There's front office drama every NHL season, and this year is no different. Among the leaders in that regard in 2021: The Vancouver Canucks.
General manager Jim Benning's tenure has been a frustrating one for Canucks fans. Since taking over from Mike Gillis in 2014, the Benning-led Canucks have only made the playoffs twice and have not finished with more than 81 points since his inaugural season.
Fans were left even more perplexed last week when Benning bizarrely admitted the Canucks aren’t equipped to hang in the Canadian division and that the team needs two more years before they can compete with the best in the league. That came a month after his last public statement, when he admitted to bumbling negotiations with top free agent Tyler Toffoli, who has haunted the Canucks this season.
It would be surprising if Benning lasts another season in Vancouver. When the day comes that a change is needed, here are five potential candidates the Canucks could consider to replace him:
The end of the Mike Gillis era wasn’t harmonious — not by a long shot — but the idea of bringing him back has been gaining traction. Under Gillis, the Canucks made the playoffs in five of his six seasons, reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and won two Presidents' Trophies.
He made some key deals, including re-signing Henrik and Daniel Sedin in 2009, and even though he did inherit most of the core from Dave Nonis, Gillis was able to build a contender around names like Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows and Alexander Edler and the Canucks went from an underperforming squad to a consistent Western Conference threat.
The only year the Canucks missed the postseason under Gillis was in 2013-14, a year that included the departure of Roberto Luongo after the infamous Heritage Classic game in which he was benched in favour of Eddie Lack. Gillis hasn't had an NHL job since he left the Canucks, but with a young core in place, perhaps a reunion with the former GM is what's needed in Vancouver.
Craig Conroy hasn’t strayed far from the Flames after putting an end to his 17-year playing career, which included parts of nine seasons in Calgary.
Since retiring in 2011, Conroy has held various roles in the franchise's front office. He started as a special assistant to then GM Jay Feaster before being promoted to assistant GM ahead of the 2014-15 season.
Conroy has done a little bit of everything in his time with Calgary, from scouting players across North America and Europe to helping run operations with their AHL franchise. It's only a matter of time before he gets the opportunity to run an NHL team.
This would be more than just a PR stunt — the man affectionately known as Bobby Lou has been putting in work and getting his reps in an NHL front office.
After retiring at the end of the 2018-19 season, Luongo was named a special advisor to then Panthers GM Dale Tallon. In December 2020, the Panthers launched the Goaltending Excellence Department with Luongo at the helm. The department oversees goalie coaching, development and scouting, giving Luongo an opportunity to sharpen some skills that could help him as a general manager.
Luongo was also named assistant GM for Team Canada’s 2022 men’s Olympic team, with his primary focus being on goaltender evaluation. Although Luongo doesn't boast much executive experience, he is clearly valued as someone with a sharp — and growing — hockey mind.
Eric Tulsky’s rise in the hockey analytics world started when he was a blogger for SB Nation's Philadelphia Flyers website, broadstreethockey.com, as well as nhlnumbers.com.
Tulsky’s work in data analysis caught the eye of the Carolina Hurricanes, a franchise he's worked for in various roles over the past seven seasons, most recently being promoted to assistant GM in January.
The Harvard grad brings a non-traditional eye to hockey data and development and has been a key figure for a team that’s made the postseason the past two years, including a trip to the conference finals in 2019, and hasn’t dipped below the 85-point mark since 2011-12.
If Vancouver is ready to take a more analytical approach to team building, you can't do much better than Tulsky, who is an incredibly well-respected voice.
This is another unconventional pick, but one who has been drawing interest from NHL front offices of late. The current NHL Network analyst was interviewed for the Florida Panthers GM job last summer and was on the short list of candidates for the Pittsburgh Penguins vacancy after Jim Rutherford stepped down in late January. A veteran of 11 seasons as an NHL netminder, Weekes is a connected name and has proven himself as one of the best analysts in the game.
The NHL is the only league among the Big Four that’s yet to have a black GM. The aforementioned Panthers became the first team to hire a Black assistant GM when they brought Brett Peterson on board in 2020.
Vancouver may be reluctant to hire someone who doesn't have a ton of front office experience, but it’s not exactly unheard of in hockey. In 2007, Garth Snow had zero front office experience when he was named GM of the New York Islanders, and the Dallas Stars did the same thing when they named Brett Hull co-GM with Les Jackson .
Weekes may lack the formal experience but he’s someone who could truly create even more change in the game, as he's been vocal about the need for more diversity in front office roles.
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