Jim Benning defends himself from backstabbing claims after Trevor Linden's departure

Pass it to Bulis

The Canucks world was caught off-guard by the sudden departure of Trevor Linden from his role as President of Hockey Ops. But the Canucks themselves seemed to be caught even more off-guard by the narrative that quickly developed in the hours following the announcement.

Prior to the “amicable” parting of ways, Linden was considered an equal partner with Benning in the construction of the Canucks, to the point that fans frequently referred to them with a celebrity couple nickname: Lindenning. It doesn’t quite have the same ring as Brangelina, Bennifer, or Kimye, but it showed how closely fans associated the two of them in their minds.

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Post-breakup, however, Linden was immediately re-cast as the voice of reason, pushing back against meddling ownership and arguing for more patience in the Canucks rebuild. This narrative was out in the media mere hours after the Canucks announced his departure and the Canucks seemed wholly unprepared for its swift propagation.

Francesco Aquilini didn’t make himself available to the media in any way, preferring an unthreaded tweet storm that did little to explain why Linden left. Instead of Aquilini, Benning and, for some reason, Travis Green took to the airwaves, but could only say that they had no idea what was going on.

In the days that followed, an even more damaging narrative started to grow, suggesting that it wasn’t just a difference of opinion that sparked Linden’s departure, but nasty intra-office politics.

It started with a Steve Simmons report that depicted a power struggle, with Benning and his right-hand man, John Weisbrod, “nastily selling out the team president in exchange for their own power and security.”

Added Simmons, “those on the inside are still somewhat shocked at the lack of loyalty Benning demonstrated to Linden and how the GM and Weisbrod played footsy with ownership.”

Those are scandalous claims, and it would be understandable if Canucks fans scoffed at such a report from Simmons. After all, Simmons has been known to get things wrong in the past — Phil Kessel’s alleged hot dog obsession, for instance — and a Toronto reporter getting the inside scoop on something happening in Vancouver doesn’t quite pass muster.

Local reporters started echoing those claims, however, like Ed Willes. Then Iain MacIntyre confirmed that this is at least Linden’s side of the story.

“Several people close to Linden, inside and outside of hockey, confirmed to Sportsnet that the deposed president does indeed feel angry and betrayed by Benning,” said MacIntyre. “No one, however, could or would provide details or speak on the record.”

MacIntyre gave Benning a chance to provide his side of the story. Benning’s defence of himself sounds a bit familiar, like Jimmy Stewart protesting that he is but a “humble country lawyer” in Anatomy of a Murder. Benning comes off as folksy, self-deprecating, and certainly not someone capable of scheming behind anyone else’s back.

“I don’t know what happened between Trevor and ownership, and it’s not my place to ask,” Benning said. “I’ve got a job to do building this hockey team. I’ve never been into politics. I have a hard enough time finding a defenceman who can help our power play. I don’t have time for politics.

“I had a good relationship with Trevor. We always worked together on things. He was my boss. He hired me as a GM and he extended my contract. I’m grateful to Trevor. If people think I had anything to do with Trevor leaving, that’s just wrong.”

That power-play-defenceman line is a nice bit of self-deprecation, though it’s also sadly true. Benning’s attempts to find a power play defenceman haven’t borne fruit as of yet, though Quinn Hughes will hopefully fix that in a year’s time.

In any case, it doesn’t really fit Benning’s personality to stab anyone in the back. MacIntyre referred to him as “unvarnished,” “uncomplicated,” and “guileless.” Benning refers to himself as “an honest, straight-forward guy.”

That sounds about right. One of the main fan criticisms of Benning is that he isn’t duplicitous enough. Benning is frequently a little too honest, such as when he was forthright about his interest in Steve Stamkos and PK Subban while they were still under contract and he was fined $50,000 for tampering.

So, as much as it might rankle Linden to be ousted after going to bat for Benning when it came time to renew his contract, Benning doesn’t really seem like the killing type

But Benning wasn’t the only person named by Simmons and MacIntyre. There’s also Assistant GM John Weisbrod. Benning doesn’t seem like the type of guy to go behind Linden’s back; what about Weisbrod?

It probably depends on who you ask. If you ask former NBA star Tracy McGrady, for instance, he might suggest that backstabbing is definitely in Weisbrod’s repertoire. Weisbrod controversially traded McGrady when he was the GM of the Orlando Magic and the parting of ways wasn’t, shall we say, “amicable.”

“Honestly, as long as John Weisbrod was the GM there was no way, no way I'd step another foot in a Magic uniform,” said McGrady to ESPN nine months after the trade. “It was just his whole demeanor and the whole way he goes about doing business and doing things. I don't know if I can say this, but I'm gonna say it: He's an [expletive]."

There were several reasons why McGrady was upset with Weisbrod, but one of them was that Weisbrod said one thing behind closed doors, then did quite another in public:

“He calls me up because I told him basically that I wanted out and he says, 'We're going to take the high road on this.' I was like, cool, because I'm not going to say anything bad. I'm going to be a professional about this and be quiet. I wake up a couple of mornings later, man, and he's just going off on me, straight blasting me.”

Former Magic head coach Johnny Davis also wasn’t thrilled about Weisbrod after the GM fired him late in the season.

Davis was promised months earlier by Weisbrod that his job was safe through the end of the season, but he was let go with just 18 games left. Davis still finds that hard to believe.

"With only 18 games to play, why do it now?" Davis asked. "Let's see if we can make [the playoffs] and then make your move. If we make it, OK. If we don't, it's justified. As we speak we're right there [in the playoff race].

"We all started the process of the season together and that's how I thought it would end. I was honoring the contract. I never went and asked for an extension when things were on the upswing. I thought we would talk at the end of the year."

Let’s be clear, there’s no proof that Weisbrod had anything to do with Linden’s departure. We simply have Linden’s side of the story via his “inner circle” and Benning’s claim that he had nothing to do with it. Perhaps these conspiracy theories and Machiavellian tales of betrayal and subterfuge are a little melodramatic.

If the reports are to believed, however, Linden feels betrayed. It’s worth asking why.

 

 

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