Canucks GM Jim Benning under fire for 'European skill with North American heart' comment

May 12 2017, 4:16 pm


General manager Jim Benning is under fire with a number of Canucks fans, after making an ill-advised comment in a radio interview on TSN 1410 on Thursday.

Scouting at the IIHF World Championships in Paris, Benning answered a question about the difficulty of scouting players in the tournament on the big ice surface, given that his team plays on a smaller sheet of ice in the NHL.

Here was his response:

“That’s the tough part when you’re scouting European players, is how they’re going to play when they get on the smaller sheet of ice in North America and how they’re going to compete. I tell our [scouts] we want European skill with North American heart.

“Even though they’re European players, they can seem to get to the smaller ice surfaces and they do great. We’re looking for skilled players, we’re looking for defencemen that can move the puck. There’s all kinds of things that we look at when we come over here.”


Canucks fans, as you can imagine, were not pleased with the comment.

Is he saying Europeans don’t have heart? Is he saying North American players aren’t skilled?

Now, do we know what Benning meant? Sure, we know what he means. At least we think we do.

Benning, like every GM in the National Hockey League, wants players that aren’t negatively affected by playing on the smaller ice surface, as North American players are accustomed to. He also wants players that have great individual skills, as European players have been known for, in part because of the larger ice surface they grew up playing on.

That doesn’t mean he thinks the Sedins aren’t tough enough. That doesn’t mean he thinks Bo Horvat isn’t skilled.

So what’s the problem?

It’s 2017, not 1992 on an episode of Coach’s Corner. There are better words to describe what you mean.

The way Benning phrased what he’s looking for perpetuates a negative stereotype about European players.

For years, the Sedins have been accused of being soft. It’s a ridiculous comment given the beating they take night-in, night-out. If they were from Oshawa instead of Örnsköldsvik, they would have without a doubt dealt with far less nonsense in their careers.

I believe Benning is looking for the right things, and I believe he knows that tough players can come from any country.

And no, I don’t think he’s a racist.

But words matter, and even though that may be how the old school hockey guys speak to each other, he needs to be more eloquent with the media.

Getting past the comments that made headlines, Benning actually dropped some very interesting, non-controversial nuggets of information about the upcoming draft.

The Canucks GM gave us some hints at who his team is interested in picking with the fifth pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.

“When we were in the top-two, we were kind of planning on that player playing on our team next year,” Benning told interviewers Jon Abbott and Dave Tomlinson. “Picking at five, we’re going to have to be a little bit more patient with that player as he continues his development to be an NHL player.”

Benning has been known for his honest and upfront interviews in the past, which leads one to believe that we can read into his comments more than some. Remember that before last year’s draft, Benning said that he had a defenceman in his top-five. Low and behold, the Canucks picked defenceman Olli Juolevi with the fifth pick, ahead of consensus higher-rated winger Matthew Tkachuk.

“We’re going to still get a real skilled player at five,” Benning continued. “At the end of the day, the player could be as skilled as any player in this draft. We’re excited about that, there’s some playmaking centre icemen and there’s some power play defencemen that are in the mix so it’s going to be a fun time for our fans and our scouts and I’m looking forward to it.”

Safe to assume after that comment, the Canucks are not looking at drafting a winger (or a goalie, for that matter). Also safe to assume? Like last year, they have a defenceman in their top-five.

Skilled centres and defencemen that the Canucks need to be patient with? That sounds an awful lot like playmaking centres Casey Mittelstadt and Cody Glass. It also sounds like defencemen Miro Heiskanen and Cale Makar.

Until June 23, all we can do is guess.

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