April 29, 1963 |
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
|Height||6 ft 0 in (183 cm)|
|Weight||190 lb (86 kg; 13 st 8 lb)|
Toronto Maple Leafs
|NHL Draft||6th overall, 1981
Toronto Maple Leafs
James Elmer Benning (born April 29, 1963) is a retired professional ice hockey defenceman and the current general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. Drafted in the first round, sixth overall, in the 1981 NHL Entry Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, he played 610 games over nine seasons for the Leafs and the Canucks, compiling 52 goals and 243 points. He was identified during his playing career as an offensive defenseman.
Prior to his professional career, Benning played for the Fort Saskatchewan Traders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League. While with the Winter Hawks in 1980-81, he set league records for most consecutive games with an assist (30) and with a point (45) while compiling 28 goals and a league-leading 111 assists (also a league record for defencemen) for 139 points and being named the league's top defenceman.
At the conclusion of the 1980-81 WHL season, the NHL Central Scouting Bureau ranked Benning as the second-best North American draft-eligible prospect behind only Dale Hawerchuk. His performance in the WHL garnered interest from several National Hockey League scouts, including Johnny Bower of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Leafs general manager Punch Imlach expressed a desire to select a defenseman in the first round of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft due to the organization's lack of prospect defensemen at the time, prompting Bower to recommend the selection of Benning. At the Leafs' following rookie camp, Benning impressed onlookers with strong demonstrations of puck-handling, passing, shooting and skating, although Leafs coach Mike Nykoluk stated he needed to "carry his stick with two hands, not one."
Benning joined the Toronto Maple Leafs for the 1981-82 NHL season. After his rookie season, Benning participated in an exhibition match for Team Canada at the 1982 World Ice Hockey Championships, although he did not participate in the tournament. Following a difficult season with the Leafs, coach Nykoluk openly questioned whether the lineup's influx of prospects was the correct decision for the roster. Though Benning's puck-handling skills provided him with security within the team's lineup, critics wanted him to play with greater physicality. He remained with the team, while two of the Leafs' other prospect defensemen, Bob McGill and Fred Boimistruck, were demoted to the Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, St. Catharines Saints. Some analysts believed he was rushed into the NHL, resulting in lost confidence while playing for a struggling Leafs team.
In his third year with the Leafs, Benning experienced a breakout season in which he scored 51 points. At the midway point of the season, speculation existed that he and teammate Börje Salming would be chosen to represent the Campbell Conference All Stars at the 36th National Hockey League All-Star Game. The Leafs also considered nominating Benning for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, although they ultimately selected Gary Nylund instead. By the 1985-86 NHL season, he had become a crucial member of the team's defense corps, paired on many occasions with Al Iafrate and used in crucial situations. He became the team's leading point-scorer among defensemen in their 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons and was praised for his playmaking abilities, but he experienced a knee injury partway through the 1985-86 season. Benning tore his right-knee ligaments in a collision with a St. Louis Blues player, resulting in eight weeks out of the Leafs' lineup. The 1985-86 season was also his option year, providing him with multiple decisions regarding his future with the Leafs organization. Benning expressed uncertainty about the team's interest in retaining him, believing he would play elsewhere, as they had experienced some success while he was injured the previous season. In addition, the Leafs had recently hired new coach John Brophy, whose physical brand of hockey was believed not to be compatible with Benning's style of play. Benning stated later that, during the team's 1986 preseason training camp, Brophy discussed with him the type of defensemen he wanted: larger defensemen who fought and demonstrated toughness.
One month into the 1986-87 season, Benning was demoted to the Newmarket Saints of the AHL. On December 2, 1986, Benning was traded to the Vancouver Canucks along with Dan Hodgson in exchange for Rick Lanz. The Canucks required offense and, subsequent to Lanz's trade request, a deal occurred between the two organizations.
