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5 Potential Replacements for Jim Benning

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It’s not too early to discuss the future of the Canucks management group.

Jim Benning’s time as GM of the Vancouver Canucks could be over very soon

If you believe reports that Jim Benning is essentially on borrowed time (and I certainly do) then it’s not too premature to talk about potential replacements for the General Manager position of the Vancouver Canucks.

The problems and challenges that a potential new G.M. would have to navigate are numerous, but perhaps none more significant than the $25 million dollars of cap space allocated to the combo of Loui Erikson, Sven Baertschi, Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel, Tyler Myers, and Jay Beagle.

The boss Trevor Beggs outlined the current state of the Canucks here but needless to say the cap crunch the team is under is of the utmost priority. After this season, Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes will no longer be on their ELCs — you’re going to have to find value elsewhere in the lineup to offset the massive pay bump these two will most certainly command.

Here are a few potential candidates who could be up for the job.

Eric Tulsky

If you’re heavily into analytics, you know who this man is and have him probably near the top of your list.

Eric Tulsky is one of the pioneers of hockey analytics, getting his start writing for Broad Street Hockey here at SB Nation before running his own site with the network, Outnumbered. Currently, he is the Vice President of Hockey Management and Strategy for the Carolina Hurricanes, in which he “provides and analyzes data to assist the hockey operations department and coaching staff” according to their official website. It’s a position he’s had for the past six seasons.

Under his watch, the Hurricanes have become a team loaded with top-end talent that’s (maybe) a goalie away from being a true contender.

By all accounts, he’s a very smart, articulate guy as well. For god’s sake, he has a degree in chemistry and physics from Harvard and a Ph.D. in chemistry from UC-Berkeley.

But is the NHL ready for another full-blown analytics GM? We all know how the John Chayka experiment ended in Arizona. And if so, will it be the Canucks to be the team to take that step? Former GM Mike Gillis was considered pretty progressive at the time, and they went for a more established “hockey man” in Jim Benning when the position became available. If he does get the job, I can see a more established President above him who has those connections just so you don’t burn any bridges.

2015 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7
Mike Futa, Vice President, Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel of the Los Angeles Kings, looks on from the draft table during the 2015 NHL Draft at BB&T Center on June 27, 2015 in Sunrise, Florida.
Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Mike Futa

Does Mike Futa and the Vancouver Canucks GM job kindle any memories? It should because he was linked to the job back in 2014. Instead, he was promoted to Vice President of Hockey Operations and Director of Player Personnel with the Kings and the Canucks went with Jim Benning.

At the time, Futa was the Co-Director of Amateur Scouting in LA and was on the verge of winning his second cup in three seasons with L.A. On his watch, the Kings drafted Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn (the last two were traded for Mike Richards). He also signed Jake Muzzin as an unsigned free agent.

There were some misses though. Thomas Hickey at 4th overall is a notable one, as well as drafting Colton Teubert two picks ahead of Erik Karlsson and Derek Forbert a pick ahead of Vladimir Tarasenko.

It’s no secret that Futa wants to get back into management since his contract was not renewed last May — the guy openly campaigned for a job on Sportsnet.

However, I don’t see a fit here simply because the Canucks don’t need a guy who can draft the next core. That part is already done. What they need is a guy who can get some better pieces around that core, and Futa doesn’t strike me as the man who could do that.

New Jersey Devils v New York Rangers
Chris Drury #23 of the New York Rangers skates in warmups prior to the game against the New Jersey Devils at Madison Square Garden on April 9, 2011 in New York City.
Photo by Jonathan Klein/Getty Images

Chris Drury

Drury was a longtime Assistant General Manager before being promoted to his current position of Associate GM on February 5th. His job description is to “assist Rangers General Manager Jeff Gorton on all player transactions and contract negotiations’’ as well as “overseeing and evaluating all players at the collegiate level” according to the Rangers official website.

Much like the Avalanche (albeit on a lesser scale) the Rangers are a team on the rise. They have a bunch of good young talent that was shrewdly acquired and are poised to take a significant step forward in the near future. But their player development has been suspect at times. Kappo Kakko has not lived up to this second overall potential, and the 7th overall pick back in 2017 Lias Andersson was traded back in October for a second-round pick.

However, the fact that he was recently promoted likely takes him out of the race. Although he would be an intriguing fit, he likely leaked his name in the Penguins race to get a promotion out of the Rangers. If you hear his name connected with the Canucks, don’t take it seriously.

Vancouver Canucks Introduce John Tortorella
Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella poses for a photo with General Manager Mike Gillis and team owner Francesco Aquilini after a press conference announcing him as the new head coach of the team, June 25, 2013 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images

Mike Gillis

It wouldn’t be an article about the (potential) vacant GM position in Vancouver without bringing up ol’ Gilly.

Speculation that Gillis wants back in the NHL only increased here in the Lower Mainland after his son intentionally leaked/accidentally posted his PowerPoint presentation to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a refreshing read, a well-articulated thorough plan compared to Benning’s organization philosophy where the only plan seems to be there never really is one.

Mike Gillis’ record here with the Canucks has been well documented. He took a team in 2008 that was coming off a down year, made some solid moves around the Sedins, Luongo, and Kesler, and turned that into the best team this franchise has ever seen and getting this team as close as you can get to the Stanley Cup.

There are valid criticisms as well. The drafting was horrendous for the most part and the way he handled the Luongo/Schneider controversy was poor. However, those trades did bring in two major pieces of the Vancouver Canucks last season — Bo Horvat and Jacob Markstrom.

The big thing for me regarding Gillis is he has been out of the league for nearly seven years now. Seven years in pro sports might as well be seventy — it’s practically an eternity. So much has changed in the NHL since Gillis was once at the helm of the team, most notably the advancement of analytics. Gillis was considered a very progressive mind in this field when he was GM of the Canucks, would he still be ahead of the curve in this regard and others if he came back?

Personally, I don’t see a fit with him coming back as the General Manager. But as the President of Hockey Operations? Maybe. Considering that the Aquilinis want at least one person with past ties to the organization in the new management team, it leaves the door open for the triumphant return of Gillis.

Colorado Avalanche v Columbus Blue Jackets
General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen and Assistant General Manager Chris MacFarland of the Columbus Blue Jackets talk as their team warms up prior to the start of the game against the Colorado Avalanche on March 3, 2013 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Chris MacFarland

My personal choice for the job, MacFarland has been Assistant GM for the Colorado Avalanche since 2015 and “works closely with Executive Vice President/General Manager Joe Sakic regarding all hockey-related matters” according to their official website.

His body of work for the Avalanche speaks for itself. Since being a historically bad team in 2016-17, MacFarland and Burnaby Joe have built them into a Stanley Cup favourite with a deep prospect pool. They’ve managed the salary cap as well as a franchise can really — a quick trip through their Cap Friendly page is like walking through an alternate universe from the Canucks perspective. He has recent NHL managerial experience, has helped build an NHL power from the ground up, and can manage the salary cap effectively.

That last part may be the most important. The next GM of this team will have to navigate a cap landmine to get this team to become a bonafide Stanley Cup contender especially in a flat cap, post COVID environment.

He was linked to the Penguins GM job before they went with Ron Hextall. If there are GM openings in the offseason, it won’t be long before he’s snapped up (if he wants to leave Colorado). Get on it now Frankie. Time is of the essence.