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Ranking the darkest eras in Canucks history

Where does the Jim Benning era rank among the worst?

Pittsburgh Penguins v Vancouver Canucks
Jacob Markstrom #25 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on dejected as Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins is congratulated by teammate Bryan Rust #17 after scoring during their NHL game at Rogers Arena December 21, 2019 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

The Vancouver Canucks have gone 50 seasons without winning a Stanley Cup.

Bah humbug, I know.

It feels like a pretty safe bet to say that the 2021-22 season will mark their 51st without winning hockey’s greatest trophy. Hell, even with their impressive start under Bruce Boudreau, making the playoffs would be a minor miracle.

At least Vancouver is now emerging from the darkness.

After “Fire Benning” chants rang loud and a Bo Horvat jersey was tossed on the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Aquilini’s had decided enough was enough.

Perhaps that decision was a few years too late, but I digress.

With the Benning era now over, it’s fair to wonder: did we just witness the darkest era in Canucks history?

Here’s my ranking of the four darkest eras in team history that stand out the most.

4. The entire 1970s

Based solely on the length of this sad era, the 1970s should be at #1.

Sorry, Westy.

Not only were the Canucks bad, but they were screwed over by the league in the early years. Aside from being robbed of Gilbert Perreault in the draft lottery, the Canucks were placed in the ultra-competitive East Division.

That division featured the powerhouse Montreal Canadiens, Bobby Orr and the Boston Bruins, along with every other Original Six team aside from the Chicago Black Hawks.

Unsurprisingly, they stunk.

How your Vancouver Canucks performed during their first four seasons in the NHL.
Hockey Reference.

The Canucks were “good” for two seasons after the league expanded and Vancouver moved to the new Smythe Division. However, during their first playoff appearance in 1974-75, they ended up facing the mighty Canadiens, who dismantled them 4-1 in the quarterfinals.

Although the Canucks only had two winning seasons during the decade, there’s no way this era can be considered the darkest in club history. With no previous success, there wasn’t much of an expectation among the fan base for the Canucks to achieve much of anything.

While success and the Canucks certainly weren’t synonymous in the ‘70s, it did sting to see our expansion cousins, the Buffalo Sabres, play in the Stanley Cup Final and put up five 100+ point seasons before the end of the decade. The Canucks topped out at 86 points in ‘74-75.

3. Post ‘82 decline

During their 12th NHL season, the Canucks finally gave fans an incredibly exhilarating playoff experience.

But since this is a masochistic article about darkness, let’s not dive too deep into that.

Following the miraculous ‘82 run, the Canucks were a complete disaster. Much of that has to do with the fact that the Canucks were a mediocre team who caught fire during the spring of ‘82.

1984-88 was a mess in particular. They averaged 60 points a season (only the Toronto Maple Leafs were worse), went through four head coaches (including 20 games of Bill LaForge), and made poor draft selections with high picks when they selected Jim Sandlak (4th overall in 1985) and Dan Woodley (7th overall in 1986).

And, for all the flack Jim Benning deservedly got in this market, he never made a trade as bad as former Canucks GM Jack Gordon, who infamously dealt Cam Neely and a first-round pick (which ended up being Glen Wesley) for an injury-riddled Barry Pederson.

At least the Canucks shows signs of competence later in the 1980s when they hired Pat Quinn and started to make some shrewd moves. Still, there was one final kick in the teeth before the end of the decade, with Joel Otto’s kicked-in goal breaking the Canucks hearts in the 1989 playoffs.

Aside from ‘82, the 1980s sucked for Vancouver. However, losing feels less like a kick in the teeth when you’re not accustomed to success.

And, for nearly 20 years, this was a bad franchise that was remarkably consistent at sucking.

Feeling too sad to carry on? Go re-live the one nice thing about the 1980s.

Oh, sorry about that...

2. The Messier Era

This is where the Canucks found new and creative ways to punish the fan base.

Scratch that...this is where Mark Messier and Mike Keenan decided to destroy the Canucks from the inside.

After the hearts of this fanbase were crushed in 1994, the Canucks played .500 hockey over the next three seasons.

With the franchise spinning its wheels, Pat Quinn decided to sign free agent Mark Messier to a three-year, $20 million on July 27th, 1997.

That move sunk the Canucks from mediocre into one of the darkest eras in franchise history.

Messier brought a pompous, arrogant attitude that turned his teammates off from day one.

“Everybody was on board, waiting to go along with him,” Gino Odjick told The Province back in 1998. “But he didn’t break a sweat the first 10 games, waiting for Renney and Quinn to get fired.”

“He’s not with the players. He’s the one who controls everything.”

Messier basically admitted to his own arrogance.

“When I got here, this was anything but a team,” he said. “It was failing in the most important part of the business — winning. Everybody knew changes needed to be made.”

Uh, yeah, that was the guy who took the captaincy from Trevor Linden...

Messier-Linden
Mark Messier moves the puck as Trevor Linden defends during a contest between the Vancouver Canucks and New York Islanders in 1999.
Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

Both Quinn and head coach Tom Renny were fired before the 20-game mark in 1997. Former New York Rangers coach Mike Keenan took over, reuniting him with Messier. A couple of months later, Linden was traded to the New York Islanders.

After being the heart and soul of the team for nearly a decade, you knew things were bad when Linden admitted he was “relieved” to leave the “dysfunctional” Canucks.

This was an ugly, ugly time to be a fan of the Canucks. Thankfully, Quinn was replaced as general manager by Brian Burke, who helped usher in the longest stretch of success in team history.

1. The Benning Era

This wasn’t intended to be chronological, but perhaps the logic is that while the first kick to the groin hurts, repeated swings to that sensitive lower region only get worse.

