VANCOUVER — Jim Benning didn't envision the Vancouver Canucks struggling mightily to start the season.
The general manger made big moves to bolster his roster over the off-season and thought he'd solved some lingering issues. But 17 games into the campaign, the Canucks (5-10-2) are second-last in the Pacific Division after five ugly losses in a row.
"This is wearing on all of us, from ownership through the management team through the coaching staff and the players," Benning told reporters Thursday. "I believe in this group of players. We’ve shown glimpses. We’re a fragile team right now, whether it’s we take a penalty and we can’t kill it off or a bounce doesn’t go our way."
Special teams have been a major issue for the Canucks through the opening stretch. The penalty kill is operating at a league-worst 60.3 per cent and the power play hasn't scored in four games.
Several of Vancouver's top talents have struggled offensively, too, including Elias Pettersson, who signed a three-year deal worth US$7.35-million per season with the Canucks on Oct. 3. Since then, the Swedish centre has been largely invisible on the ice, amassing nine points (three goals, six assists) in 17 games.
The team knows what kind of player Pettersson is capable of being, Benning said, and the coaches and management need to help him get to where he needs to be.
“Part of our problem is that a lot of our good players aren’t playing to their potential," he said. "We know (Pettersson) is capable of a lot more than he’s shown so far."
The club is "looking at everything" when it comes to turning the season around, the GM said.
"I’ve been working with the coaches, the coaches work with the players. I’ve been talking to agents just to see where they’re at and what they’re thinking and how we can help. I’ve looked to the outside, talking to general managers from other teams to see what’s available, if something makes sense we’ll look to do that," he said. "We’re looking at everything."
Head coach Travis Green knows he's one piece of the team that's being reviewed. Currently in his fifth season behind the bench, the Canucks have made the playoffs just once under Green's tenure.
"You’re always under scrutiny, you’re under evaluation," the coach said Thursday. "It’s the NHL. Players are evaluated every night, much like coaches are, much like management. And that’s just part of the business."
Some in the market would prefer to see the GM replaced. Chants of "fire Benning!" rumbled through Rogers Arena Wednesday night as the Canucks dropped a 4-2 decision to the Colorado Avalanche.
Originally hired in 2014, Benning is in his eighth season at the helm and has led Vancouver to two playoff appearances.
The chants were upsetting, said Benning, who met with the team's ownership group earlier on Wednesday.
"I think as a management team, these seven-plus years we’ve worked really hard to draft well, develop our players properly," he said. "I get their frustration. We’re frustrated. We need to figure this out and get back on track and play like I believe we’re capable of.”
Benning said he isn't going to worry about his future, saying it will be "an ownership decision."
Instead, he's focused on finding ways to restore the team's confidence and string together some wins.
"I still believe in this group of players. And we’re going to keep working hard to find solutions to our problems," he said. "We still want to be a playoff team.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press