The Boston Model is a myth, but Jim Benning may still know how to follow it

The Canucks confirmed Wednesday what many had been suspecting ever since Trevor Linden was brought in to preside over the Vancouver Canucks: Jim Benning was the guy he was told to hire.

“There were moments of clarity for me in speaking with Jim that we just really connected on a hockey level,” Linden said of the personnel move that’s been rumoured since well before he would have had time to put together a proper list of candidates. “Our beliefs on how success is built in the National Hockey League were very aligned.”

GM Benning will be introduced on Friday, and he appears to be a fitting solution to the Canucks’ problem — that their present team in disarray. In an effort to placate the season-ticket holders, who have been dropping their season-tickets, so as to hold their nose with both hands at this year’s club, the team has made a concerted effort to divert attention to literally any other time. Linden represents the past — 1994, in all its glory. Benning now represents the future, and will set a course for the fabled Boston Model™, a dragon that grants wishes, which cannot be summoned unless you collect its seven dragon balls.

Okay. The Boston Model™ isn’t a wishdragon. But it may as well be, because it totally doesn’t exist.

Consider: If you’re hoping to copy Boston’s roster make-up, you’ll need the following:

  • The best defensive forward in the game. The best. So good at defence, people have noticed, actually noticed, a primarily defensive forward, and more than that, so good at defence that he gets tossed into the conversation for best centre in the game despite never once in his career having even a point-per-game season.
  • A giant, an actual giant, the type you would find at the end of a beanstalk, fee-fie-foe-fumming his way around a golden goose, who also happens to be the best shutdown defenceman in the game, bar none, full stop, and the second-toughest, meanest, nastiest motherf — shut your mouth, I’m just talkin’ bout Chara.
  • The first-toughest, meanest, nastiest player in hockey, and by player, I mean skater who can actually play, and quite well. He doesn’t just punch, he can also score, can play on your first line, or your second line, and while he’s out there contributing, there’s also a pretty good chance he’s going to try to murder you, because he doesn’t respect anybody, because he knows that if anyone calls him out for being a dirty player prone to dirty garbage (like so), which he most certainly is, he can just punch their throat out from the space between their shoulders and their head and skate away none the worse for wear.
  • A bunch of other really good players — enough to make four full lines and three full defensive pairings, and a really good goalie behind them all so if having a complete roster, dotted with talent, top-to-bottom isn’t enough, that guy can also steal the occasional game, because regardless of how good your team is, there’s a chance it still won’t be enough, and you’ll need a goalie to stand on his head.

In summary: Worst. Scavenger hunt. Ever.

The Boston Model is a myth. The Bruins are a great team not because they targeted certain types of players, but because they put together a core of some great players, then they surrounded them with a complete team’s worth of good players (plus Shawn Thornton) thanks to savvy drafting, trades, and free agent signings.

It’s not a unique approach. Prior to calling it the Boston Model, people were calling it the Red Wings Model. In fact, Peter Chiarelli, the Bruins’ GM, basically said exactly that. From an article titled Bruins’ Chiarelli built winner using Red Wings’ model:

“I have great respect for that organization. Great respect for [general manager] Kenny Holland, [coach] Mike Babcock, the Ilitch family. I followed them for a lot of years — maybe that long, 23 years,” Chiarelli said during a press conference at TD Garden on Monday.

“Kenny, I got to know him a little better during the [2014 Sochi] Olympics. He’s very bright. He looks at things a lot of different ways, a lot of different angles, to get a solution. And then you can see that in their [player] development. They like developing people in the minors, but they also find players elsewhere in trades and in free agents, and that’s what we try and do.”

Call it the Boston Model™. Call it a MacGuffin. Call it what you want. Either way, it’s the goal of every single team in the NHL, or heck, every single team in every single sport: Have a lot of good players. Preferably more than the other team.

And it was the Canucks’ major failing this year and last. They had some good players, no doubt, but they didn’t have nearly enough of them. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler aren’t going to cut it. You need guys that can step up when the core’s not going. The Canucks had none, thanks to a bunch of trades, signings, and drafts that didn’t pan out. They were a Kinder surprise with no toy, no surprise.

