For an organization that has spent almost its entire existence making anything happen, how much hype Vancouver Canucks breed It is definitely oversized. Three Stanley Cup Finals lost is the sum of their 53-year existence, and yet the drama they create always seems to seep into the larger world of hockey, even though they’re just asking for it. Perhaps due to their location on the West Coast, this is the only way they can get anyone to pay attention to them between sporadic bouts of competence, causing another kid’s tantrum instead of just doing what he’s supposed to do. Having sex with one of hockey’s most beloved players, Bruce Boudreau, is an excellent way to get into the headlines when he’s not playing you.
The Canucks suck ass this year, and it’s no big shock. But they don’t suck, or at least they don’t, in any noticeable way. They’re not really in the “Suck Hard for Bedard” derby, nor are they anywhere near a playoff-chase. They’re in the worst place you can be in a hockey game, a vague gray area filled with nothing and not heading in any general direction. Basically, Sheffield.
When things are like this in the mud and without changes, firing the coach is a natural turn of events. The Canucks need some sort of overhaul, they’ve had them for a very long time now, and they hired a new GM in Jim Rutherford about a year or so ago. GM wants his own coach, and Boudreau didn’t hire him. But it shouldn’t be that hard not to tell the world that you’ve interviewed other candidates for an internship before you fire the one you have, which is exactly What did Rutherford do?
Not surprisingly, the GM spoke to others before firing a coach. It wouldn’t be wise to fire a man and then make him up as you go. You want to have a plan in place. But this is all supposed to be under the hood so you don’t completely embarrass your guy. Especially when that guy is Boudreau, who players and fans always tend to love. You could do that with someone like John Tortorella, of course.
The Canucks publicly embarrassed Boudreau for this guy?
Maybe the most galling aspect of all of this is that Rutherford and the rest of the Canucks front office put Boudreau out on an ice float so they could hire Rick Fucking Tocchet. There is nothing to suggest that Tocchet isn’t the same moron that most every other NHL coach is, a beloved former player who keeps getting work because he was a beloved former player and that’s it.
Tocchet has coached for six years, two in Tampa and four in Arizona, and while neither roster was all that close to good, it’s not like he got any of them to play over their heads. He’s never come close to sniffing a real playoff spot (no, the bubble doesn’t count), and it’s hard not to notice his immediate replacement in Tampa, Guy Boucher, was able to goof a conference final appearance in the first season he took over. There isn’t even a raft of young players you could argue he helped develop into real stars. One gets the impression Steven Stamkos probably finds his way to 500 goals if he hadn’t spent two seasons under Tocchet’s tutelage.
But there was Boudreau, left dangling in the wind all week, perhaps with his bosses hoping he would quit in the turmoil and get them off the hook for what they owe him, coaching two games at home with everyone in the building knowing that he was going to get fired. And it seems Boudreau knew exactly why it was dragged out this long.
Could anyone possibly watch Tocchet’s work on TNT and conclude that he’s anything other than a pillock? What exactly about this doofus merits treating Boudreau this way? By the way, Boudreau has playoff appearances and 100+ point seasons as a coach dripping out of his ears. Generally, he knows what he’s doing, even if he hasn’t come all that close to a Cup.
Vancouver’s problems are not due to Boudreau
But even Boudreau couldn’t get it working in Vancouver, because they’re that big of a mess. In Washington, in Anaheim, and in Minnesota, Boudreau walked in and immediately rocketed those teams to the top of their divisions. In Vancouver, he couldn’t manage to keep the axles from falling off.
To be fair to both Boudreau and Rutherford, this mess was created before they arrived in B.C., thanks to the rudderless leadership that came before. Former GM Jim Benning never wanted to start over, but it is arguable whether the Canucks ever started either. Under Francesco Aquilini’s ownership, the Canucks have always grasped at the bottom playoff spots instead of starting from the ground up, which has led to a mangled roster full of players desperately nabbed and signed to ridiculous contracts simply because the Canucks needed someone. They traded for Oliver Ekman-Larsson just in time to watch his bones and skills turn to cardboard. Tyler Myers has always been a stiff, and yet the Canucks couldn’t help but be wooed by the fact that he’s 6-8. Conor Garland isn’t that financially prohibitive, but Benning gave up draft picks and more to get him and OEL when he’s just a guy, much like anyone else who’s put on a Coyotes jersey.
The whole organization is in shambles
The Canucks haven’t been helped by some younger players who looked like stars stalling out. Elias Pettersson looked like he would be what Karil Kaprizov is as a rookie four seasons ago. He’s never really moved beyond that and looks like a really good second-liner. Brock Boeser looked like a 40-goal scorer in his rookie year before getting hurt. He’s never been totally healthy since and has never taken another step forward, though a couple backward. He’s been a healthy scratch at times.
The Canucks haven’t really earned the trust of their players either, which Quinn Hughes gets out of the bag When he told the world he thought Tanner Pearson’s injury was poorly handled. No one at any lower level than Rutherford feels that he is being treated so well.
Rutherford also decided to extend JT Miller rather than trade him, and Miller was a great player coming off a 99-point season, but he’ll be in his 30s by the time the team is fit again. There’s nowhere to stretch Captain Bo Horvat, who’s heading for the exit door probably by the time you read this. What’s good, Horvat isn’t really a turnaround player for the franchise, but how do the Canucks plan to find that? They’ll have to hustle to get into the mix between Bedard or Adam Fantilli, and there are enough players who aren’t good enough for a contender but nowhere bad enough to see Vancouver bottom of the table. They really don’t have much rest in the cap coming in for two more seasons unless they can steal some blind spot on the other team (never out of the question in the NHL). They saw what a team built around Horvat, Peterson, Bowser and Hughes, which are a few of them, is capable of. Now it’s time to experiment with Hughes and a new crew.
But how did they get there? The Canucks have never shown any evidence they know how, and that’s just about the only tradition they’ve managed in their existence.