Wild West – General Manager Ratings: Vancouver Canucks

Grant Campbell

2020-07-13

In part twelve of our look at the GMs of the Western Conference, we will look at Jim Benning in Vancouver who before being named GM with the Canucks, was Director of Amateur Scouting in Buffalo for almost eight years and Assistant GM/Director of Player Personnel in Boston for over seven years as well.

Category Ratings: 

5: below average

6: average

7: above average

8: top ten

9: Exceptional 

10: Perfect

Overall ratings should be based at seven being average, but the biggest takeaway should be how each GM compares to the others.

Prior Ratings:

Bob Murray – Anaheim: 7.85 

John Chayka – Arizona: 6.62

Brad Treliving – Calgary: 7.5

Stan Bowman – Chicago: 7.6

Joe Sakic – Colorado: 7.55

Jim Nill – Dallas: 7.225

Ken Holland – Edmonton: 6.925 (post-2009)

Rob Blake – Los Angeles: 7.025

David Poile – Nashville: 7.55

Doug Armstrong – St. Louis: 8.0

Doug Wilson – San Jose: 7.45

Vancouver Canucks

GM – Jim Benning, hired May 21st, 2014

The first category, winning:

Regular-season record: 211 W 213 L 33 OTL 22 SOL 0.499 Winning %

Best result and playoffs: The Canucks under Benning had a 48 win and 101 points in 2014-15 but were bounced in the first round quite easily by the Calgary Flames. They have missed the playoffs for four straight seasons and have a chance still this year with the Play-in against Minnesota.

Benning inherited a team that had missed the playoffs in 2013-14 and had an ageing nucleus of Henrik Sedin (32), Daniel Sedin (32), Ryan Kesler (29), Kevin Bieksa (32), Dan Hamhuis (30), Alex Burrows (32), Alexander Edler (27) and Roberto Luongo (34).

The young players and prospects in the system were Zack Kassian (22), Chris Tanev (23), Jordan Schroeder (22), Brendan Gaunce (20), Bo Horvat (19), Hunter Shinkaruk (19), Ben Hutton (21) and Jacob Markstrom (23)

To be fair, Benning took over a team in decline. His biggest mistake at the start was not recognizing that fact.

Winning rating: 5.8

Drafting is Benning's background and should be his strongest category. Let's have a look.

In his first draft in 2014, Benning had two picks in the first round and used the 6th overall on Jake Virtanen and the 24th overall pick in Jared McCann. It is very difficult to look at the Virtanen pick and say it was anything but a stretch. The players picked behind him were William Nylander (8th), Nikolaj Ehlers (9th), Kevin Fiala (11th), Dylan Larkin (15th) Tony DeAngelo (19th) and David Pastrnak (25th). Virtanen will never justify the 6th pick, but he has turned into a solid top-nine forward that is still improving. McCann picked at 24th overall is a solid middle-six player and now with Pittsburgh. Thatcher Demko was picked at 36th overall in the 2nd round and has emerged as a legitimate NHL backup who has the potential to be a 1A or 1B in the future. The Canucks also picked Nikita Tryamkin at 66th overall in the 3rd round and Gustav Forsling at 126th overall in the 5th round. Even with the pick at 6th overall, any time you can have five of seven picks play in the NHL it is a good draft year.

2015 saw the club make two very good picks in Brock Boeser at 23rd overall and Adam Gaudette at 149th overall in the 5th round. Guillaume Brisebois drafted 66th overall in the 3rd round still has the potential to become a bottom pairing defenseman in the NHL. Vancouver has to be happy with this draft year.

