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BOCA RATON, Fla. – Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning displayed belief in the course he’s charted in Vancouver – even if in the second year he hasn’t seen the same results as his first year.
His team has dropped in the standings to where they won't make the playoffs. He couldn’t deal veteran players at the trade deadline. Meanwhile, the young players he’s pushed have shown talent, but are still quite raw.
“I think at some point you have to establish your next group of core players that are going to lead the team going forward and I think that’s what we tried to establish this year,” Benning said during this week's NHL GM meetings.
This has created a strange mix of older, yet still productive veterans like Henrik and Daniel Sedin and Ryan Miller, mixed in with recent first-round picks like Bo Horvat, Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann. There’s no real middle ground with the Canucks as far as age. Some players are in their early 20s and others are in their mid-30s.
The Canucks have 66 points, 10 out of the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 13 games remaining. Last year they were a surprise playoff team with 101 points and had the fourth-best offense in the Western Conference. This year they have the worst offense in the West.
“We’re establishing our next group of core players, but having said that we want our veteran players to show these guys the way and hold them accountable and responsible for the way we do things on a day-to-day basis. It’s like creating a culture of what we want and that’s hard work and competitiveness,” Benning said.
Benning understands that losing has been hard on coach Willie Desjardins.
Desjardins has made the playoffs every year of his professional career in North America as a head coach, which makes this season sting that much more. His name has been mentioned on the hot seat, but Benning praised Desjardins for how he’s handled the difficult year.
“He’s been excellent. He’s got a good attitude every day,” Benning said. “He expects a lot out of himself and all of his players.”
It’s tough to completely blame Benning for Vancouver’s woes. He pointed out the team has been without center Brandon Sutter and top defenseman Alex Edler for large chunks of the season due to injury.
“When you have young players you rely and count an older players to show them the way and play the minutes,” Benning said. “When they get hurt you have young players stepping up into the role and stepping into the lineup.”
Also, he wasn’t the general manager who gave defenseman Dan Hamhuis a no-trade clause, which Hamhuis used to limit potential destinations at the NHL’s trade deadline. He was brought in to clean up a lot of issues created by former GM Mike Gillis, and to some degree he's done that. There's a different feel around the Canucks under Benning than near the end of Gillis' tenure.
But Benning couldn’t find a way to get an asset for Hamhuis, or Radim Vrbata – a player in a down year Benning signed but also couldn’t deal. His inability to trade both pending unrestricted free agents, amongst other vets, turned the trade deadline into a debacle for the Canucks.
“It’s been hard not being in the playoffs there year so far it looks like we’re not going to make it,” Benning said. “It’s been hard on everybody. It’s been hard on our fanbase, we’re hoping to get back there next year.”
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