Flashback Friday: Canucks dethrone the Blackhawks by Alex Hoegler

Though many Vancouver Canucks fans have seemingly been clamoring for general manager Jim Benning to get fired, his job should be safe for 2018.

It’s been a long time since the majority of Vancouver Canucks fans have been fully invested in a general manager. As such, many don’t seem to believe that current general manager Jim Benning should last much longer.

But in reality, Benning has done a masterful job through his first four summers as Vancouver’s GM, and there’s no reason to believe nor hope that team president Trevor Linden is prepared to can him. Even if the Canucks finish last in the NHL next season, don’t expect Benning to take the fall.

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When he replaced the fired Mike Gillis in 2014, Benning had a difficult job.

He had to restore faith in a fan base that saw former head coach John Tortorella run this team into the ground.

But he also had to work on making this team younger and faster — as the Canucks core players entered their twilight years.

Sure, the Loui Eriksson, Derek Dorsett and Luca Sbisa contracts caused a lot of folks to scratch their heads.

Ditto for his inability to deal pending UFAs Radim Vrbata or Dan Hamhuis at the 2016 trade deadline, when it was clear neither guy was coming back the following season.

But once you look at what Benning has actually done as GM, you’ll come to realize why is job should and will be safe for 2017-18. Just take a look at what he’s been able to do while having to balance “rebuilding” while trying to remain competitive enough to fight for the playoffs.

Prospect pool reloaded

The jury is out on whether or not Jake Virtanen pans out. Benning drafted him with the sixth pick in 2014, and Virtanen hasn’t made any significant strides in the past three years. But even if he fails, it doesn’t mean Benning’s drafting has been horrendous.

Brock Boeser — whom TSN’s Craig Button listed as the eighth-best player not skating in the NHL this February — fell to Benning at 23rd overall in 2015. Not very often where you find an elite prospect that late in the first round.

Despite getting screwed in the 2016 draft lottery, Benning was able to draft another great prospect in Finnish defenceman Olli Juolevi with the fifth pick. He has all the tools to be the franchise blueliner Vancouver has never truly had. Well done, Mr. Benning.

As for 2017? Benning somehow nabbed two promising prospects for a pair of veterans in their 30s. He got Nikolay Goldobin from the San Jose Sharks in the Jannik Hansen trade and Jonathan Dahlen from the Ottawa Senators for Alexandre Burrows. He also drafted Elias Pettersson in 2017, so there’s that as well.

When Benning took over, the Canucks had no quality young players in the system besides Bo Horvat. Now just look at all the young talent he’s been able to assemble through the draft and in trades.

Canucks are moving in right direction

The Canucks front office seemed intent on adding more youth, but they also tried rebuilding on the fly. That means they wanted to still add veterans and remain competitive in the playoffs — a strategy that almost never works in today’s NHL.

Benning has been able to move out a handful of Vancouver’s veterans, and he’s done a wonderful job making this team younger. Just imagine if he had full power to do whatever moves he wanted without ownership nor Linden seemingly having a say in it as well.

Now, Canucks fans have so many young players to look forward too. This team now belongs to the likes of Horvat, Boeser, Juolevi, Markus Granlund, Troy Stecher and Ben Hutton. Not past-their-prime veterans in their mid-30s.

So just take a look at what Benning has done. He’s added so much youth and has moved on from most of the veterans. The Vancouver Canucks are heading in the right direction as a long-term championship contender, so Benning’s job is going to be safe for at least another season.