Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning's no Mike Gillis. That's okay.
You've already read more about Jim Benning that you will for, perhaps, the next few years. Because the most you read about someone who's coming into a position – whether it's a new general manager or a number six overall pick, both of which we Canucks fans now have – is when you're scouting them. Because even though we're just occasionally paying customers, we think we share the responsibility of building this team with Trevor Linden. Fans are like that.
And when you read about Jim Benning, you'll surely only read about the things he does say, not the things he hasn't yet.
That makes sense. Because Benning doesn't say a lot, and he doesn't say it elegantly.He says "Okay, like" so much, you half-expect him to namedrop a character from The Hills. But then you see his haircut and his goofy smile and you realize, no... this guy is all baby-booming business. If we didn't know he was the assistant GM in Boston for eight years, we couldn't imagine it. When he was asked about advanced statistics last Friday – by Jeff Patterson of Team 1040, kudos – I didn't even think he'd justify it with a response.
But there he was, saying everything you hoped we would and knowing about every player you didn't think he could.
He's done his homework on Eddie Lack and he's been eyeing this draft since the second the last one ended.
We haven't had this sort of thing in a little while. When Gillis arrived in Vancouver, he was fresh and exciting and all, but his pile of chips evaporated in 2012 when he ran out of house money. But don't go thinking Dave Nonis would have done any better – the Leafs GM had the deal-maker's vision to swap Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan Allen for Roberto Luongo, but he didn't have the boldness to take it a step further. And as for other vanquished executives like Brian Burke or Pat Quinn, or stoic and capable coaches like Marc Crawford or Alain Vigneault, well they all just overstayed their welcome.
They ran out of magic, like everyone does... even Johnny Unitas ended his career throwing wobbly interceptions to Joe Namath's New York Jets.
But Vancouver needs an arrow. The Canucks need a bull-headed, machine-like drill. They don't need someone who's chasing the best team today, they need someone who'll set his own course for the next decade.
And that's where Benning's awful public speaking comes in handy.
He says so little, it magnifies everything he does say.
Like when he said he hadn't heard of the Boston Model until he arrived in Vancouver. "Okay, like" really, dude? Isn't that why we got Benning... because we wanted that Boston model he himself had the heaviest hand in building?
Guess not. Turns out, the Boston model isn't a model. It's just built around common sense and winning results. Well... that's hard to write 500 words about, so it must not be true.
Benning's idea of a model was this: We try to make the playoffs, and then we add young people so we keep making the playoffs.
That's basically word-for-word what he said.
I swear, he was asked a question about his goals for next season and the guy actually responded with something like, If you make the playoffs, that gives you a chance to win a Stanley Cup.
How has Darryl Sutter not handed the Kings his two-week notice yet? That guy should be on a plane to Vancouver right now. He and Benning are both from the Yogi Berra school of, If I say it confidently enough, I don't even have to speak English.
There's some kind of snark to both Sutter's and Benning's speeches, but there's nothing insincere or arrogant about it. That's hard to do – to sound like an a-hole but not be a jerk. Gillis was, sorry to say, the latter. But then you got the feeling he wasn't really a bad guy, like all the jerkish things he said or allegedly did – whether it was confrontations with Vancouver's media members, some of them made public, or his obvious friction with other NHL general managers – only came about because he was over-compensating for his lack of experience.
Sutter and Benning are cautious but not careful. Gillis – and let's toss other departed execs like Scott Howson or George McPhee in there, too – was the kind of guy who did things just so others would notice. Every trade was meant to shake up the earth, but they were all bluffs. That Cory Schneider deal to New Jersey, or the Cody Hodgson trade to Buffalo, or Luongo's move to Florida, finally and too late? Those were the equivalents of going all-in with a pair of six's on your first hand. Sure, you won a few chips, but now everyone know how you plan to play. Gillis only knew how to mess with others, but didn't know how to play his own hand. He built up a big lead, but eventually the seesaw evens out.
Hearing Benning basically ridicule the idea of a Boston Model – or an any team's model, for that fact – was sweet, ecstatic relief for a long-suffering Orcas fans like me.
Every year, a new MODEL arises. It's been Boston or Chicago lately, because they've each been to two Stanley Cup Finals in the past four years, and they've each got a Presidents' Trophy to toss on top. (I mean, I think the Canucks were even a model to follow three years ago.) And Boston seems scary, until they're beaten by Montreal or Washington. But if you're only chasing the flavour of the week, you're never going to have your own place in the sun. That's true with everything – be it hockey teams built around speed and size (and, honestly, shouldn't that always be a winning combination? Why does it need to be labelled or anointed?) or skinny jeans or side-parted haircuts.
Trends are called trends for that very reason – they're not permanent, and they're not expected to be. Maybe they'll come back, and maybe they won't.
But Benning seems to understand that. He must know, between when he was hired by Boston in 2006 and when he left in 2014, that everything changed. Patrice Bergeron has gone from a perennially injured wuss to and a two-time gold medal Olympian and the best defensive forward in hockey. When Benning arrived in Boston, the Bruins had just dealt away Joe Thornton. In 2010, they blew a 3-0 series lead and lost to Philadelphia, only the third team ever to do so. And 12 months after that, the Bruins had shocked the Vancouver Canucks on B.C. ice, leaving that city to torch and loot itself while the bears skated back to Massachusetts as the only team to ever win three seven-game series in one playoff.
Sure, we can draw patterns and we can try to rig the game, but nobody's ever going to be successful if they don't realize there's always an element of randomness to everything.
Benning doesn't seem to give a sh*t, and that's good. Leave the theorizing to ignorant bloggers like me. Leave the conversation and the predictions to Vancouver's frothy, puffed-up media ship. Benning and Linden need the answers to do their jobs, where people like me just need to think we do.
All the Canucks have to do is the obvious, and Benning's pretty damn good at explaining that.