of what Jim Benning has done in the past, there is no denying that a bright future is well underway and the franchise is poised to start a long stretch of playoff appearances starting as early as the spring of 2020.
I predict that in a couple of years from now those who prefer to look backward will be amazed at the NHL powerhouse that Benning built because they didn’t see it coming and those looking forward will be wondering if the team can repeat its first Stanley Cup Championship.