This is where Benning should help. He’s got a lot of experience in a lot of different areas, but his best skill seems to be as a talent evaluator. Consider this nugget, juxtaposing the Canucks’ head scout with Benning’s time in the same role in Buffalo:

 

If Benning can bring anything even remotely close to that level of success to Vancouver, there’s a good chance the team will be able to ice a full lineup of contributors. And when you’re turning up NHLers all over the place, you’re bound to turn up one or two that can’t just be photocopied onto other teams.

Then maybe people start talking about the Vancouver model.

15 comments

  1. Dave
    May 22, 2014

    Faberge eggs are amazing on the inside too, guys. The 2013-14 Canucks were no Faberge egg.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      May 22, 2014

      DAMMIT. I knew my lack of experience with Faberge eggs would be the death of me. I’ve amended that section to be more in keeping with the eggs I know well.

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      • Gary
        May 22, 2014

        Scotch eggs? Best bit on the outside, disappointingly only an egg on the inside. And no scotch involved. So the canucks were all sausage meat and no egg or alcohol. Probably not the best egg related analogy? Dr Eggman from Mario? Easter egg? They’re generally hollow with a disappointingly small piece of chocolate inside. I’m struggling now…

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        • tj
          May 22, 2014

          Conclusion: Egg analogies, like egg-related pseudo-philosophy involving chickens and roads, are not the best blog material…

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        • iain
          May 23, 2014

          the 2013-14 Canucks were more like a Scots meat pie. an odiferous, greasy, gelatinous grey ooze (entirely lacking in anything discernible as meat) encased in soggy, greasy cardboard-like pastry.

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  2. pavo
    May 22, 2014

    A pretty depressing thought if Linden was actually told by ownership to hire Benning, instead of arriving at that conclusion via his own research.

    Fingers crossed that Benning is his own man and is able to curtail ownership’s meddling in hockey decisions. Yes, Benning could be fired too, but hopefully FA has smartened up sufficiently to realise that the next time the *** hits the fan, it will land mostly on him.

    I suppose time will tell.

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  3. BBoone
    May 23, 2014

    If you look at the NE Patriots and Sesttle Seahawks
    You see non meddling ownership ,excellent management and great coaching
    Their player development model is good drafting and scouting
    100 % player accountability and management commitment to getting better
    At every level . Every player regardless of their past performance is expendable if their performance falters. The NFL has the huge advantage of not having guaranteed contracts
    But putting excellence and performance as the yardstick is the only ”
    model” Note this is everything that last years Canucks were not.
    Pay close attention to the present and future cap , Obtain really good players with every move at every position , never hold onto or pay for past performance
    And let the players skill sets dictate the style and then fine tune that. Let’s call that the sensible model .

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    • Lance Uppercut
      May 24, 2014

      BBoone, obviously you did not have your résumé in for the position bc you would’ve got the job weeks earlier. Well said. Too bad people with logical thinking don’t often make into management .

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  4. Tengeresz
    May 23, 2014

    Th Boston Model also includes Gooning it up so much that the Refs can’t call everything, and using that to distract, intimidate, or goad other teams into making mistakes or taking their better players out with penalties.

    I hope the Vancouver model is more about skill, speed, and sportsmanship.

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  5. akidd
    May 23, 2014

    if the aquilinis really did choose benning it might not be such a terrible thing. i’m assuming that family has some pretty decent resources and connections available to them. there’s a lot of money at stake after all. having professional consultation is probably the prudent thing to do. but if fransisco simply went with his gut, or whoever talked the smoothest over the finest bottle of wine that’s another matter altogether.

    in some ways i think a team of qualified headhunters would probably be a better bet than putting all your hopes that trev, bless his heart, in his capacity as former player, local businessman and eyeglass model, with his time away from the game, could suddenly swoop down and identify, all by his lonesome, the best hockey mind for the job.

