Ben­ning signs three-year ex­ten­sion with Canucks

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Gemma KARSTENS-SMITH

VANCOUER — De­spite five sea­sons of medi­ocre on-ice re­sults, Van­cou­ver Canucks gen­eral man­ager Jim Ben­ning be­lieves his new con­tract shows that the team trusts his plan for the fu­ture.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion an­nounced Tues­day that Ben­ning has signed a three-year ex­ten­sion, keep­ing him with the Canucks through the 2022-23 sea­son.

“The own­er­ship, I think, is happy with the di­rec­tion of the team,” the GM told re­porters af­ter the an­nounce­ment. “We want to con­tinue go­ing in the right di­rec­tion, tak­ing that next step and be­ing a com­pet­i­tive team.”

Ben­ning, 56, has held the post since 2014 and was en­ter­ing the fi­nal year of his deal. He was given a multi-year con­tract ex­ten­sion in Fe­bru­ary 2018 and months later, his port­fo­lio grew to in­clude hockey op­er­a­tions af­ter the club split with team pres­i­dent Trevor Lin­den.

Van­cou­ver has made the play­offs just once in his five sea­sons at the helm and the team has con­sis­tently lin­gered near the bot­tom of the West­ern Con­fer­ence stand­ings, fin­ish­ing last sea­son with a 35-36-11 record.

Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said in a state­ment that Ben­ning’s ex­pe­ri­ence, re­la­tion­ships and hockey knowl­edge are “in­valu­able.”

“We’re com­mit­ted to build­ing a win­ning team and get­ting back among the NHL elite for the long term,” Aquilini said. “There are no short­cuts, but we’ve em­barked on a path to get there, and I have con­fi­dence in Jim’s abil­ity to see it through.”

The ex­ten­sion comes dur­ing a busy off sea­son for Ben­ning.

At the NHL draft in June, Van­cou­ver ac­quired for­ward J.T. Miller from the Tampa Bay Light­ning in ex­change for a fu­ture first-round pick. The fol­low­ing week, the Canucks added some big names in free agency, in­clud­ing de­fence­men Tyler My­ers and Jordie Benn, and for­ward Micheal Fer­land.

The con­tract ex­ten­sion was in the works long be­fore those deals were sealed, Ben­ning said.

“Those moves were made so our team can take the next step and be more com­pet­i­tive next year,” he said.

“I think last year, the first 60 games we were com­pet­i­tive and the last 20 games we kind of fell off. We didn’t have the depth and we got in­juries and stuff and we ended up not mak­ing the play­offs. And I think we’ve ad­dressed some of those needs by sign­ing what we think are two top-six for­wards to help out.”

Be­fore join­ing the Canucks, Ben­ning served as an as­sis­tant GM with the Bos­ton Bru­ins for seven sea­sons, earn­ing a Stan­ley Cup with the team in 2011.

The Ed­mon­ton na­tive also spent 12 years with the Buf­falo Sabres, work­ing as their direc­tor of ama­teur scout­ing, and put in 12 sea­sons on the blue line for the Canucks and Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ben­ning has been cred­ited with draft­ing some of Van­cou­ver’s up-and-com­ing stars, in­clud­ing cen­tre Elias Pet­ters­son, who was named the NHL’s rookie of the year last sea­son.

“We’ve got some good play­ers now who I think are go­ing to be cor­ner­stones, core play­ers for our group for the next 10 years, whether it’s with Petey, with (Brock Boeser), with Quinn Hughes, with (Thatcher) Demko,” Ben­ning said Tues­day.

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