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Jim Benning will be the hockey scientist the Canucks always needed in order to recode the team's DNA.

Jim Benning is the will be the hockey scientist the Canucks always needed in order to recode the team’s DNA.

He’s not a Harvard lawyer, but a solid hockey man from hockey roots — someone who understands the game from the inside out.  Jim Benning has all the potential to be exactly what the Canucks have always longed for since the days of Pat Quinn. The first order of business for the former Canucks D-Man will be to find a coach who can create the exciting “brand” of hockey which newly appointed president Trevor Linden longs for.  In order to do this, Benning will likely read the irony written on the walls of the team’s asylum.  Kesler must go, but first things first.

Benning understands how delicate the balance is in the Canucks dressing room.  After a year of the recently dispatched John Tortorella, the Canucks can ill afford to hire another defensively minded coach who attempts to mold offensively gifted players like the Sedins into the pre-halcyon days when all they did was cycle the puck in the corners like a conveyor belt.  The Canucks do not need a “name brand” coach.  They do not need Barry Trotz.

After the failed Tortorella experiment the Canucks need to shift to a coach who will work with the offensively gifted veterans who want to win now, and bring along the young players who need to be inserted in positions to have success.  Enter Portland Winter Hawks’ Mike Johnston.

Mike Johnston would be the ideal candidate to coach the Canucks for the next five to six seasons.

Mike Johnston would be the ideal candidate to coach the Canucks for the next five to six seasons.

This hire makes a lot of sense.  Johnston has a history with the Canucks going way back to 1999 when he and Jack Mcllhargey were named as assistant coaches to the Marc Crawford led teams, teams which featured none other than current Canucks’ president Trevor Linden.  Additionally, the rise of Henrik and Daniel Sedin coincided with the arrival of Johnston, whose last season with the team in ’06 saw the twins reach then career highs of 75 points.

The rest of Johnston’s resume is impressive.  After two more years as an associate coach of the L.A. Kings where he and Crawford coached a young Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Johnston was offered a job as a GM/Coach of the Portland W’interhawks.  This is from their website:

After taking over early in the 2008-09 season, Johnston and his staff led the Winterhawks to the biggest turnaround in team history in 2009-10, improving the team by 48 points. The Winterhawks made the playoffs for the first time in four years, knocking off Spokane in overtime of Game 7 in a thrilling series.

Following the season, eight Winterhawks were taken in the 2010 NHL Draft, tying a franchise record.

The Canucks need to hire a coach to work with a unique roster of seasoned pros and young up and comers alike.  Mike Johnston could do that.

The Canucks need to hire a coach to work with a unique roster of seasoned pros and young up and comers alike. Mike Johnston could do that.

Since 2010, the Winterhawks have competed in the last four consecutive finals, winning once.  His track record with young players is undeniable, even leading the Canadian Juniors to an undefeated record and a gold medal in Russia in ’09, the first time in seventy-three years.  If that’s not enough of a case to hire Johnston as the Canucks new coach, Johnston understands the business of hockey from a managerial standpoint, meaning that conversations between him Benning and Linden would be that much more enriched with regards to player movement.

Canucks want Pouliot.  Johnston coaches Pouliot.  Do the math.

Canucks want Pouliot. Johnston coaches Pouliot. Do the math.

Adding to all of this is the Canucks interest in young Penguins’ defenseman Derrick Pouliot who could come Vancouver’s way via a Kesler trade, a trade Ray Shero was unwilling to complete but a new Pittsburgh GM might.  Pouliot has blossomed, starred and emerged as a champion for none other than the Portland Winterhawks under none other than Mike Johnston.

Additionally, when Johnston was suspended in a rather heavy handed manner by the league for, essentially, paying for his captain’s cell phone bill it was none other than his assistant Travis Green who stepped behind the bench and won a championship.  The season after, the Canucks hired Green to coach their minor league affiliate, the Utica Comets.  Rumour has it that Tortorella didn’t consult Green with regards to player movement.  This would be another area which would be instantly resolved with the hire of Johnston as Canucks coach.

Team-builder Mike Johnston wasn't on the ice for this win, but Travis Green, now Utica Comets' head coach, was.

Team-builder Mike Johnston wasn’t on the ice for this win, but Travis Green, now Utica Comets’ head coach, was.

Linden has offered that the team is in search of a “career coach” and in that respect Johnston meets all criteria.  He began at the collegiate level in Canada in 1985 moving his way all the way up to coaching alongside Crawford at the Nagano Olympics where he coached not only the Great One but also, again, Linden himself.

His teams are known for speed, offensive stability, defensive mobility and immense success.  He has won at every level and has the maturity to handle veterans as well as the skills to handle young players.  He isn’t a Harvard lawyer, just like Benning and Linden aren’t, but he does hold a Master’s degree… in Coaching Science.

Linden, much like his role model Pat Quinn, is a loyal Canuck.  Already he has proven that loyalty by extending to a former Canuck and comparative model, Cam Neely, who gave back to the team that drafted him by allowing for a quick hire of former Canuck Jim Benning.  Jim Benning has a home in Portland where he would have undoubtedly caught a few Winterhawks games here and there.  This is a franchise once coached by Canucks’ Ring of Honour inductee, Harold Snepsts, and the same team for which Benning played in his junior days.

Even Hockey Night’s Elliotte Friedman touched on Johnston explaining the obvious connections:

The final name was team-specific to Vancouver: Mike Johnston of WHL Portland. Linden made it clear the GM should hire the coach, but the two have a history. Anyway, just some different names.

Just one person’s opinion here, but if the Canucks want that old-time feel they should seek to reestablish that Canuck connection by hiring another lost brother in Mike Johnston, but the only question would be, would he want to leave his position as GM of the Winterhawks to accept the relative instability of an NHL coach where he hasn’t won the big one?

If the Canucks are going to add youth to the lineup, they will need a coach who understands how to coach it.

If the Canucks are going to add youth to the lineup, they will need a coach who understands how to coach it.

Winterhawks owner Bill Gallacher has said he “wouldn’t stand in Johnston’s way”, should the coach want to move up to the NHL.  Admittedly, the news on the Canucks coaching front has circulated around current assistants or Barry Trotz, but given the current direction of the team, owned by two Vancouver locals and die-hard fans, presided over by a local legend, and now managed by a former player, the hire of Mike Johnston  would complete the cycle.

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