Jim Benning's biggest moves as Canucks GM ranked from best to worst

Dec 1 2021, 7:44 pm

When Jim Benning was hired by the Vancouver Canucks in 2014, he was taking over a team that just finished 26th in the NHL.

Eight years later, nothing has changed.

Since the beginning of Benning’s tenure in 2014-15, the Canucks sit at 26th overall in terms of points percentage.

Canucks NHL points percentage since 2014-15.

Clearly, there are fundamental flaws in the way that Benning and his staff have operated.

Under Benning, the Canucks have overpaid far too many marginal depth players, traded away too many draft picks and prospects with the goal of “accelerating the rebuild,” and have completely failed to properly evaluate defencemen in their pro scouting department.

Benning did draft Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, though he also picked Jake Virtanen and Olli Juolevi. For the purpose of this ranking though, we’ll focus only on Benning’s most impactful trades and signings.

The “Best”

1. J.T. Miller

  • Canucks acquire JT Miller from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 2020 first-round pick, 2019 third-round pick and Marek Mazanec. (June 22, 2019)

Considering that the Canucks missed the playoffs in four straight seasons, it was an extremely risky proposition to trade an unprotected first-round pick.

At the time, this also seemed like an overpay. The Lightning were in a serious cap crunch and needed to move assets out. Regardless, they were still able to swindle a first-round pick away from the Canucks.

Thankfully, it worked out. Miller has led the team in scoring with 138 points in 145 games since 2019-20.

2. 17 games of Tyler Toffoli

  • Canucks acquire Tyler Toffoli from the Los Angeles Kings for Tyler Madden, Tim Schaller, and a 2020 2nd round pick. (February 17, 2020)

Toffoli was an instant impact player for the Canucks, posting eight goals and 12 points in 17 combined playoff and regular-season contests.

Like many of Benning’s good moves though, it comes with a caveat. In this case, the decision to let Toffoli walk in free agency after acquiring him was clearly the wrong move.

3. Goodbye Gudbranson

  • Canucks acquire Tanner Pearson from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Erik Gudbranson (February 25, 2019)

Pearson became a mainstay alongside Bo Horvat, while Gudbranson has played on five different teams since this trade.

4. 2014 free agency

  • Canucks sign Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata (July 1-2, 2014)

This free agency period wasn’t a precursor for things to come in the Benning era. However, Miller was a solid goaltender throughout his three years in Vancouver, and Vrbata led the team in goals back in 2014-15.

5. Troy from Richmond

  • Canucks sign Troy Stecher from the NCAA’s University of North Dakota (April 13, 2016)

The undersized, undrafted local kid became a hometown favourite during his time in Vancouver. He logged more than 300 combined playoff and regular-season games for the Canucks across four seasons.

6. Vanek for Motte

  • Canucks acquire Tyler Motte and Jussi Jokinen from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Thomas Vanek (February 26, 2018)

This trade wasn’t well received at the time, with fans criticizing Canucks management for failing to acquire a draft pick in exchange for Vanek.

In hindsight, this trade worked out pretty well. Motte has been a reliable bottom-six forward and penalty killer for the Canucks. He also became one of the team’s unsung heroes during their 2020 playoff run.

Not so good…

7. Sven Baertschi

  • Canucks acquire Sven Baertschi from the Calgary Flames for a second-round pick. (March 2, 2015)

The Canucks took a gamble on Baertschi, who had a high draft pedigree but couldn’t crack the Flames roster. He had a couple of decent seasons in Vancouver before stagnant production and injuries set in.

The second-round pick they traded away turned into Rasmus Anderson, who’s blossomed into a top-four defenceman in Calgary.

8. Ryan Kesler trade

  • Canucks acquire Luca Sbisa, Nick Bonino, 2014 1st round pick (Jared McCann and 3rd round pick (used to acquire Derek Dorsett) from the Anaheim Ducks for Ryan Kesler (June 27, 2014)

The view of this trade dampened as time wore on. Luca Sbisa was overvalued at the time. Then both, he and Dorsett were overpaid for depth roster pieces.

Two of the good acquisitions, Bonino and McCann, were dealt in regrettable deals one year later.

9. Jonathan Dahlen saga

  • Canucks trade Jonathan Dahlen to the San Jose Sharks for Linus Karlsson (February 25, 2019)

While it was sad to see Alex Burrows leave the Canucks, the return of Dahlen was considered positive. That good work was undone two years later, when Dahlen was traded to San Jose after perceived character issues.

Dahlen is now a first-liner in San Jose, and his seven goals would be tied for the team lead on the Canucks right now.

10. Short term help backfired

  • Canucks acquire Adam Clendening from the Chicago Blackhawks for Gustav Forsling (January 29, 2015)

Benning sold high on Forsling after a sparkling performance at the 2015 World Juniors. In return, the Canucks got 17 uninspiring games out of Clendening. Forsling is now an NHL regular with the Florida Panthers.

