Benning - three more years

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."

"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. "It's been a combination of trying to sign some free-agent players to support the development and the growth of our young players. But ultimately, it's going to be our young players keep getting better to be a competitive team and be where we want to be year in and year out."

The Canucks GM has also repeatedly faced criticism for adding long-term, big-money contracts in both trades and free agency that gobbled up cap space but failed to offer on-ice support for the club's young talent.

One deal that's drawn ire is the signing of left-winger Loui Eriksson, who came to Vancouver as a free agent in 2016, signing a US$36-million deal. At the time, Benning called the Swedish forward "an elite scorer and play maker with great defensive instincts."

The 34-year-old has yet to crack a 30-point season with the Canucks. Last year he tallied 11 goals and 18 assists in 81 games.

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