    what trevor does do besides being the spokesperson/face-of-the-franchise is firmly put the canucks back in the old boys’ club. and together with benning, closed doors should re-open, and ruffled feathers should smooth. it’s unfortunate that there are such barriers to the outsider simply coming in and doing the job on merit. sure gillis could have could have paid his respects to those old boys a bit better than he did but it’s still a little disheartening to see another example of ‘who you know’ trumping ‘what you know.’

    back in the club, and back in its place as a quaint, non-threatening provincial lesser-than vancouver should find a few more trading partners, get a bit fairer reffing, and hopefully not get too many more custom-made ‘screw you’ rules in any upcoming cba’s. it might take awhile but with enough prostration to the right folks the uphill should become a little less steep.

    i did enjoy the heady days of vancouver taking on the cbc, the cotu and our eastern overlords etc,etc. it got pretty heated for a while. and the ‘most-hated team’ almost got it done. probably could’ve used a bit stiffer defense from the local media in ’11, particularly concerning the abysmal reffing in the final and the diver label. they were just too abashed to call it like it they saw it in fear of the dreaded ‘whiner’ label. oh well, baby steps anyway for a young city.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      May 23, 2014

      Based on his track record, I think Benning is a really good hire. But I want to be honest about what we’re witnessing here, which is the Canucks in a panic, trying desperately to keep the building full. That’s it. But it doesn’t mean that they’re making terrible decisions. They’re not really making them for hockey reasons, and Linden screams figurehead/beloved stand-in for Aquilini more than he does “competent president”, but this could still work out.

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      • akidd
        May 23, 2014

        I agree, harrison. i wonder though how long trev will stick with the job. does he have the stomach for it? if benning can get things rolling a bit i could easily see trev moving along to something lower-intensity. I just watched the press conference and i found myself analyzing his poker face. he lied directly into the cameras before so i’m looking for a re-occurance( i think his tell may be the fixed stare into camera but i’ll have to back over the game tape:) lying seems like part of the job description and I wonder how comfortable he is with it. not very, i’m thinking. once they get a few bums in the seats he might very well do a lafontaine. i know i’d be thinking about it, if i were him.

        “They’re not really making them for hockey reasons…”

        tell me about it. i wonder if the “up-tempo” soundbite is aquilini’s . they really seem to be trying to tell us what we want to hear. benning said he wanted to get bigger AND faster and talks about getting back to team speed. but i don’t think the canucks are really that fast any more. benning seems like a serious dude and he’s got his shot. i’m guessing he’s going to do what it takes to win for the good of his career. unfortunately that might not be running and gunning for the moment. it seems like at this stage they’re just selling tickets. “team speed, creativity, solid core, playoffs every year, horvat, integrating youth…visa or mastercard?”

        we’ll see how she goes. it seems like they’re riding the line. maybe it’s do-able. but to play exciting hockey and make the playoffs every year with an aging core and a gap in the prospect line…seems a bit far-fetched. hope i’m wrong.

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  6. rvtBC
    May 23, 2014

    A lot has been said about Benning and his draft success with Buffalo and Boston. But as a GM (or any GM), I suspect a lot of success (and perhaps failure) is attributable to the scouting staff. How much of a GM’s success/failure rests on the advice he gets from his scouts? Sure, at the end of the day it’s the GM who says ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ on a particular player but I have to think he leans heavily on the advice of his scouts and the information they provide.

    If that’s the case, then seeing just how mediocre the Canucks’ scouting department has been the last decade or so, can we expect great success? Gillis had aimed to improve the Canucks scouting department and drafting and did make some changes in that regard; maybe the changes Gillis implemented will start to bear fruit and actually help Benning? Or maybe Benning goes to town on the scouting department.

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  7. bhglennie
    May 25, 2014

    It sounds like the model Scotty bowman used in Detroit.

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  8. iain
    May 26, 2014

    personally, I would have preferred the old ‘Montreal model’, whereby you got dibs on the best French-Canadian players before anyone else got a chance. still not sure how the Habs ever got that one past the Norris family…..

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