Benning spent the next four seasons with the Canucks, becoming a veteran with the team, as well as scoring 12 goals and 70 points in that span despite some injuries. His style of play during this period was described as "effective but rarely conspicuous." Benning was described as becoming a more conservative, albeit more complete player with the Canucks. Early in the 1989-90 season, he was considered one of the Canucks' best performers in the absence of Paul Reinhart. The Canucks, according to coach Bob McCammon, however, found greater success without Benning in their lineup, though it was "no reflection on him." Benning believed he was playing well, resulting in confusion between the two sides. Following a streak of nine consecutive games scratched from the Canucks' lineup, the team requested that Benning be demoted to their International Hockey League affiliate Milwaukee Admirals, although he declined. After a brief period of uncertainty with the Canucks in which he was told not to attend practice, Benning was asked to rejoin the team after an injury to Harold Snepsts vacated a roster position. He experienced a three-point game in his return, but was scratched again for the remainder of the season afterward due to the organization's belief that he was too small.
After the conclusion of the 1989-90 NHL season, Benning signed a termination contract with the Vancouver Canucks. Early in the subsequent preseason, Benning was sidelined with a bruised knee. A month later, he was reassigned to the Milwaukee Admirals as the Canucks sought to trade him. He concluded the 1990-91 season with the Admirals. Benning then joined HC Varese of the Serie A Italian hockey league, playing 18 games for them. Prior to the start of the 1992-93 NHL season, Benning was invited to the Tampa Bay Lightning's inaugural training camp. He was one of the final cuts made to the Lightning roster before the start of the season. Benning subsequently retired as a player in 1992.
Following his playing career, Benning served as an amateur scout for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim during the 1993-94 NHL season. The following year, he joined the Buffalo Sabres as a scout, serving four years for the organization before being promoted to their position of Director of Amateur Scouting in 1998. Benning remained in that role until 2004. In the summer of 2006, he became the assistant general manager of the Boston Bruins. His name was included on the Stanley Cup for the first time with the Bruins after their Stanley Cup Championship in 2011. The Vancouver Canucks formally introduced him as their general manager in a press conference on May 23, 2014. Upon being hired by the Canucks, he opted to retool his team by making several changes to the roster. In his first off-season with the organization, he made several roster moves including the trading of forward Ryan Kesler to the Anaheim Ducks at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the signing of goaltender Ryan Miller and the acquisition of several players such as Nick Bonino, Linden Vey, Radim Vrbata, and Derek Dorsett. On June 28, 2016, during his third off-season with the Canucks, the NHL fined the Canucks $50,000 due to "tampering" by Benning. At the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Benning made inappropriate comments about attempting to acquire Montreal Canadiens defenceman PK Subban and pending unrestricted free-agent centre Steven Stamkos, who was still under contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Benning is married and has four children. He lives in North Vancouver, British Columbia during the season and Sherwood, Oregon in the summer. He is the older brother of former NHL player Brian Benning. He is also the uncle of Edmonton Oilers prospect Matt Benning.
|1978-79||Fort Saskatchewan Traders||AJHL||45||14||57||71||10||--||--||--||--||--|
|1978-79||Portland Winter Hawks||WHL||--||--||--||--||--||3||0||0||0||0|
|1979-80||Portland Winter Hawks||WHL||71||11||60||71||42||8||3||9||12||8|
|1980-81||Portland Winter Hawks||WHL||72||28||111||139||61||9||1||5||6||16|
|1981-82||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||74||7||24||31||46||--||--||--||--||--|
|1982-83||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||74||5||17||22||47||4||1||1||2||2|
|1983-84||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||79||12||39||51||66||--||--||--||--||--|
|1984-85||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||9||35||44||55||--||--||--||--||--|
|1985-86||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||52||4||21||25||71||--||--||--||--||--|
|1986-87||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||5||0||0||0||4||--||--||--||--||--|
|1991-92||HC Varese||Serie A||18||0||12||12||14||7||0||2||2||50|