With Canucks crumbling, is this it for Benning, Green?

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.

Viral hashtags and chants aside, Benning’s persisted as Canucks GM since May 2014. He’s been under pressure more often than a frequent flyer’s eardrums.

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.

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.

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.

If attendance starts to drop, then look out.

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.

[Not surprisingly, Canucks show poorly in latest Power Rankings.]

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.

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.

Not easy.

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?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews returns to ice, hints at retirement

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
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    CHICAGO — Longtime Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews returned to the ice but hinted his stellar NHL career could be winding down after 15 years.

    Toews, 34, skated with teammates prior to Chicago’s game with the Dallas Stars. It was his first time practicing with them since a game in Edmonton on Jan. 28.

    He made a statement through the team on Feb. 19 saying he would be stepping away because of the effects of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome and “long COVID.”

    In meeting with reporters, Toews stopped short of saying he hoped to play in any of last-place Chicago’s nine remaining games. His eight-year, $84 million contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

    Toews said he’s feeling stronger, but isn’t sure if he’ll be able to play again for the Blackhawks or another team.

    “Both if I’m being fully honest,” Toews said. “I feel like I’ve said it already, that I’ve gotten to the point where my health is more important.

    “When you’re young and you’re playing for a Stanley Cup and everyone’s playing through something, that means something and it’s worthwhile. But I’m at that point where it feels like more damage is being done than is a good thing.”

    Toews, the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick (third overall) in 2006, joined the team in 2007 and was a pillar of Stanley Cup championship clubs in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

    At the peak of his career, he was one of the NHL’s top two-way centers, winning the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward in 2013.

    In 1,060 regular-season games, Toews has 371 goals and 509 assists. In 139 playoff games, he’s posted 45 goals and 74 assists, and he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2010.

    Toews missed the entire 2020-21 season with Chronic Immune Response System, which caused debilitating inflammation and fatigue.

    He appeared in 71 games in 2021-22, then started this season with renewed energy before slowing and eventually shutting himself down.

    Entering this season, it looked as if Chicago might deal him, as it did fellow star Patrick Kane, before the March trade deadline. But Kane went to the New York Rangers and Toews to injured reserve.

    Toews believed he was progressing before a relapse in January left him so sore and tired that he could barely “put on my skates or roll out of bed to come to the rink.”

    Toews said his progress over the past month has been “pretty encouraging” and he’s delighted to be back among his teammates. He has no timetable beyond that.

    “We’re just going to go day by day here,” Chicago coach Luke Richardson said. He deserves anything he wants to try to achieve here.”

    Richardson hoped Toews “can take that next step later in the week and hopefully (he) gives us the green light to go in a game.”

    But Toews emphasized his long-term health and ability to lead a “normal life” is most important. He wants to go out on a positive note and not hit the ice for a game playing through excessive pain and dysfunction.

    “It’s definitely on my mind that this could be my last few weeks here as a Blackhawk in Chicago,” Toews said. “It’s definitely very important for me to go out there and enjoy the game and just kind of soak it in and just really appreciate everything I’ve been able to be part of here in Chicago.”

    Budding Wild star Matt Boldy more willing to shoot, and it shows

    Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

    ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Boldy was unable to resist a smile in the aftermath of his second hat trick in five games for the Minnesota Wild, a young right wing and reluctant star trying to make sense of a remarkable hot streak.

    Does the puck feel as if it’s automatically going in the net these days each time he shoots?

    “Yeah, it does,” Boldy said in the locker room after leading the first-place Wild to a 5-1 win over Seattle. “My linemates are playing great. Hopefully you guys are giving them a lot of credit. You look at some of those goals – just putting it on a tee for me.”

    This non-attention-seeker has found himself squarely in the NHL spotlight. Boldy has 11 goals in nine games since Wild superstar Kirill Kaprizov was sidelined with a lower-body injury to raise his goal total to 28, in part because he’s been more willing to shoot. With vision and stickhandling as strengths and the humility of being a second-year player, it’s easy to be in a pass-first mindset.

    “Everybody kind of took turns talking to him. But it’s not that he didn’t want to. A lot of times a situation like that where a guy’s got that skillset, it’s a real unselfish quality, right?” coach Dean Evason said. “But I think he gets now that he helps the team a lot when he scores goals.”

    The Wild were confident enough in Boldy’s scoring ability to commit a seven-year, $49 million contract extension to him earlier this winter, after all.

    “I think I’ve always had that mentality, but sometimes you just get into spots and it comes off your stick good,” Boldy said. “When things are going well, the puck goes in the net.”’

    The Wild are 6-1-2 without Kaprizov. Boldy is a big reason why.

    “You go through the slumps, you learn what you need to do to score. I think he’s found a good way to be in the right spot and shoot the puck when he had a good opportunity,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said.

    The Wild have only won one division title in 22 years, the five-team Northwest Division in 2007-08. They’re leading the eight-team Central Division with eight games to go, with both Colorado and Dallas too close for comfort. They haven’t won a playoff series since 2015.

    With Kaprizov due back before the postseason and Boldy on this heater, a Wild team that ranks just 23rd in the league in goals per game (2.93) ought to have a better chance to advance. Eriksson Ek and Marcus Johansson have been ideal linemates for the Boston College product and Massachusetts native.

    Since the Wild entered the league in the 2000-01 season, only five NHL players have had more hat tricks at age 21 or younger than Boldy with three: Patrik Laine (eight), Marian Gaborik (five), Steven Stamkos (five), Alex DeBrincat (four) and Connor McDavid (four). Boldy turns 22 next week, so there’s still time for one or two more.

    “He’s big. He controls the puck a lot. He’s got a good shot, good release. He’s smart. He switches it up. He’s got good moves on breakaways. He’s a total player,” goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said. ”Fun to watch him grow this year.”

    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

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    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.