Could this actually be it for Canucks GM Jim Benning and/or head coach Travis Green?
For especially weary Canucks fans, that question might feel more like a taunt. With Benning in particular, some may view it as “The Boy Who Cried Sweeping Front Office Changes.”
Fans have shown their discontent in a number of ways. Eventually, they viewed the #FireBenning hashtag as insufficient, and took to the skies after the disappointing 2020-21 season.
— niqhil velji (@NiqhilVelji) April 21, 2021
During Benning’s reign as GM, the Canucks have only made the playoffs twice in seven seasons. Once again, Benning sacrificed draft picks and cap space to try to win now, even if it meant future pain. Yet, the Canucks are suffering through a four-game losing streak, and face long odds to make the playoffs at 5-9-2.
Fans and media both seem to be teetering toward a breaking point. That said, we’ve seen this movie before, and Benning keeps avoiding disaster as if he’s starring in the worst “Mission Impossible” sequel.
For many, it’s hard to believe this year will be different. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.
Do you honestly expect the Canucks to change anything? 7 years of this was fine, but 8 is the breaking point? I’ll believe it when I see it
— Blake Price (@justBlakePrice) November 14, 2021
Take the temperature in Vancouver, though, and you get the impression someone is on the hot seat. To paraphrase Tobias Fünke, maybe this is the time calls for change will actually work for Canucks fans?
Let’s dive in.
Is Benning running out of chances at Canucks GM?
An owner (or ownership group members) emerging more often doesn’t guarantee doom for a coach or GM. Even so, it’s not that far off from “a vote of confidence” that often feels more like a last chance.
So, seeing key faces around the Canucks inspires some intrigue about the future of Benning and/or Green.
Roberto Aquilini was with the Canucks for at least part of the road trip.
Not sure he was there specifically for fact-finding, but still was around the team for a stretch, there's no doubt about that.
— Patrick Johnston (@risingaction) November 15, 2021
Sometimes, owners simply take time to catch up to fan unrest. At times, there are dramatic turns. Memorably, the Sabres gave Jason Botterill a snooty vote of confidence, then abruptly changed course weeks later.
Benning hasn’t just had plenty of swings as Canucks GM. He’s also swung for the fences. With many whiffs, you wonder when owners might look for someone who can make more frequent contact. Canucks Army’s Chris Faber ranks among those who wonder if Benning is down to his “last strike.”
Faber notes how much of the Canucks’ future Benning’s mortgaged for a team that hasn’t made the elite steps forecasted long ago.
Just over the past two and a half years, Benning has traded away the Canucks’ 2021 first-round pick, 2020 first-round pick, 2022 second-round pick, 2020 second-round pick and 2019 third-round pick, and 2021 third-round pick.
All that, and for what? This is a team that once again went for it, yet their playoff chances already look slim.
How much of Canucks’ blame falls on Green?
While Benning is in his eighth season as Canucks GM, Travis Green’s only been coach since May 2017. Understandably, Green inspires less vitriol from Canucks fans — at least for the most part.
Nonetheless, it’s natural to ask: how much of the Canucks’ failures are on Green vs. Benning? Considering the issues Green inherited, it would be absurd to put it all on coaching. But should Green remain if Benning gets fired?
It may be key to mix the immediate situation with larger results.
On one hand, the Canucks haven’t looked very competent defensively very often under Green. They’ve been a bottom-five team both in quantity (stats like Corsi For) and quality (expected goals) at 5-on-5 the past three seasons.
No doubt, some of that boils down to Benning and the Canucks’ inability to spot quality defensive talent. But it doesn’t seem like Green’s been able to make lemonade out of could-be lemons, either.
That said, some of the Canucks’ 2021-22 lows point to luck that shouldn’t stay this bad.
The Canucks’ penalty kill might be weak, personnel-wise. Strategically, they might not be making the right moves. But it’s unlikely that unit will remain historically putrid.
The worst penalty kill percentage in NHL history (or at least since the NHL started recording the statistic) belongs to the 1979-80 Los Angeles Kings at 68.2%.
With two goals against tonight, the #Canucks PK is now at 62.3%.
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) November 15, 2021
Considering the offensive talent available, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Canucks’ power play rebound, too. They’re currently ranked eight-worst with a 15.3-percent success rate.
More specifically, it’s tough to imagine Elias Pettersson not bouncing back from a troublingly slow start.
So, chances are, things will look better this season. That goes for whether Green remains Canucks coach, or big changes include their bench boss.
But just because things look better, doesn’t mean they’ll be good enough.
A tough job if someone else took over
Much like the Blackhawks dealing with miscues like the Seth Jones sign-and-trade, a new Canucks GM would need to deal with Benning’s blunders. Think of it as a beleaguered relief pitcher having to survive a bases-loaded situation.
During the 2021 NHL Draft, the Canucks lacked picks in the first, third, and fourth rounds. In 2020, they didn’t make their first choice until round three.
For every bit of good news (Quinn Hughes has his issues, but signing him long-term was a wise gamble), there are worries. Consider these headaches:
- It’s unclear what key forwards will make on their next contracts. Brock Boeser (contract year), Bo Horvat (two seasons left), and Elias Pettersson (bargain, but only for three years) all could cost a lot more quite soon.
- Rough defensive spending doesn’t help. Quinn Hughes at almost $8M is a necessary risk. But the Canucks won’t rid themselves of Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Tyler Myers, or Tucker Poolman anytime soon, which isn’t ideal since they cost $15.76M.
Then again, as tough as this job would be to inherit, consider the alternative. If the Canucks stick with Benning as GM, they risk him trying to cool his hot seat with more dangerous moves.
Once again, this team is a big mess. Should Benning and/or Green get more time to clean up the Canucks?