The wait is over – Jim Benning is the new General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks, the team announced Wednesday. Benning, a 51-year-old Edmontonian and former Canucks defensemen, joins the team after a successful stint as assistant GM with the Boston Bruins.
Interestingly, Benning was behind the bench for the Bruins when the team famously shattered the Canucks’ Stanley Cup dreams in a Game 7 shutout at the Stanley Cup Finals in June 2011. The Game 7 loss marked the start of a rapid decline for the Canucks which led the team to breaking point at the close of the 2013-14 season. This resulted in the rebuild that Benning is now a significant part of.
Another interesting thread in the Canucks rebuild is the connection between Benning and recently appointed President of Hockey Operations, Trevor Linden – the two are former teammates, playing for the Canucks from 1988 to 1990. Benning’s nine year tenure in the NHL was drawing to a close just as Linden’s career was beginning, an irony not lost on the former Canucks captain.
“It’s interesting how this game reconnects people. We were teammates once, and then worlds apart and now we’re aligned once again,” smiled Linden. “What really became apparent is how much we connected on our vision and our values and how we see winning organizations in the National Hockey League, but we certainly didn’t have those conversations 25-years-ogo when I was a rookie and he was a young guy.”
The search for a new GM has been widely debated and hotly tipped as the foundation for the Canucks to rebuild their team upon. Linden involved himself heavily in the search and felt the hockey intelligence the two shared was evident.
“There were moments of clarity for me in speaking with Jim that we just really connected on a hockey level,” Linden said in a statement released Wednesday by the Canucks. “Our beliefs on how success is built in the National Hockey League were very aligned.”
Jim Benning has a textured history as a former NHL player. He was drafted sixth overall by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft. He spent five seasons with the Leafs before the team traded him to the Canucks in 1986. There he played 241 games, scoring 15 goals and notching up 55 assists for a total of 70 points. He was named the team’s top defenseman for the 1987-88 season.
From a managerial standpoint, Benning has a knack for drafting franchise-changing players. He played a key role in securing Tyler Seguin for the Boston Bruins, and drafting Ryan Miller and Thomas Vanek during his 12-years as the top scout for the Buffalo Sabres. His eye for young on-ice talent is crucial for the Canucks as they prepare for their sixth round draft pick at the upcoming entry draft for the 2014-15 season. A former sixth round pick himself, the number marks another interesting and poetic coincidence for the new GM.
“Jim recognizes that there’s a lot of work to do and I think we’ve got some big decisions to make heading into the draft and certainly the summer,” said Linden. “We’re going to get to work on that, obviously the combine is next week and the great thing about this situation is Jim is able to start immediately with us, so he’ll be in Toronto for the combine with us.
”The draft is first and foremost, but we’ve also got our minds turning to the coach search and working through that. That may be impacted a little bit by teams still playing, so we’re going to have to work around that a little bit, but I think having a general manager work with me to select a coach is really critical.”
Linden did not shy away from the gargantuan task of selecting a new head coach, but assured fans that Benning has what it takes.
“Jim is an extremely hard worker, he recognizes how much commitment it takes to build a championship team,” said Linden. “He’s a guy that doesn’t have an ego, I think he’s looking forward to rolling up his sleeves and getting to work, and he’s a very down to earth dedicated person, so he’s going to fit great in the structure with the organizational values that we want to create here. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
Benning, the 11th General Manager for the Canucks, will address the media in a news conference at Roger’s Arena on Friday May 23. The announcement marks the latest move in what is arguably the largest rebuild in the team’s 44-year history.