Jim Benning: Worst NHL GM? Part 1

In light of the recent Jared McCann trade (Jared McCann, 2nd and 4th round picks in exchange for Erik Gudbranson and a 5th round pick) I thought it would be appropriate to put Jim Benning’s tenure with the Canucks in review. I decided to take a look at some of his biggest moves and deem them to be successes or failures. Obviously for trades and draft selections, its impossible to judge a move until years later often, so I can only do my best to judge how those transactions look presently and at their time of completion.

Back in the summer of 2014, the Canucks had just completed their least successful season in years and coach John Tortorella was fired along with GM Mike Gillis. The Canucks then hired local legend Trevor Linden to be president of hockey operations, an excellent move in terms of PR. Trevor, along with team owner Francesco Aquillini hired a bright eyed and bushy tailed Jim Benning to be the new general manager. The optimism among Canucks faithful was real, and the loss in the 2011 had not been forgotten. The common sentiment among fans was “he can’t POSSIBLY be worse then Gillis, right?”.

First things first, Benning along with everyone else in the city knew Ryan Kesler needed to be traded. It was inevitable, and given the situation Benning did pretty well in his return for Ryan Kesler, fetching Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa and a 1st round pick (Jared McCann) in exchange for the injury prone centre. Not bad for a guy who demanded his way out and was coming off a horrible season by his standards, and it didn’t help that he gave the Canucks a choice of two teams he’d accept a trade to (the other being the Blackhawks). I’d say given the circumstances Benning did a bang up job and deserves credit: Grade A

In an effort to retool the Canucks and commit to a “rebuild on the fly” Benning decided to go younger and trade a 2nd round pick  to the LA Kings for Linden Vey, who was coming off a season of over a point per game in the AHL that included an 18 game stint with the big club that saw him notch 5 assists. Overall the move didn’t look like a bad one at the time, with Vey seeming like a player with good potential. Unfortunately after 2 seasons with the Canucks, including a trip to the minors this season, Vey has yet to realize his potential. He has however been a decent 4th line centre and the cost to acquire him was relatively low. Obviously there is no guarantee when trading for prospects, but given the risk-reward of this deal, I can’t say it was a bad move to make: Grade C+

Benning also traded a 3rd round pick to the Rangers for Derek Dorsett, not much to be said here, Dorsett has been what was expected, a 4th line grinder. He doesn’t produce much offensively but isn’t a huge liability defensively compared to other players of his style. The true tragedy in the story of Derek Dorsett was when Benning signed him to a 4 year contract extension at over double what most would have given him ($2.65M a year). Grade F

Jason Garrison had been a pretty decent top 4 defensemen for the Canucks but never lived up to his $4.6M price tag Gillis had signed him too. Benning did a nice job getting rid of that cap hit by shipping him to Tampa Bay for a second rounder. Grade B+

With the money he’d saved by trading Kesler and Garrison, Benning had himself a bit of a shopping spree and signed Radim Vrbata to a 2 year, $12M dollar contract. Vrbata would be the teams leading goal scorer the next season, and their representative at the all-star game. This past season was a tough one for Vrbata, but injuries and being taken off the Sedin’s line didn’t help him out. Overall I’d say he was a pretty good Canuck: Grade B

Another high profile free agent signing that came that season was goaltender Ryan Miller, coming off a failed experiment as the St.Louis Blues starter. Benning had personal connections to Miller and signed him to a 3 year, $18M dollar contract even though Miller had no other offers at the time. Miller struggled through his first season. However this past season, despite dealing with injuries Miller was above average when he played though inconsistent. So even though Miller hasn’t been horrible, he was signed for too much given the circumstances and his contract led to the trade of fan favourite Eddie Lack (which I’ll get too later): Grade C

When it comes to the draft table Benning had the Canucks highest pick since the two they used to select the Sedin’s. Canucks fans rejoiced when Benning called the name of Hometown boy Jake Virtanen. However the fickle fanbase of the Canucks quickly turned on him this season when he didn’t immediately produce in his rookie season. Also Jake took a large portion of the blame (rightly or not) for Team Canada’s failures at the World Junior Championship for not producing like a “men against boys”. All told however, Virtanen had an okay year despite playing fourth line with very little quality of line mates (coach Willie Desjardins insisted on playing Virtanen with Bo Horvat and Sven Baertschi even though it wasn’t working) and Virtanen was a frequent healthy scratch. He was not put on a position to succeed. It’s too early to call Virtanen a bust or a successful draft pick, so I’ll give this: Grade B.

The other first round pick the Canucks had that year was none other then the player who’s trade sparked this piece: Jared McCann, drafted with the pick received in the Ryan Kesler deal. Jared was a nice pick who fell further then expected after being ranked the 10th best North American skater heading into the draft. Jared went on to have a very successful D+1 year. He unexpectedly made the Canucks this season during the preseason. After starting the season very hot, McCann cooled throughout the year, but still posted 18 points in 69 games. He looked very much to be a part of this teams future until Benning traded him on Wednesday (more on that later as well). Purely looking at McCann as a draft pick (ignoring the brutal trade): Grade B+

The final major move I’ll be going over in part 1 is drafting potential future franchise goaltender Thatcher Demko. Now when Thatcher fell to 36th (because the Flames picked Mason MacDonald over Demko) it was a no-brainer to draft the Boston College standout. Thatcher has gone on to do nothing but impress at every level, including being a finalist for the Hobey Baker for MVP of the NCAA and winning best college goaltender. Thatcher signed his first pro contract a few weeks ago and will most likely be starting for the Utica Comets next season. Although anyone with half a brain would have selected Demko at #36, it’s impossible to give this anything but a: Grade A.

 

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