The Covid-19 pandemic crisis cannot stop the hands of time from moving forward. Tomorrow, Vancouver Canucks’ General Manager Jim Benning will pass his predecessor, Mike Gillis, on the team-of-many colours’ all-time service list. Benning was hired as Gillis’ replacement on May 21st, 2014. He will have been in the job for 5 years, 11 months and 17 days, which is one more day than Gillis served in the position.
When Gillis himself took over the head-honcho reins from his own forerunner, Dave Nonis, on April 23rd, 2008, almost all of the key pieces were in place for what would be the pinnacle of his tenure, the 2011 Stanley Cup run. Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, Kevin Bieksa and Roberto Luongo all had been acquired by previous general managers Brian Burke and/or Dave Nonis. Even head coach Alain Vigneault was originally hired by Nonis. Also, soon to be emerging players such as Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond and Cory Schneider were all draft picks from prior regimes.
Gillis did, however, do a very good job of augmenting the existing core with additional support via trade and/or free agency in what ultimately became the near successful Stanley Cup playoff run of 2011. His additions included noteworthy personnel such as Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis, Mikael Samuelsson, Manny Malhotra, Chris Higgins, Raffi Torres and Maxim Lapierre.
After the 2011 7th game Final loss, Gillis’ Canucks’ teams never got out of the first round of the playoffs again. His run culminated in his swan song with the John Tortorella disaster season of 2013/14 that ended with a playoffs miss.
Gillis’ biggest failure as a General Manager was his scouting department’s poor drafting record. While the Canucks’ drafting record prior to his arrival was not terrific, arguably his history of June Entry Draft selections is amongst the worst if not the worst of all general managers in club history. Not even one player he drafted played a key part on any of his Canucks’ teams. Bo Horvat is the only left over draft pick of his regime playing on the current Canucks’ team.
When Jim Benning assumed the GM-mantel from Gillis, he inherited an ageing roster. The team was in need of a major re-tool at best or more likely in hindsight a full rebuild at worst. The core was stale and old.
Brutally honest coach John Tortorella says Canucks stale and team needs to be retooled with young players. Says must forget 2011 SC run.— Jim Morris (@jememorris) April 14, 2014
Benning opted for a quick re-tool either by choice or under instructions from his then boss Trevor Linden and/or owner Francesco Aquilini and his family. If it was by choice then he certainly wears it today for making the wrong decision. The club did though return to the playoffs in Benning’s first season at the helm in 2014/15 but were quickly dispatched by a then young Calgary Flames team. But soon after their elimination the wheels started to come off and not too long after a rebuild with youth commenced either willingly or unwillingly depending on your point of view.
One gift that Mike Gillis did leave for Benning was a talented young scout in Judd Brackett. He was hired by Gillis prior to the 2008/09 season. His expertise was south of the Canadian border in the good old USA. But during the five of six Gillis drafts Brackett participated in only five players who played amateur hockey south of the border were drafted by the team.
The list is comprised of Jordan Schroeder (2009), Kevin Connauton (2009), Patrick McNally (2010), Joe Labate (2011) and Matthew Beattie (2012). Connauton is the best of the handful and he was actually a Canadian who played one college season in the USA. He has bounced around the NHL from team to team as a journeyman 6/7 defenceman. He has played 314 games so far in his career. First round pick Schroeder turned out to be a disappointment and played in only 165 NHL games spread over six seasons and three teams, including the Canucks, before packing up and taking his hockey equipment to the KHL. Labate played 13 NHL games for the Canucks and is now plying his trade with the Ottawa Senators’ AHL farm team in Belleville and is unlikely to be called up to play in the NHL again. McNally and Beattie never laced up their skates in the NHL. McNally is playing in the Slovak league in Europe. Beattie hung up his hockey gear in 2017 after playing one season in France.
When Benning took over from Gillis prior to the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, he retained Brackett on his scouting staff for decision day. With their 2nd round pick 36th overall they nabbed San Diego born goalie Thatcher Demko out of Boston College. Brackett, a former NCAA goalie during his playing days no doubt played a large part in that decision.
In June 2015, the Canucks picked NCAA forwards Brock Boeser and Adam Gaudette. After that draft Benning decided to promote Brackett to Director of Amateur Scouting on August 4th, 2015.
“We saw his potential to be a head scout — with his communication skills, his work ethic, his ability to get on the road and that desire to know all the players — and gave him the head scouting job,” Benning said of Brackett.— west.coast.express (@leftcoastxpress) May 7, 2020
Since Brackett’s promotion, the Canucks have selected six more promising NCAA players (Will Lockwood, Jack Rathbone, Quinn Hughes, Tyler Madden, Jack Malone and Aidan McDonough). Quinn Hughes is already the best defenceman in franchise history in most opinions. Non-USA born picks such as Three Crown jewel Elias Pettersson, and pending potential phenoms like Kole Lind, Michael DiPietro, Nils Hoglander, Vasily Podkolzin and others are all picks from Brackett’s watch. So what has changed for Brackett and the Canucks’ scouting department since Benning took over?
“Jim is out seeing games as well and we just had our amateur meetings last week and he’s a big part of the dialogue and encourages a healthy discussion about players. Giving us direction and being heavily involved in the process has been the biggest change"— west.coast.express (@leftcoastxpress) May 7, 2020
Canucks’ Nation on Twitter is currently on edge as it appears that Judd Brackett will be leaving the Canucks’ organization on July 1st, 2020. Some say his value to the club is underrated and others say it is overrated.
Someone earlier said Brackett nay be a bit over rated. Interesting take.— Tony Smolock (@smoboy) May 5, 2020
I think most everyone can agree that Judd Brackett became a valuable asset under the Jim Benning regime. It may be that he is ready for a promotion and there is no room currently for him to move up.
My take on the Judd Brackett situation is that he is looking for a promotion to a spot in the #Canucks organization that isn't currently available.— CanucksAbbyFan2 (@Fan2Abby) May 7, 2020
If you look at Jim Benning's own CV, he had to leave Buffalo for Boston to move up in his career and then finally to Vancouver. pic.twitter.com/cXaBdEzniI
Whether Judd Brackett’s future on July 1st remains in Vancouver or is undertaken elsewhere, Jim Benning and his scouting department will continue to chug along. Benning is the key to its effectiveness much moreso than Brackett in my view. Brackett will be missed. But when people leave they open up movement for those below them to get promoted. People like former Twitter favourite Ryan Biech amongst others.
Whatever ultimately happens with Brackett’s future, Jim Benning will continue to pursue Pat Quinn’s GM tenure record in the mean time. The only way that he will succeed in that pursuit though is if he brings a Stanley Cup to Vancouver sooner than later.
The next stage in that ultimate prize pursuit may yet still happen this year if the NHL eventually restarts and completes their season.
Tomorrow #Canucks current GM Jim Benning passes former GM Mike Gillis in tenure in the postion. He will become the 2nd longest serving GM in Vancouver history trailing only the legendary Pat Quinn. (per @CapFriendly )— CanucksAbbyFan2 (@Fan2Abby) May 7, 2020
Will he some day also pass Quinn on the list? Time will tell. pic.twitter.com/smvWeLw8MK