Was the day that the newly appointed president of the Vancouver Canucks Trevor Linden, announced the hiring for the GM of the future Jim Benning. Benning came from a hockey rich culture in Boston, where he was the assistant GM and was thought of as one of the greatest hockey minds in the NHL. It didn’t take long to see why, With in the first couple of weeks if being hired as the GM of the Canucks, Benning’s office walls were filled with the depth charts of every NHL team. This is the kind of dedication that was previously never shown by former GM Mike Gillies, who always seemed to be lacking in sleeps and called everything “A process”.
Benning’s first task would be to find a head coach, as the Canucks had fired John Tortorella after a disappointing 36-35-11 (24th in the NHL) Season which saw the Canucks completely self implode in 2014, after being one of the NHL’s best teams in the first 3 months of the season. With lots of Coaches who had been fired earlier in the offseason already finding jobs, Benning turned to a coach who had an amazing pedigree in Willie Desjardin. Desjardin had just won the Calder Cup with Dallas’s farm team the Texas Stars and was looking to make the jump to the NHL after spending a couple of years as a Head Coach in the AHL. I was reported the Pittsburgh was the first time to offer Desjardin a job, but they said that he have to keep some of their current coaches. So when Benning offered Desjardin the job with no limitation, Desjardin accepted the job.
The second task that Benning had was to trade Kesler. During the Olympic's there had been rumours that Kesler wanted to be traded to a “contender”.These reports only escalated as we got closer and closer to the trade deadline. As the trade deadline came and went Kesler remained a Canuck, despite reports that Anaheim offered a top 10 draft pick, a prospect, and possibly another prospect/pick
June 27-28 (NHL Entry Draft)
Fast forward to Draft day, Benning showed that he would not put up with disgruntled players for long as he traded Ryan Kesler and a 2015 3rd round pick to the Anaheim for Centre Nick Bonino, Anahiem’s 2014 3rd round pick, Defenceman Lucas Sbisa and Anahiem’s 2014 1st (which was 24th overall). For most GM’s this would be considered a successful day at the office but Benning wasn’t done. Next he flipped that 2015 3rd (the one he aquired from Anahiem) to the New York Rangers for Derek Dorset, a player who could bring grit, some offence, and had previously played under rookie head coach Willie Desjardins. Still working the phones, Benning traded defencman Jason Garrison and a 2015 7th, and the rights to Jeff Costello to Tampa Bay for Tampa Bay’s 2014 2nd (50th overall). Still not done Benning traded the pick he had just acquired from Tampa Bay to Los Angelos for Linden Vey. At the time this trade made sense as Vey could fill the 3rd/4th line centre spot, that was vacant and suppose to be filled by rookie Bo Horvat. Vey was a pending RFA which means he had to stay in the NHL next year, or could be claimed off waivers by any other team.
The draft starts and there are rumours that Benning was trying to acquire the 1st overall pick, but as the start of the draft approaches Florida decides to kept the pick and drafts Aaron Ekblad.
5 picks later it was the Canucks turn to pick, With the “big 5” taken the Canucks go with the hometown boy Jake Virtanen. Virtanen being drafted signalled that Benning wanted a more “Meat and Potatoes” type of team. Virtanen was one of the must proficient scores in the draft, with 45 goals in 71 games and was also known for being able to play a physically dominant game that would make any team cringe.
With the pick that Benning acquired from Anaheim in the Kesler trade, the Canucks drafted Jared McCann a two way centre who was noted as having a great 2 way game but only scored 1 Point-per-game, which caused concern about whether he had the offensive game to be a top 6 centre, and caused him to “fall” into the Canucks lap.
In the second round Benning went with the best player available, which just happened to be a goalie named Thatcher Demko. Demko was rated the number 1 goalie in the draft but was the second goalie taken as Calgary wanted a goalie who they could develop more quickly in Mason Mcdonald.
With his third round pick Benning drafted a 6’7 overage defence man named Nikita Trymakin from the KHL. Trymakin was an overeager but had a strong performance at the World juniors which saw his draft stock rise significantly. Trymakin is a smooth skating defensive defenceman
In the 5th rounder Benning took a potential power play quarterback in Gustav Forsling, who had a strong U18 performance with 4 goals and 1 assist.
With his last two picks Benning took Kyle Petit in the 6th round and Mackenzie Stewart in the seventh round. Petit projects has a 6’4 4th line centre who has a strong defensive game, and Stewart is a big physical, stay at home defenceman who has a mean streak.
July 1st (Free agency)
Free agency the only time of year were top 6 forwards, top 4 defence man, and number 1 goalies can be brought with money. After the NHL draft know one knew what Benning would do in Free agency. The Canucks had two goalies in Markstrom and Lack, but no one knew if they could handle a full 82 game season. With a glaring hole at the most important position in hockey, Benning went and solidified their goaltending by signing former All-star and 2010 US Olympic team goalie Ryan Miller to a 3 years 18 million dollar deal.
Another need for the Canucks was to find someone who could score goals, as finishing as the 2nd worst offensive team in the league isn’t going to get you a playoff spot no matter how good you are defensively. In comes Radim Vrbata, a relatively unknown player who had quietly become a player who other teams had to watch, otherwise the puck would be in the back of the net. At 2 years 10 million dollars, the Canucks got the top 6 wing they had desperately needed in previous years.