2016 might be the most contentious draft year for Vancouver fans, as the team chose Olli Juolevi with the 5th overall pick over Matthew Tkachuk who went 6th overall to Calgary. Other players overlooked were Clayton Keller at 7th overall and Charlie McAvoy at 14th overall. To be fair to Juolevi, he has battled some pretty big injuries to his back, knee and hips at such a young age, but it is pretty clear that he won't become the player that the Canucks hoped for when they drafted him. By all accounts, he should still make the NHL, but his ceiling is now more than likely a 2nd pairing defenseman that provides a little offence but might struggle on the defensive side. He has only played 101 games in the past three seasons and Juolevi needs to get 100% healthy to be at his best and allow himself to become a regular. Easier said than done. Other than William Lockwood picked 64th overall in the 3rd round there are no other players from this draft still in the organization. Lockwood has signed with Vancouver after four years at the University of Michigan. He projects as a bottom-six winger that provides speed, energy and grit, but his body might not be designed for that role. This draft year almost undoes the previous two years, but not quite.

With the 5th overall pick in the 2017 draft, the Canucks selected Elias Pettersson, who has exceeded every expectation since being picked. The Canucks were very fortunate with this pick. Other picks that the team made that the jury is out on are Kole Lind (33rd overall in 2nd round), Jonah Gadjovich (55th overall in 2nd round), Michael Dipietro (64th overall in the 3rd round) and Jack Rathbone (95th overall in the 4th round). Lind had a bounce-back season last year with Utica in the AHL and posted 44 points in 61 games. He will need another season or two in the AHL and will need to elevate his game to become a regular in the NHL. Gadjovich made some strides in his 2nd season in the AHL but needs to stay healthy. Over two seasons with Utica he has played 81 games and has 17 goals and 27 points. There is concern that his skating and durability will hold him back from the NHL. I have my concerns about Dipietro playing in the NHL at his size, but he has excelled at every step since being drafted. He will need another two or three seasons in the AHL, but I wouldn't bet against him becoming a regular 1B or backup in the NHL one day. If Rathbone ends up signing with Vancouver he might be the best of this bunch aside from Pettersson. In two seasons at Harvard, Rathbone has played 61 games and has 14 goals and 53 points. He has top-four potential but will need at least a year in the AHL. A good draft year for sure.

In back to back years the Canucks were delighted with the player that fell into their lap as 2018 saw Quinn Hughes fall to 7th overall and Vancouver didn't hesitate. Hughes exceeded all of his very high expectations in his rookie season posting 53 points in 68 games. He is the Canucks best defenseman already. Jett Woo was selected 37th overall in the 2nd round and took a bit of a step back this past year in the WHL, but will need to play another year in Juniors next season. With Alexander Romanov taken 38th overall, Bode Wilde (41st overall) and Scott Perunivich (45th overall), the Woo pick will be scrutinized for a few years. Tyler Madden was taken 68th overall in the 3rd round and was proving to be quite the pick, but he was dealt to Los Angeles in the Tyler Toffoli trade. Toni Utunen is an interesting pick at 130th overall in the 5th round. He has never posted any offence at any level, but he always seems to emerge as a leader and a go-to player on every team he plays for. At only 20 years of age, he already has 75 games in the Liiga to his credit. With the Hughes pick alone, this is a very good draft.

With the 10th overall pick in 2019, the Canucks selected Russian youngster Vasili Podkolzin. With one year remaining in the KHL, there is feeling that Podkolzin could already step into the NHL and fit in just fine. The only concern with him is his offensive upside as he might never be a point per game player, but more a 45-55 point two-way winger.

With the 40th overall pick in the 2nd round, the Canucks took Nils Hoglander. He is a highly-skilled smaller winger and some feel if the 2019 draft was re-drafted, Hoglander would go in the 1st round. Other intriguing picks from this draft are Aidan Mcdonough at 195th overall in the 7th round and Arvid Costmar at 215th overall in the 7th round. Mcdonough had a very good first season with Northeastern University where he posted 11 goals and 27 points in 31 games. He is a big body with a tremendous shot, but he will need to improve his foot speed. Costmar couldn't quite stick in the SHL or the Allsvenskan but put up huge numbers in the SuperElit league (J20) with 50 points in only 29 games. There is hope that his offence will secure him a role in the SHL next season.

