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Canucks introduce Jim Benning as new GM

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Trevor Linden and Jim Benning hadn't spoken since they were teammates on the Vancouver Canucks in 1988-89, but it didn't take long to realize they were on the same page about fixing the current edition of the franchise.

Linden introduced Benning as the Canucks' new general manager on Friday, a move many predicted soon after general manager Mike Gillis was fired in early April and Linden took over as president of hockey operations the next day. However, Linden insisted he didn't make up his mind until reconnecting with Benning.

"I can't say that he was the guy I wanted because I hadn't spoken to Jim in 25 years," Linden said. "After the first interview I really felt we did share a lot of the same visions and values and what it takes to win and win consistently."

Benning, who spent the past eight seasons as an assistant GM with the Boston Bruins, felt the same way about that first meeting.

"He's cut for the same cloth I am," said Benning, 51. "I wanted to tie myself to somebody who had the same thoughts and beliefs that I did."

How those beliefs will manifest themselves on a Canucks roster that missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2008 remains to be seen. But it's clear that Benning's strong background in scouting -- he spent six of his 12 seasons with the Buffalo Sabres as their director of amateur scouting before joining Boston -- played a big role in landing his first GM job in the NHL.

"I wanted someone who is an exceptional talent evaluator," Linden said.

Benning also spent time scouting for the Anaheim Ducks after playing 610 games as a defenseman in the NHL, including four seasons in Vancouver. His reputation for identifying talent in the NHL Draft and trades will be important to a Canucks organization that has an aging core and a thin list of high-end prospects.

Benning, who can begin working with the Canucks right away and will do so at next week's NHL Combine, said playing in the Pacific Division against teams such as the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks will shape his philosophy.

"They are big, heavy teams, so when we talk to our scouting staff one of our mandates is 'Let's get a little bit bigger, a little more rugged, so we can play both styles,'" Benning said. "So we can play a skill, skating style when need be, but when it's a rugged, physical game; we can play that game too."

If that sounds a lot like the Bruins team that Benning just left, a team that bullied the Canucks on the way to winning the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, so be it.

"I never heard of the 'Boston model' until I came out here, to be quite honest," Benning said. "I would like to see a little more physicality on the third and fourth lines. I'm not talking about fighting, but I am talking about between the whistles, getting in on the forecheck, hitting, playing with a little bit more grit."

Benning stressed different qualities when talking about the Canucks current core of players and finding a new coach to compliment that group. He said he plans to interview candidates next week to replace John Tortorella, who was fired after missing the playoffs in his first season as coach, and wants someone who stresses defensive structure without sacrificing skill at the other end.

"This organization needs to play an up-tempo, fast, skating, skilled game," Benning said. "Before last season this team had almost an attitude about them, a relentless attitude that they were going to skate and wear teams down and score. For whatever reason that didn't happen last year."

In addition to starting the search for a new coach, Benning said planned to talk next week with second-line center Ryan Kesler, who reportedly asked for a trade last season, about his future. Kesler is one of nine Canucks with a no-trade clause in his contract. Unlike his predecessor, Benning indicated he is willing to ask those players about being moved as he re-shapes this roster. At the same time, he praised the current group and believes they can turn it around quickly.

"I like our core," he said. "Our core players are high-character people."

Benning saw the same qualities in Linden, and vice versa. But it will be Benning's ability to add more of those players, either through draft or trade, to compliment and supplement that aging core that will define his first general manager job.

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