VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks have given general manager Jim Benning more time to try and rebuild the struggling NHL franchise.
Benning, who was in the last year of his current deal, has been signed to a multi-year contract extension, the team said Wednesday. The deal is believed to be three years.
The Canucks are currently mired near the bottom of the NHL standings and are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third consecutive year.
“It’s been hard,” Benning said about rebuilding the franchise. “Losing is never fun. I knew coming it was going to be a lot of work.
“The tough part of it is the development. If you draft well, the development of those players, you can’t seem to get them up and going fast enough.”
As the season progressed questions began to surface if the Canucks would keep Benning or decide to head in another direction.
Trevor Linden, the Canucks’ president of hockey operations, praised the work Benning has done and said it was important to maintain continuity moving forward.
“It’s a results orientated business,” Linden told a news conference at Rogers Arena. “I know there has been some challenges in that regard. I also recognize there is a lot of good things happening in our organization.
“Allowing this management group, who I think has continued to do things better, to continue on that path, is important.”
Vancouver took a 22-28-6 record into Wednesday night’s game against the Florida Panthers. The team’s 50 points left Vancouver 14th out of 15 teams in the Western Conference and 28th out of 31 overall.
The Canucks are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league and have just four wins in their previous 11 games.
Still, Benning sees some progress.
Right winger Brock Boeser leads the team with 26 goals and 48 points and is a candidate for rookie of the year. Bo Horvat has established himself as the team’s top-line centre and found chemistry with winger Sven Baertschi, who came to the team in a trade engineered by Benning.
“This year I look at our group and I feel we have made real strides,” said Benning. “There’s been some inconsistent play, but I think injuries, that played into it.
“We play a fast style of game now. Our guys have worked hard, been competitive. I think we are heading in the right direction.”
Benning was hired in May 2014, replacing Mike Gillis. He took over a team that went from being one loss away from winning the 2011 Stanley Cup to a floundering club that has had trouble drawing fans.
Benning, an Edmonton native, spent seven seasons as the Boston Bruins assistant GM, earning a Stanley Cup ring in 2011. He also served as the Buffalo Sabres director of amateur scouting for 12 years.
He came to the Canucks with the reputation of being able to make smart draft choices to restore the team’s depleted talent base. Benning has earned praise for selecting players like Boeser, centres Adam Gaudette and Elias Pettersson, defenceman Olli Juolevi and goaltender Thatcher Demko.
There has been criticism of some of Benning’s trades and his decision to deal away draft picks. There also has been condemnation of his free-agent signing’s, most notably Loui Eriksson. He is in the second year of a six-year, US $36-million deal and has produced 19 goals and 25 assists in 109 games.
The Canucks have also sent mixed messages about their rebuild. There have been times when young players have been left on the bench in favour of veterans. Fans aren’t sure if the goal is to develop talent for the future or battle to make the playoffs now.
“We are going to keep trying hard to be competitive in the games as we’re bringing in these kids and developing them,” said Benning. “Our bottom line is to win games and be competitive to make the playoffs.”
Travis Green, who is in his first season as Vancouver’s coach, said he and Benning are on the same page when it comes to player development.
“Jim and I have the same vision, the same ideas on how we need to get places and where we need to go,” said Green. “I think (his signing) is a great move by the organization.”
Benning played 12 NHL seasons as a defenceman with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver.