Friday, May 23, 2014

Linden turns to former teammate as Canucks' GM

Dickson Liong

Trevor Linden has reconnected with a former teammate.
In 1988-89, Linden was an 18-year-old from Medicine Hat, playing his freshman season with the Vancouver Canucks. Jim Benning, on the other hand, was a 25-year-old defenceman from Edmonton who was in his third season with the NHL team, the Canucks having acquired him from the Toronto Maple Leafs for whom he had played five seasons.
As surprising as it might seem, the following season with the Canucks was Benning’s last in the NHL. He would play one more season, 1990-91, with the IHL’s Milwaukee Admirals and call it a career
Linden and Benning walked their separate paths, then, and each had a different vision for his career in the game.
For one, it was to play in the NHL for 20 seasons and start a gym business. The other stayed in hockey in many different roles.
Nobody knew when or if they would meet again.
Meanwhile, Mike Gillis was the general manager during Vancouver's run of playoff appearances during which it reached the 2011 Stanley Cup final against the Boston Bruins. He was sitting in his chair at Rogers Arena for Game 7 as the Canucks worked to win hockey's ultimate trophy for the first time in franchise history.
They didn't.
Instead, Gillis watched his players with their heads bowed, most trying to hold
back tears, some winning the battle and some not.
The Bruins, a team constructed by general manager Peter Chaiarelli and his assistant, Benning, were understandably ecstatic.
The Canucks' goal was to return to the final again in the following seasons, but they weren’t able to come close.
In their latest attempt, they didn’t qualify for the post-season. Shortly after the season, Gillis was relieved of his duties.
The Aquilini family, which owns the Canucks, turned to a long-time friend, in Linden, offering him the position of president of hockey operations, which he was pleased to accept.
It was the start to a new chapter in his life.
That being said, Vancouver still needed to find a general manager.
When Linden was hired and addressed the media on April 9, he was asked what he was looking for in a general manager. At the time, he wasn't willing to say.
Days went by, and there was no still announcement regarding a hiring.
But after the Canucks fired head coach John Tortorella and associate coach Mike Sullivan on May 1, there was some speculation that Benning was on top of the list of candidates for the general manager position.
“I'm not going to comment on specific candidates,” Linden said that day. “I think that that stays somewhat confidential.”
As time went on, more teams, like the Canucks, were looking for a general manager. Now the Canucks had competition. But even with that, Benning, 51, was believed to be the leading candidate.
As it turned out, Linden had talked with Benning, and was impressed with what he had to offer. They had the same beliefs and ideas of what they want the Canucks to look like. In the end, the speculation became fact.
Linden introduced Benning as the Canucks’ general manager on Friday, two days after making the announcement.
“You may have heard some news about our general manager search today, or perhaps the last couple days,” Linden said at a town hall meeting for season-ticket holders on Wednesday. “You want to be careful reading that stuff because you don't know what to believe out there.
“I'm very thrilled, and I'm very honoured to announce to you . . . that, in fact, Jim Benning is going to become our new general manager.”
At the same time, Linden revealed what he was looking for in a general manager.
“For me,” he told the season-ticket holders, “it was all about having someone that had experience at all levels who was a talent evaluator, whether it would be amateur or pro. (As well), someone who built teams.”
But, like anything, it wasn't a simple process to find someone who fit the criteria of what Linden wanted.
“Obviously I had a list of people that I felt could meet (our requirements),” Linden said Friday at Benning’s introductory press conference. “I had a focus list, I would say. I didn't have the luxury of a lot of time because it was (best) that I identified the right person as quickly as possible. The candidate list changed over time, due to various circumstances.
“I don't think you really know until you sit down with that person and spend multiple hours digging into areas that you feel are very critical to that profile. So, I can't say that he was the guy I wanted, because I hadn't spoken to Jim for 25 years.”
But once they spoke, Linden found that Benning matched the profile.
He had been Boston's director of player personnel for one season prior to becoming the Bruins' assistant general manager, a role he filled through eight seasons.
There was more to his resume than just his experience with Boston, though.
Benning was a scout for the Anaheim Ducks for one season prior to spending four seasons in the same role with the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres then named him director of amateur scouting and he stayed for eight more seasons.
“I started from the ground up,” Benning told reporters. “I learned every step of the way. I feel like at this point I'm ready. I have a good foundation on what it takes to build a winning team, so I've paid my dues, but I was happy every step of the way. I'm grateful for this opportunity today.”
After all those seasons of moving up the ranks, Benning has reunited with Linden once again.
If they didn't get to know each other when they were wearing the same uniform as players, they will do so now.
Only this time, they will be wearing suits and ties.


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