Even with the misstep in 2016, Benning has drafted very well and the team can boast six roster players from the drafts he has been in charge of so far.

Drafting score: 8.2

Trading:

Trades made: 42

Significant trades:

June 27th, 2014 – sent Ryan Kesler and a 3rd round pick 84th overall in 2015 (Deven Sideroff) for Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino and a 1st round 24th overall pick in 2014 (Jared McCann) and a 3rd round 85th overall pick in 2014 (Keegan Iverson). Kesler limited the teams he would be traded to essentially two, so the return if pretty fair. It's easy to say the Canucks targeted the wrong player in Sbisa in hindsight.

June 27th, 2014 – sent a 3rd round 85th overall pick in 2014 (Keegan Iverson) for Derek Dorsett. These are the deals that drove some people in Vancouver crazy. Benning was happy to give up 2nd to 4th round draft picks for established roster players. This was the first of a few of those types of trades. Dorsett was a good player for the Canucks. The contract he was given is another story.

June 28th, 2014 – sent a 2nd round 50th overall pick in 2014 (Roland McKeown) for Linden Vey. I understand the thinking behind these trades. Benning was looking to accelerate the prospect pool by acquiring 22-23-year-old players that were on the brink of the NHL, who had fairly high ceilings still. Looking at Vey, he was 22 years of age, coming off a 67 point season in the AHL at the age of 21 and then at 22, playing 18 games in the NHL and 43 games in the AHL where he posted 48 points. The Canucks just hoped that the offence would offset the other holes in Vey's game. It didn't. I don't mind these gambles as the odds are higher than the draft picks themselves.

January 29th, 2015 – sent Gustav Forsling for Adam Clendening. Personally, this was and is an interesting trade. Forsling was picked in the 5th round and follows the same principle as the prior two trades by Benning. He was looking to gain three or four years in the development process, by trading an 18-year-old Forsling for a 22-year-old Clendening. On paper, Clendening had all the potential in the world to make this a great deal for Benning. The year prior, Clendening had 59 points in 74 games in the AHL and it appeared he just needed an opportunity in the NHL. He did get 21 games in the NHL split between Chicago and Vancouver but seemed overwhelmed. The roles given to him in the AHL were never given to him in the NHL. I look at a player like Clendening and it gives me pause on current Canuck prospect Brogan Rafferty. There are some unreal expectations placed on Rafferty for his season this year in the AHL.

March 2nd, 2015 – sent a 2nd round 53rd overall pick (Rasmus Andersson) for Sven Baertschi. Looking back, there were certainly holes in Baertschi's game, but he was a former 13th overall pick in 2011, who was 22 years old who had managed 28 points in 66 NHL games spaced over four seasons. To me, it is not a bad trade then, or a bad trade now. The Flames exceed the odds by picking Rasmus Andersson.

July 28th, 2015 – sent Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2nd round 55th overall pick in 2016 (Filip Gustavsson) for Brandon Sutter and a 3rd round 64th overall pick in 2016 (William Lockwood). Sutter has never become what the Canucks had hoped through a combination of injuries and error in what they thought they were getting. Bonino is the best player in this trade and the 2nd round pick is just added salt to the wound.

May 25th, 2016 – sent Jared McCann and a 2nd round 33rd overall pick in 2016 (Rasmus Asplund) and a 4th round 94th overall pick in 2016 (Jonathan Ang) for Erik Gudbranson and a 5th round 140th overall pick in 2016 (Cole Candella). The worst trade Benning has made hands down. Like the trade for Sutter, the pro scouting and management missed the mark entirely on Gudbranson and gave up a great prospect in McCann and a high 2nd round pick.

March 1st, 2017 – sent Jannik Hansen for Nikolay Goldobin and a 4th round 112th overall pick in 2017 (Tim Soderlund). Good value for a rental in Hansen and a return of former 27th overall pick in 2014 Goldobin who had 45 points in 49 AHL games that season and was still only 21 years of age. It's perplexing why Goldobin couldn't make it work in Vancouver.

