During the 2013-14 season, Jim Benning studied the Vancouver Canucks from afar.
Months later, the former general manager of the Boston Bruins is unsure what went so drastically wrong for a franchise that only three years prior had represented the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup final.
"For whatever reason," Benning told the Associated Press, "last year things didn't go as scripted."
Vancouver finished fifth in the Pacific Division, 12th in the Western Conference, and did not qualify the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08.
The punishment for missing the playoffs was harsh. GM Mike Gillis, coach John Tortorella and his top assistant, Mike Sullivan, were fired. In place of Gillis and Tortorella are Benning and Willie Desjardins, who are tasked with returning Vancouver to the playoffs.
With the Canucks set to begin their season Oct. 8 in Calgary, here are some things to watch for:
POWER PLAY: The Canucks learned what the New York Rangers had long known: Tortorella and Sullivan aren't the remedies for a malfunctioning power play. Vancouver had the second-worst man advantage in the West — and fourth-worst in the NHL — last season, despite the presence of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Jason Garrison.
YOUTH MOVEMENT: By his own admission, Benning and the hockey operations department could make difficult verdicts about the construction of the team prior to the start of the season due to the play of prospects Bo Horvat, Nicklas Jensen, Hunter Shinkaruk and Linden Vey in preseason.
"They've given our group energy through the exhibition (season). These guys have scored, so it's creating interesting scenarios and it's going to make some tough decisions in the end," Benning said. "They've had strong camps."
NEW DESJARDINS: The disconnect between Tortorella and his team was evident on the last day of the Canucks' 2013-14 season. The coach wanted the roster gutted, while his charges thought tweaks needed to be made in order for the team to qualify for the playoffs. Vancouver believes there will be more unity in 2014-15 with Tortorella replaced by Desjardins.
"Willie is the type of personality that the players all want to work hard for him," Benning said. "Everywhere he's been, he's got buy in from players. He respects the players. He gets them to compete hard, to work hard every night. I think with his personality and the type of players and team (we have), it's a good fit."
KEEP ON ROLLING: Tortorella favored a philosophy in which top players were overloaded with ice time. That will change under Desjardins, who told reporters in September that the Canucks "want to play with four lines." To that end, Vancouver added forwards Radim Vrbata Nick Bonino and Derek Dorsett, and defenseman Luca Sbisa, to add depth to Vancouver's skaters.
"We want to get back to who we are," Benning said. "That's a hard working team when (we) don't have the puck (and) when we do have the puck, have the ability to use speed and skill to create scoring chances and take the puck to the net."
CHARACTER CANUCKS: One intangible players, coaches and executives stress as being vital to a team's success is character. Benning is no different, as he praised the substance of the players he brought in this off-season.
"They're all hard-working, character guys," Benning said. "We brought in skill players in Radim Vrbata and Nick Bonino. Derek Dorsett (is a) guy who will do whatever needs to be done to help the team. Luca Sbisa is a physical, stay-at-home defenseman. I would say the one quality they all have is that they're all high character players."