The Vancouver Canucks have fired Jim Benning after eight seasons as the team’s general manager (GM). The former scout-turned-GM attempted to help the team transition through a rebuild. During his tenure Benning made some great moves but quite a few questionable trades and signings as well.
Ryan Kesler Trade
The Ryan Kesler trade was the first big move Benning made in Vancouver. The forward was unwilling to be a part of the direction presented by the new GM, and Kesler handcuffed Benning because he was only willing to waive his no-trade clause to the Chicago Blackhawks or the Anaheim Ducks. Although they attempted to get him to expand his list of teams, they were unable to do so.
The Canucks ultimately traded the forward and a third-round pick to the Ducks for center Nick Bonino, defenseman Luca Sbisa, a first-round pick and a third-round pick in the 2014 NHL draft. They hoped Bonino would be able to replace Kesler’s scoring.
“Bonino was an important piece,” Benning said. “Ryan scored 25 goals for us last year. [Bonino] scored 22 goals last year, so being able to replace [Kesler’s] goal production for our team next year, and he can play the power play and he’s a playmaking center iceman, I thought that was important.”
Bonino scored 15 goals and had 39 points in 75 games before being traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Brandon Sutter in the offseason. Sbisa may have been one of the worst defensemen on one of the league’s worst teams during his time in Vancouver before the Vegas Golden Knights selected him in the expansion draft. The Canucks selected Jared McCann with the Ducks’ 2014 first-round pick, then traded McCann to the Florida Panthers in a trade involving Erik Gudbranson. They traded the Ducks 2014 third-round pick to the New York Rangers for Derek Dorsett.
This trade did not go as either side had hoped. Kesler didn’t win the Stanley Cup and is on long-term IR. His demands put Benning in a tough spot due to his short trade list, and the trade resulted in the Canucks ending up with only Sutter and Tanner Pearson in 2019-20, which is pretty underwhelming considering the calibre of player that Kesler was. Although Pearson has had his moments, Sutter has not been impressive during his time with the club.
Signing Radim Vrbata
Besides the Kesler trade, signing Radim Vrbata was another big move Benning had made in 2014. Benning added Vrbata as a winger to play with the Sedins. He signed a two-year deal, worth $10 million.
In his first season, Vrbata did not disappoint, scoring a career-high 63 points in 79 games at the age of 33. In his 13th season, he finished top 15 in goals with 31, top 10 in power-play goals with 13 and top 10 in game-winning goals with seven.
His 31 goals led the Canucks as well and while he started the season playing with the Sedins, he was moved to the second line to provide the team with secondary scoring. His second season on the other hand was disappointing. He had a 36-point drop-off, posting 27 points in 63 games. This was statistically one of his worst seasons, leading to him returning to the Arizona Coyotes.
Signing Vrbata worked for the 2014-15 season but did not help the team much the following year. The Canucks had one of the worst seasons in franchise history in 2015-16 and that plays a part in his performance as well. Adding him certainly helped the team in 2014-15, and was the reason the Canucks made the playoffs, making Vrbata a pretty good signing.
Signing Loui Eriksson
After he posted 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games with the Boston Bruins, Benning signed Loui Eriksson to a six-year contract, worth $36 million after the 2015-16 season. Benning had hoped the Swedish forward would provide the team with elite scoring, playmaking, defense, and leadership. Although he had been reliable on the penalty kill and forecheck, he scored 38 goals and 90 points in 252 games with the Canucks.
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Eriksson’s time with the Canucks was disappointing and the team had cap troubles during that period. In the 2021 offseason, the Canucks traded Eriksson, along with Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, a 2022 second-round pick and a 2023 seventh-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes for Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland.
The Eriksson signing for Benning is among one of the worst moves the GM had made. The Canucks did not get what they paid for with Eriksson during his five seasons with the club.
Trading for J.T Miller
Benning traded goalie Marek Mazanec, a 2019 third-round pick and a conditional 2020 first-round pick in exchange for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s J.T. Miller, who has been stellar in his first three seasons with the Canucks. He has a team-leading 50 goals and 141 points through the 147 games he’s played in since joining the club. The addition of the 28-year-old forward has been huge for the team as they’ve found the first-line left-winger they’ve needed. He has brought a lot more than his offensive presence to the team, providing the young players on the team with leadership.
“His leadership in the room, his willingness to try to help teach the young players. . . I think if we went through all the players in our group, our young players, J.T. had a hand in all of them improving this year” Benning said in an interview with Sportsnet’s Ian MacIntyre. “He played with Petey and Boes (Brock Boeser), and would be on the bench with those guys, working with them. But also a guy like Jake Virtanen. . . J.T. would work with Jake and I think he had a positive effect on Jake’s game improving.”
Miller will play a big role in the team’s 2020 Stanley Cup playoff run, scoring six goals and posting 18 points in 17 games. As for Benning, adding Miller is the best trade he has made so far, as he did not have to give up too much for a player who has been close to a point per game.
Trading for Tyler Toffoli
Before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, the Canucks traded Tim Schaller, Tyler Madden, a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2022 fourth-round pick to the Los Angeles Kings for Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli played 10 games with the Canucks in the regular season, scoring six goals and posting 10 points. He added two goals and four points in seven playoff games with the team.
Toffoli was one of four players the Canucks lost in the 2020 free agency, as he signed a four-year, $17 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. Jacob Markstrom, Chris Tanev and Troy Stecher also signed elsewhere. Toffoli wrote an article for the Players’ Tribune, where he discussed how he enjoyed his time in the city and thought it was the start of something special. He added the Canucks didn’t offer him a contract, which will go down as one of the biggest mistakes Benning has made. The GM stated he ran out of time as he was unable to create cap space to re-sign the forward. The organization lost a lot in the Toffoli trade, as the team was unable to re-sign him and lost Madden and two draft picks.
Trading for Ekman-Larsson and Garland
Benning’s final big move was adding Ekman-Larsson and Garland. The Canucks were able to unload three overpaid contracts while adding a top-four draft pick and a top-six forward, although they had to give up the ninth overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and two draft picks. The team also picked up Ekman-Larsson’s contract, which has six years remaining at $7.260 million. The first two to three years of his contract likely won’t be a problem, but the final three could be.
Meanwhile, the addition of Garland is the key to the deal. Before the season, the 25-year-old signed a five-year, $24.750 million contract. He has scored seven goals and posted 18 points in 25 games this season. Benning’s final trade is a win for the Canucks as of now, but it depends on how Ekman-Larsson plays for the squad over the next six seasons.
A Lot of Misses and a Few Hits
Benning didn’t have success with a lot of his trades and signings. Along with the Eriksson signing, Kesler trade, he has had a few bad contract extensions. Sutter received a five-year contract worth $21.875 and Sbisa a three-year extension worth $10.8 million. Neither player lived up to their deals, similar to Eriksson.
On the other hand, similar to the Miller trade, Benning has made a few great deals. For example, re-signing captain Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser to team-friendly deals, which will not hurt the team in the future. Additionally, trading away three overpaid contracts for Ekman-Larsson and Garland was short term win.
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Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.