Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning said he thinks his team can be a contender in two years’ time, or nine years after he first took over the club in 2014.

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Nearly three years after he was shown the door, if Trevor Linden is thinking “I told you so,” you could hardly blame him.

If he has additional emotions, you could hardly blame those too.

On Friday morning, Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning laid out a timeline for his club contending that actually falls behind the path that Linden had laid out in front of ownership not long before his dismissal in summer 2018. Asked when he thought his team could contend for the Stanley Cup, Benning said, “hopefully two years.”

After checking the calendar, that would be 2023. The pathway Linden saw, according to sources, was four years, give-or-take. So, 2022. (At the same time Linden was also poo-pooing the idea of even contemplating signing John Tavares, a plan that ownership wanted, a split that proved final.)

Benning’s Friday meeting with the media didn’t really have that many surprises for people who have been paying attention to the team. He still believes in his plan, the idea of drafting and developing. And in that, he’s had some success.


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It’s the rest of his game, whether he has really wanted to make every signing he’s made or not, that carries the weight of any job assessment you can make of him. In a results-based business, it’s hard to see him making a passing grade at this point: his young players are doing plenty well, but the overall picture simply isn’t good enough.

He believes ownership has given him the space to do his job, even if from the outside we can see that two senior executive positions have been left open for two years, their duties surely somewhat in his lap now. (And you have some sympathy for him in this regard, he was hired to build a hockey team, not also be all the other things a president-like figure is expected to do.)

He insisted he has a good relationship with ownership and said he was thankful that Francesco Aquilini tweeted out his support for Benning and his management team in mid-February. But in seven years, Benning’s Canucks have made the playoffs just twice. His team this year is surely going to miss the post-season.

Nine years to “hopefully” build a contender? And that really isn’t a surprise, in the end, since Benning laid out his philosophy in talking about his plans for the trade deadline, which is five weeks away.

“We live day-to-day … We live with today, we’re in today’s world,” he said.

So even if his team’s playoff chances are slim, he’s not ready to pull the chute, to try to start selling players in an effort to re-set his roster. His players are still young, he claimed, but the truth is that the Canucks’ young stars are no younger than the game’s best young stars: Connor McDavid is 24, Bo Horvat is 25. Elias Pettersson is 22 and Auston Matthews is 23.


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It’s a useful comparison that the current opposition, the Toronto Maple Leafs, are a big favourite to go a long way in the playoffs this year and their top leader, Brendan Shanahan, was hired around the same time as Benning. In that time, he’s executed a rebuild and his team looks headed toward their fifth-straight playoff appearance. Yes, it’s worth noting they’ve been a playoff disappointment to date, but if you were to line the Leafs’ and Canucks’ squads up against each other for comparison this season, it’s not hard to point to which team has the better short-term and long-term prognosis.

At the end of the day, we must look toward the man who hasn’t spoken with the media in an unvarnished setting in years, who Benning wears all the team’s successes and failures for.

Look at the list of voices who have left the organization during Benning’s tenure: Laurence Gilman, Lorne Henning, Linden, Victor de Bonis, Jeff Stipec and Judd Brackett. That’s a pretty good front office right there. And that’s without getting into the catalogue of people who left in the first decade of Aquilini ownership.

They could help optimize a plan for the future.

Instead, it’s become more-and-more clear that what Francesco Aquilini wants, he gets, and if you don’t get in line, you’re out.

He’s been the owner for 17 years. Does he think he’s the hockey expert now? Why won’t he sign off on a new contract for head coach Travis Green or his coaching staff? Benning didn’t want to comment on talks when he was asked about them, and its reasonable to wonder if that’s because it’s out of his hands.


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The desire to sign big lumbering players like Micheal Ferland and Tyler Myers, and hanging on to Jake Virtanen, suggest that Aquilini still holds on to his old notion of the Boston model, that a winning team is big and burly more than anything else. But you can’t just make that team appear out of thin air. There are plenty of examples to point to where that’s not worked.

A rebuild actually doesn’t take that long if you plan it right. Mediocrity is what happens when you don’t have a plan. Just ask the Edmonton Oilers.

And here we are.

ICE CHIPS: Benning said that talks about new contracts with Quinn Hughes and Pettersson wouldn’t start until after the trade deadline. … He confirmed he would like to re-sign veteran winger Tanner Pearson. … The Canucks also practised Friday and Pettersson, who the team says is dealing with an upper-body injury, was again absent, a day after he was scratched from the lineup.


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