Canucks Need to Replace Benning Before Replacing Green

After more offseason moves and another promise of better days ahead, the Vancouver Canucks have started the 2021-22 season on a frustrating 5-7-2 run with two of the worst special teams units in the NHL and a slew of other problems that would take a few articles to summarize. As other writers have said, they appear to be on the brink of disaster, which is disappointing considering the amount of young and exciting talent they have on the team right now.

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Changes could be on the horizon especially after another lackluster effort, this time against the Nathan MacKinnon-less Colorado Avalanche where the Canucks were badly outplayed in a 7-1 loss that could only be described as a debacle. Before the general manager, everyone points to the head coach as being the first head to roll. However, in this particular case, I think it’s the GM Jim Benning that has overstayed his welcome in Vancouver and should be let go first.

Jim Benning
Vancouver Canucks’ general manager Jim Benning (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Benning has been in the front office for eight seasons now and his teams have only made the playoffs once (well, twice if you include the weird bubble playoffs) in his tenure. He has chosen two head coaches, Willie Desjardins, and Travis Green, both from the junior circuit and both relative newbies to the position. Both have failed to meet expectations. Green has had his moments as a head coach in the NHL, most recently in the playoffs, but the disturbing trend of bad starts and lack of competitive fire on the ice has led many to believe that he has lost the room.

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As THW’s own Sartaaj Buhler alluded to in his most recent article, it might be time for a change behind the bench. I definitely agree with my colleague there, but that can’t happen before there’s a change in the front office. Benning should not be allowed to choose the next head coach of the Canucks, period.

Benning’s Disappointing History With Head Coaches

Willie Desjardins (109-110-27, made the playoffs once)

When then-president of hockey operations Trevor Linden hired Benning in May of 2014, there was optimism in the air that the Canucks could be turned around quickly. He even said as much in his opening press conference.

I like the team, I like the core players…The Sedins are excellent people and great players, so I think this is a team we can turn around in a hurry.

Jim Benning

A few months later, Benning hired his first head coach in Desjardins. A coach with aspirations to transform the Canucks into a fast, up-tempo team that was relentless in its pursuit of the puck. His first season was a success as he led them back to the playoffs with a surprising 48-29-5 record. They got eliminated in the first round by the Calgary Flames, but hope was back in the city regardless.

Willie Desjardins was the first unsuccessful coach in Benning’s tenure (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, that was Desjardins’ only success in Vancouver as the next two seasons were a disaster filled with similar problems the Canucks are experiencing today from slow starts to lackluster hockey. After a mediocre third season behind the bench that saw the team crumble to a 30-43-9 finish, he was fired on Apr. 10, 2017.

Travis Green (130-139-34, made the playoffs once)

Going back to the rookie well and the American Hockey League (AHL) circuit, Benning and Linden decided against hiring a veteran coach like John Stevens and went with Green, who was coaching their AHL affiliate at the time. After he was hired on Apr. 26, 2017, Linden revealed that no other coaches were interviewed, which was surprising considering the lack of success they had with a rookie coach in Desjardins. With young players like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, Nikolay Goldobin, Jake Virtanen, Jordan Subban, and Thatcher Demko having been coached by Green, they thought he was uniquely positioned to be the next bench boss.

Travis fits where we are as an organization…He understands young players, he knows how to manage young players, he knows how to set the bar on accountability, what’s expected, the preparation that’s required, so it was a pretty easy decision for us.

Trevor Linden on hiring Green

Now into his fifth season as an NHL coach, the Canucks are plagued by Green’s inability to create a solid winning system and identity. The young guns of Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser look like shells of their former selves and the team itself doesn’t look like they want to play for their head coach. All things that seemed to rear their ugly head when Desjardins’ noose was getting tighter at the end of the 2016-17 season. Players will never admit it, but actions speak louder than words, especially when it feels like every game is a re-run of the previous one.

Canucks Cannot Afford Another Set of Growing Pains

With the talented core of Pettersson, Boeser, Horvat, Quinn Hughes, Nils Hoglander, and Vasily Podkolzin all approaching their prime years, the Canucks need a head coach that can get the most offence out of those players. The system has to cater to their strengths and allow for creativity. What they don’t need is another rookie coach that is just getting his feet wet in the NHL. The last two Benning and his staff have chosen were both new to the scene. After four seasons, Green is still learning how to establish a working system and identity in the NHL, and it’s clear that what he’s doing right now is not working.

Travis Green, head coach of the Vancouver Canucks
Travis Green could be nearing the end of his tenure with the Canucks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Canucks cannot wait for a coach to get his bearings. They need results and they need them now. This passionate fan base deserves at least an exciting team that goes and plays their heart out each and every shift. Not one that takes forever to get a shot on goal or go game after game without a strong start. 12 out of 14 games without the first goal is just not good enough to be successful in this league.

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If Benning is allowed to make this key decision again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trent Cull behind the bench. It just seems to be his MO. Bring in a rookie coach from the AHL ranks and hope that he can adjust his system to the NHL. Many people think that Brad Shaw will become the head coach if the Canucks decide to move on from Green. As much as I loved the hire in the offseason, I haven’t seen enough of a shift in philosophy to warrant promoting him. Yes, the Canucks are better defensively, but not substantially better. However, that may change with him in full control of the reins.

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All I know is, Benning cannot be given the go-ahead to hire another coach. That has to be the job of the next GM. A new voice and new direction are needed, both in the front office and behind the bench. His inability to hire a coach that can implement a successful and winning system in the NHL is just one of the many reasons why he needs to be given his walking papers, sooner rather than later.

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