Not much went right for the Vancouver Canucks this season.
The team didn’t just miss the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, they didn’t come close. They were realistically out of it by February, more than a month before they were rocked by the worst COVID-19 outbreak in North American team sports.
They couldn’t even finish ahead of the lowly Ottawa Senators, who were everyone’s pick to end up in last place in the North Division.
But of course, the losses started in free agency, as the team had limited money to spend due to years of salary cap mismanagement, and saw some pretty good players leave for nothing.
Fan frustration was inevitable and began with #FireBenning hashtags trending on social media. In April, the movement took flight, with a #FireBenning banner parading around the skies of Vancouver. Last week, a small group of fans orchestrated an in-person protest outside Rogers Arena, once again calling for Jim Benning’s dismissal.
“I understand the fans’ frustration, we’re frustrated too,” Benning said in an interview with Don Taylor and Rick Dhaliwal on CHEK today. “I’m doing the work every day. We’re moving forward, we want to get back in the playoffs next year. I believe we have a lot of core pieces in place.”
Fans calling for the general manager’s job is commonplace in pro sports, though public protests are something we haven’t seen in Vancouver since the final days of Mike Gillis’ reign. Benning was asked about the protests on Donnie & Dhali, and how they made him and his family feel.
Benning appears to have a thick skin, and certainly facing criticism comes with the territory for an NHL general manager in a Canadian market.
But he did admit that it’s been hard on his family.
“It’s harder on my family,” he said. “I’ve got a teenage daughter and you drag your families into these types of situations. It’s for sure harder on my family. I’m busy doing the work, I’ve got to move forward. But I’m not going to lie, it’s hard on the family.”
Whether you agree with the fans’ decision to protest or not, their frustration is understandable.
Benning has now been in charge of the Canucks for seven years, making him the second-longest tenured general manager in team history. He has surpassed Mike Gillis (2008-2014) and Brian Burke (1998-2004) in tenure, and now trails only Pat Quinn, who served as GM for 10 years from 1987 to 1997.
Supporters of Benning will point to his wins at the draft table, and certainly he is responsible for finding building blocks like Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Brock Boeser, and Thatcher Demko.
But patience is wearing thin with fans, and there’s only so many times they can be asked to wait until next year.
“We didn’t have a good year this year,” Benning admitted. “We have a lot of good young core pieces in place, and we’re going to hit the ground running next year. We want to be a playoff team, we want to take the next step and get that playoff experience and keep moving forward.
“Our goal here is still to win the Cup and you’ve got to get that playoff experience and go through those trials and tribulations before you can get there. That’s what we’re working towards and that’s what I believe we can achieve.”