February 26th, 2018 – sent Thomas Vanek for Jussi Jokinen and Tyler Motte. An under the radar move for a rental in Vanek, the team acquired Motte, who has proven to be a useful member when healthy on the Canucks bottom six. Good trade.

December 3rd, 2018 – sent Michael Carcone for Josh Leivo. On the bubble in Toronto for six seasons, Leivo was given the opportunity in Vancouver and in 85 games has 17 goals and 37 points. Carcone was pretty much an AHL player.

February 25th, 2019 – sent Eric Gudbranson for Tanner Pearson. Considering what the Canucks gave up to get Gudbranson this trade is great value for Pearson in return. In 88 games as a Canuck, Pearson has 30 goals and 57 points.

June 22nd, 2019 – sent Marek Mazanec, a 1st round pick in 2020 or 2021 and a 3rd round pick 71st overall in 2019 (Hugo Alnefelt) for J.T. Miller. I hated this trade when it was made because I thought the Canucks would be giving up a lottery pick at some point. I still don't like them losing a 1st round pick, but Miller has been a revelation in return. He was arguably the Canucks MVP this season and has been much better than advertised so far.

February 17th, 2020 – sent Tim Schaller, Tyler Madden and a 2nd round pick in 2020 for Tyler Toffoli. There is a lot of pressure on this management group to make the playoffs this season and when Brock Boeser was injured, Benning must have felt he needed to do something. This deal will hurt in a few years when the Canucks could use Madden or the 2nd round pick.

Trade score: 5.9

Signings:

Benning has a list of bad contracts to his credit:

Loui Eriksson – six years at $ 6 million AAV

Tyler Myers – five years at $6 million AAV (not bad yet, but will be)

Brandon Sutter – five years at $4.75 million AAV

Sven Baertschi – three years at $3.367 million AAV

Sam Gagner – three years at $3.15 million AAV

Jay Beagle – four years at $3 million AAV

Derek Dorsett – four years at $2.65 million AAV

The club will be in trouble, more than they are currently to stay under the cap after 2021-22 when they will need to re-sign Pettersson and Hughes to new contracts. The effect of the $2 million to $4 million contracts given out to the bottom of the roster has taken away opportunities to improve the roster by not being able to move these players.

Signings score: 5.8

I've never been a huge fan or critic of Benning, but I do know he certainly has made his fair share of mistakes while putting a losing team on the ice year after year. He didn't inherit much, but he has not improved the team outside of the draft and has quite frankly hurt the team in the other areas that GMs typically improve their rosters. I think Benning will still have his job if the Canucks don't win the play-in against Minnesota, but if things don't continue to improve next season in the standings, look for a new GM in Vancouver by Christmas 2020.

Overall score: 6.425

As always, thanks very much for reading and if you have any comments or suggestions please let me know below or follow me on Twitter @gampbler15.

UPCOMING GAMES

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STARTING GOALIES

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HOT PLAYERS

  Players Team GP G A P
EVGENI MALKIN PIT 5 4 7 11
ADAM FOX NYR 4 1 6 7
JAKUB VORACEK PHI 6 0 10 10
NATHAN MACKINNON COL 5 2 6 8
MIKA ZIBANEJAD NYR 29 25 19 44
NIKITA KUCHEROV T.B 24 16 20 36
KEVIN FIALA MIN 11 9 7 16
EVANDER KANE S.J 7 5 5 10
KYLE CONNOR WPG 7 8 2 10
RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS EDM 17 8 16 24

LINE COMBOS

  Frequency EDM Players
18.9% ALEX CHIASSON JUJHAR KHAIRA JAMES NEAL
17.7% JOSH ARCHIBALD CONNOR MCDAVID RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS
12% ANDREAS ATHANASIOU LEON DRAISAITL KAILER YAMAMOTO

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