11. The Ekman-Larsson and Garland blockbuster

  • Canucks acquire Conor Garland and Oliver Ekman-Larsson from the Arizona Coyotes for a 2021 first-round pick (ninth overall), a 2022 second-round pick, a 2023 seventh-round pick, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle and Loui Eriksson. (July 23, 2021)

Despite Garland and Ekman-Larsson playing well early in their Canucks tenures, it’s hard to ignore the long-term ramifications of this deal.

Ekman-Larsson is a top-four defenceman… for now. The problem is, the 30-year-old is being paid like a No. 1 defenceman for the next six years.

If the trade was merely Garland for the ninth overall pick, that would have been considered a good deal. However, it’s impossible to ignore the long-term, sizeable commitment to Ekman-Larsson.

The move reeked of desperation by Benning, and he’s further hamstrung the Canucks cap flexibility for years to come.

The Worst

12. 2017 free agency

  • Canucks sign Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Alex Burmistrov (July 1, 2017)

These three signings combined to give the Canucks a cap hit of $7.05 million per season. Within 18 months, all of these players were no longer with the Canucks.

13. Poolman and Hamonic

  • Canucks sign Tucker Poolman at four years, $10 million and extend Travis Hamonic at two years, $6 million (July 28-29, 2021)

The Canucks committed $5.5 million to Poolman and Hamonic, with the goal of shoring up the right-side of the Canucks blueline.

Instead, both players have been part of the problem more than the solution, especially on the penalty kill.

14. Loui Eriksson

  • Canucks sign Loui Eriksson to a six-year, $36 million deal (July 1, 2016)

Loui Eriksson had 30 goals and 63 points prior to signing with the Canucks in 2016. In 252 games with the Canucks over five seasons, he had 38 goals and 90 points.

15. 2018 free agency

  • Canucks sign UFAs Tim Schaller, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and re-sign RFA Sven Baertschi (July 1, 2018)

In total, the Canucks cap hit for these four players totalled $11.26 million per season. None of them came close to living up to their cap hits.

16. Tyler Myers signing

  • Canucks sign Tyler Myers to a five-year, $30 million deal (July 1, 2019)

This was the worst kept secret in 2019. Myers signed a hefty contract despite the underlying numbers showing an abundance of risk.

Myers was better than expected in 2019-20, but his defensive play has taken a nosedive since.

17. 2020 offseason overhaul

  • Canucks let Toffoli, Tanev and Stecher walk while keeping Jake Virtanen, signing Braden Holtby, and trading for Nate Schmidt. (October 9-22, 2020)

Keeping Virtanen instead of Toffoli, who fit in seamlessly with the Canucks, was an egregious error. That’s especially true when you consider the reasonable contract that Toffoli signed with the Montreal Canadiens, followed by his role in helping them reach the Stanley Cup Final.

Letting Chris Tanev walk made sense at the time based on his age and injury history, but the Canucks clearly miss him more than they expected. Even Stecher’s stability on the bottom pairing has been missed.

Holtby wasn’t good in Vancouver, and his $4.3 million cap hit was part of the reason why the Canucks couldn’t afford Tanev or Toffoli.

The Schmidt deal was a good move on paper that just didn’t work out, but this offseason as a whole undid some of the positive progress the Canucks made in 2019-20.

18. Brandon Sutter

  • Canucks acquire Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third-round pick from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening and a 2016 second-round pick. (July 28, 2015)
  • Canucks then sign Sutter to a five-year, $21.875 million contract (August 4, 2015)

The Brandon Sutter saga made no sense on a number of levels.

Bonino was more productive than Sutter at the time of the trade, but that didn’t stop Benning from agreeing to trade down in the draft in order to make the deal.

He then overpaid Sutter on a five-year extension before he even played a game for the Canucks. Sutter also had a year left on his deal at the time.

To cap it off, Benning infamously called the centre a “foundational player.”

Fair or not, Sutter has become a symbol for the failures of the Benning era.

19. McCann for Gudbranson

  • Canucks acquire Erik Gudbranson and a 2016 fifth-round pick from the Florida Panthers for Jared McCann, a 2016 second-round pick and a 2016 fourth-round pick. (May 25, 2016)

We mentioned off the top that three key failures of the Benning era have been overpaying for marginal depth players, trading away draft picks/prospects to “accelerate the rebuild” and failing to properly evaluate defencemen in their pro scouting department.

All of those were reflected in this disaster of a deal.

Benning not only traded McCann, but he attached high second and fourth-round picks to this deal.

In return, the Canucks received Gudbranson, who provided next to no value in Vancouver. During his three seasons with the Canucks, his goals-for percentage of 38% ranked 273rd among 285 defencemen who played more than 500 even-strength minutes.

McCann meanwhile, has only gotten better with time. Since the beginning of the 2020-21 season, McCann’s 2.42 points per 60 at even-strength is one of the best marks in the NHL.

Trevor BeggsTrevor Beggs

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