For all of the misery in the history of the Canucks, they’ve never gone very long without making the playoffs. The longest stretch the Canucks have gone without qualifying for the postseason is four seasons. It’s happened three times: 1970-1974, the first four seasons in franchise history, 1996-2000, the dreadful Mike Keenan/Mark Messier years, and the past four seasons.
The Canucks have never gone five seasons without making the playoffs.
Normally, when a team misses the playoffs in four-straight seasons, that puts management on the hot seat. After all, the ownership of a hockey team wants to see wins, whether it’s for the love of the game or because wins put butts in seats and provide profit, particularly in the playoffs.
Jim Benning’s seat, however, just got a little cooler. He was heading into the final year of his current contract, but Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Benning has been extended by the Canucks. Suddenly, Benning has a little more job security.
Hearing VAN has extended GM Jim Benning. He was heading into the final season of his current contract.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) August 16, 2019
It’s not entirely surprising that Benning got his contract extended. Francesco Aquilini has seemed happy with the direction of the team over the past year and the team seems optimistic that they’ve turned a corner in their rebuild and are ready to compete for the playoffs next season. Of course, they’ve said similar things in the past.
What’s most odd about this extension is the timing.
With Benning in the final year of his contract, there was some concern that he might sacrifice long-term success for some short-term gain. It’s the risk of a “lame duck” GM: the focus could shift to trying to save his job instead of building a team for the future.
With that in mind, you could argue that Benning should have been given a contract extension prior to the draft and free agency. That way, he wouldn’t be a lame duck, but could focus on the team and not his job.
On the other hand, there’s a case to be made that Benning needs to prove himself in this final year, showing that he’s learned from the early, rocky years of his tenure. If you ascribe to this view, a contract extension likely should have waited until after Benning navigated through the obstacles on the 2019-20 season and got the team back to the playoffs.
Instead, Benning got his contract extended somewhere in the mushy middle.
Benning has already made a few moves that could be seen as focussing on short-term gain. The J.T. Miller trade is a potentially risky move that requires the Canucks to make the playoffs in one of the next two seasons or give up a top-15 draft pick to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
There’s also the Tyler Myers signing. While it wasn’t the seven-year, $7-8 million deal that some feared, Myers’ five-year, $6 million contract could still prove troublesome in the future if he doesn’t live up to top-four expectations.
At the same time, the extension comes before some of the most important work of the off-season: re-signing Brock Boeser and reckoning with the salary cap heading into opening night.
One part of the timing does make sense, however: that it comes on a Friday in the middle of August. Benning’s tenure as GM has been divisive among Canucks fans and the team is likely well aware of how a contract extension might be received among those critical of his work over the last five years.
Certainly, there’s something odd about extending a GM that has missed the playoffs in four-straight seasons. You can point to some mitigating factors — delaying a rebuild while the Sedins were still with the team, or the depleted prospect pool from the team’s President Trophy-winning seasons — but it still seems strange.
The pressure will still be on for the Canucks to make the playoffs and Benning’s seat will still be a bit toasty, but he can likely sleep a little easier with one thing knocked off his to-do list.