When Jim Benning was hired by the Vancouver Canucks in May, 2014, he was supposed to help this franchise keep up their successful run of play following the turn of the Millenium.

From 1999-2000 through 2013-14, the Canucks were the fourth-best regular-season team in the NHL.

In eight seasons under Benning, they were 26th overall.

Despite a clear need to overhaul an aging roster, Benning continuously shot himself in the foot by flat our refusing to rebuild, then by trying to accelerate a rebuild.

And, even when a rebuild finally got underway in 2017, Benning was already pushing the Canucks near the salary cap with signings such as Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Erik Gudbranson, and Luca Sbisa.

Calgary Flames v Vancouver Canucks
Erik Gudbranson #44 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the net after teammate Loui Eriksson scored on his own goal during their NHL game against the Calgary Flames at Rogers Arena October 15, 2016 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images

As the NHL continued to move towards a world where an expert in navigating the salary cap was needed, Benning continued abiding by his “day-to-day” mentality, looking for the quick fix instead of assessing and addressing what the Canucks needed long-term.

Even if you believe that there was pressure from ownership to skip or accelerate the rebuild — which was likely the case based on comments from Mike Gillis in recent years — that doesn’t excuse the atrocious job that Benning and his staff did in the pro scouting department.

During his time in Vancouver, Benning signed 53 contracts with an average annual value of $1 million or more. In total, $537 million were spent on these contracts.

Here are 27 of those 53 contracts, which equals a total of $259 million spent.

The Worst of Jim Benning

PLAYER TEAM SIGNING DATE TYPE LENGTH CAP HIT VALUE
PLAYER TEAM SIGNING DATE TYPE LENGTH CAP HIT VALUE
Eriksson, Loui Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2016 Standard (UFA) 6 years $6,000,000 $36,000,000
Myers, Tyler Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2019 Standard (UFA) 5 years $6,000,000 $30,000,000
Sutter, Brandon Vancouver Canucks Aug. 4, 2015 Standard (UFA) 5 years $4,375,000 $21,875,000
Holtby, Braden Vancouver Canucks Oct. 9, 2020 Standard (UFA) 2 years $4,300,000 $8,600,000
Gudbranson, Erik Vancouver Canucks Feb. 20, 2018 Standard (UFA) 3 years $4,000,000 $12,000,000
Sbisa, Luca Vancouver Canucks Apr. 8, 2015 Standard (RFA) 3 years $3,600,000 $10,800,000
Gudbranson, Erik Vancouver Canucks Jun. 15, 2017 Standard (RFA) 1 year $3,500,000 $3,500,000
Ferland, Micheal Vancouver Canucks Jul. 10, 2019 Standard (UFA) 4 years $3,500,000 $14,000,000
Baertschi, Sven Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2018 Standard (RFA) 3 years $3,366,666 $10,100,000
Pearson, Tanner Vancouver Canucks Apr. 8, 2021 Standard (UFA) 3 years $3,250,000 $9,750,000
Gagner, Sam Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2017 Standard (UFA) 3 years $3,150,000 $9,450,000
Del Zotto, Michael Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2017 Standard (UFA) 2 years $3,000,000 $6,000,000
Beagle, Jay Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2018 Standard (UFA) 4 years $3,000,000 $12,000,000
Roussel, Antoine Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2018 Standard (UFA) 4 years $3,000,000 $12,000,000
Hamonic, Travis Vancouver Canucks Jul. 28, 2021 Standard (UFA) 2 years $3,000,000 $6,000,000
Hutton, Ben Vancouver Canucks Nov. 24, 2016 Standard (RFA) 2 years $2,800,000 $5,600,000
Dorsett, Derek Vancouver Canucks Apr. 8, 2015 Standard (UFA) 4 years $2,650,000 $10,600,000
Dickinson, Jason Vancouver Canucks Aug. 14, 2021 Standard (RFA) 3 years $2,650,000 $7,950,000
Virtanen, Jake Vancouver Canucks Oct. 22, 2020 Standard (RFA) 2 years $2,550,000 $5,100,000
Nilsson, Anders Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2017 Standard (UFA) 2 years $2,500,000 $5,000,000
Poolman, Tucker Vancouver Canucks Jul. 28, 2021 Standard (UFA) 4 years $2,500,000 $10,000,000
Benn, Jordie Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2019 Standard (UFA) 2 years $2,000,000 $4,000,000
Schaller, Tim Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2018 Standard (UFA) 2 years $1,900,000 $3,800,000
Bartkowski, Matt Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2015 Standard (UFA) 1 year $1,750,000 $1,750,000
Pouliot, Derrick Vancouver Canucks Jun. 26, 2018 Standard (UFA) 1 year $1,100,000 $1,100,000
Larsen, Philip Vancouver Canucks Jul. 1, 2016 Standard (UFA) 1 year $1,025,000 $1,025,000
Vey, Linden Vancouver Canucks Jun. 29, 2015 Standard (RFA) 1 year $1,000,000 $1,000,000
$259,000,000

Every GM makes bad signings, but to strike out on half of your deals is ludicrous.

Benning’s blunders led the Canucks into what has to be considered the darkest era in franchise history. Considering where the Canucks were at the beginning of the 2010s, this franchise has fallen on its face harder than anyone else in the league.

Now that a new era is on the horizon, let’s all hope that the darkest eras in team history will never be topped.

Help us out, will ya Santa?

Poll

What has been the darkest era in Canucks history?

  • 4%
    The 1970s: Ten Years Gone
    (8 votes)
  • 9%
    Post ‘82 Decline
    (15 votes)
  • 43%
    The Messier Era
    (71 votes)
  • 41%
    The Benning Era
    (68 votes)
162 votes total Vote Now