Under general manager Jim Benning, the Canucks have missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons. After a brutal three-game road trip where the Canucks lost by a combined score of 19-to-6, they’re well on their way to missing the playoffs again.
Benning was all-in on this team, aggressively trading away two first-round picks, two second-round picks, and two third-round picks over the last three years and making a risky bet on Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s long-term contract. Those are the moves of a team on the verge of Stanley Cup contention but the Canucks don’t even look like a playoff team.
It’s been the same modus operandi for Benning since he was hired, sacrificing long-term assets for short-term gain. It’s why a bevy of second-round picks were traded for middling NHL players, all of whom have long since left the organization. It’s why a promising prospect in Jared McCann, who made the Canucks as a 19-year-old, was traded for Erik Gudbranson — just one in a long list of terrible defencemen Benning has acquired. It’s why Benning repeatedly failed to trade away veteran players for draft picks and prospects, waiting far too long to realize when a season was a lost cause.
The most damning element of this focus on short-term success is that it hasn’t led to any short-term success. Instead, it’s resulted in wasted years for both Canucks players and fans.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat has made the playoffs just twice in his seven-year career. In his second stint in the playoffs, he scored 10 goals in 17 games, providing his bonafides as a big-game player, but the team didn’t build on that all-too brief success. Now his eighth year looks to be wasted again.
Even worse, the Benning era wasted the final years of Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Instead of spending their final years as second-line players supporting a new core, they were spent in a spiral as the team sunk to the NHL’s basement. The team didn’t make the playoffs again with the Sedins after Benning’s first year on the job.
“I don’t know how I walk into the room and tell these guys, ‘Strip it down.’ I’m not sure it’s fair to these guys,” said then-president of hockey operations Trevor Linden when talking about the team continuing to push for short-term success instead of being willing to rebuild. But if the Canucks had instead committed to a rebuild after their disappointing first-round exit from the playoffs in 2015, they could have been back in the playoff race before the Sedins retired.
Before they were let go in 2014, both Mike Gillis and John Tortorella — the GM and head coach that preceded Benning — emphasized that the team needed to rebuild. Tortorella called the core “stale” and added, “It needs youth. It needs a change...We’re not in 2011.”
Gillis argued the Canucks “need to get younger, faster, and stronger” and pitched a rebuild to ownership as early as 2013.
Francesco Aquilini rejected the idea and the team hired Benning, who didn’t argue for a long-term rebuild but said when he was hired, “This is a team we can turn around in a hurry.” And, when Linden argued to ownership that they needed to rebuild properly, he was fired too — pardon, he "amicably" parted ways with the Canucks.
The issue is not that rebuilds take time. The issue is that the Canucks never truly committed to a rebuild in the first place. Any “rebuilding” was entirely incidental, a result of a few good picks at the NHL Entry Draft — the same picks every team gets each year. And now the team has already wasted the early years of the careers of the players they got for those draft picks: Brock Boeser, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko.
When will the wasted years end?