Looking For the Next Vancouver Canucks General Manager

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We went looking for clues about the next Vancouver Canucks general manager. What we got were impressions, implications, and a list from ceiling to floor.

Rutherford’s Search Ending Soon. Maybe.

The two big questions* in Canadian hockey were all about executives. One of those questions has been answered with the Montreal Canadiens hiring former player agent Kent Hughes. The other, of course, is who the new Canucks general manager will be. The Canucks new president Jim Rutherford has made some hires since joining the team, including the awkward timing on Bruce Boudreau. But he made it clear then that he was in no hurry to bring in a new general manager to replace the departed Jim Benning.

The soon-to-be 73-year old isn’t just looking for this season or even the length of his contract. He is looking for a general manager he can mentor. This is going to be part of his legacy, not just his employment. That’s going to be music to the ears of fans who are tired of the Management Carousel, certainly. But there are fans who want a veteran instead, with the names of past general managers Dave Nonis and Mike Gillis resurfacing. Those aren’t likely to happen, whatever happy memories some fans have.

Your Ships are Listing

Plenty of fans will have their personal preferences; that’s why the flashbacks. At issue with guesswork is that Rutherford and Company have been very careful about information getting out. With few certainties outside of his media availabilities, that leaves our favourite game of Unseemly Speculation! The names have been all over the map from former Toronto Maple Leafs executive (among other things) Mark Hunter to game analyst (among many other things) Jennifer Botterill. And even Botterill’s brother, former Buffalo Sabres GM Jason Botterill.

A couple of other names that have bubbled to the surface are former players Tom Fitzgerald and Scott Mellanby. Fitzgerald, while very qualified, is the current general manager of the New Jersey Devils. There’s no reason for him to accept a position that’s essentially a move sideways, especially as he’s only been in the position since taking over for Ray Shero in 2020.

Mellanby, on the other hand, recently walked away from the Canadiens when they made it clear he wasn’t one of their options to replace Marc Bergevin. He was an assistant GM with the Habs since 2014, following two years as Director of Player Personnel. What makes him more interesting to Canucks fans is his previous incarnation in Vancouver. The year after Mellanby retired as a player he joined Mike Gillis’ team as a “special consultant” – AKA “an executive without portfolio”. Whether that experience was actually useful to today’s Vancouver Canucks is a different question, but there’s nostalgia value there. Much like in Montreal, Canucks fans are a ridiculously committed bunch and every aspect of a potential hire’s experience matters.

Numbers Matter

Two names stand out here: Eric Tulsky and Alexandra Mandrycky.

Mandrycky might be too late to get as an option, as she’s currently employed by the Seattle Kraken. She’s their Director of Hockey Strategy and Research, which is a lot of words to say she knows her numbers. She spent two years with the popular analytics website War-on-Ice before being hired by the Minnesota Wild as their Hockey Operations Analyst. It’s not just a matter of hiring her on, but whether she’d be interested in leaving the new franchise. Many executives are in love with the idea of building something from the ground up. As damaged as the Canucks situation is it’s not a full rebuild.

Tulsky has been with the Carolina Hurricanes for eight seasons so far, overseeing their analytics department. He’s an assistant general manager as well and again, a prospect in an excellent situation that could be hard to pry him from. He’s been publishing hockey analytics since 2011, including work at FiveThirtyEight and The Washington Post. Obviously, it’s easier to see the effect Tulsky has had on the Hurricanes than Mandrycky’s in Seattle. Carolina’s signings over the past decade have been about finding value that might be overlooked by “the eye test” – exactly what analytics does.

In both these cases, they would serve as a stylistic counter to a from-the-gut guy like Rutherford, something he’s said he has a preference for.

Steal From the Best

If there’s such a this as an “overripe prospect” then the same is true of staff. Chris MacFarland started his NHL career in 2000-01 as Director of Hockey Operations with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Being there from Day One is an experience on its own, but he remained with the club for 16 years. His resume there covered a lot of ground, from scouting – pro and amateur – to player contract negotiations to NHL collective bargaining liaison. He even took over as general manager of their AHL affiliate for two seasons before leaving to join the Colorado Avalanche.

He’s been one of General Manager Joe Sakic’s assistants for the past seven years. He’s continued building an excellent reputation there, even as the team itself has rebuilt itself into a powerhouse. He has loads of experience in multiple fields. He was there when a team was built from scratch. He’s helped another squad go from regularly missing the playoffs into the Colorado Avalanche. He is absolutely ready for the challenge if Rutherford taps him.

The Race Goes to…

…Whoever Rutherford likes, frankly. The likely forerunner for the Canucks general manager job is – at our best guess – Patrik Allvin. Allvin has been one of the few consistent names in the running since early on. He’s worked with Rutherford before, with Allvin being a part of the Pittsburgh Penguins scouting department since 2006. If Rutherford is serious about “considering outside voices” then hiring the NHL’s second-ever European general manager would count.

Rutherford promoted Allvin from heading up the amateur scouting department to an assistant general manager. He was briefly the interim GM of the Penguins when Rutherford resigned, so he was clearly hand-picked for the job. Now, a year later, Rutherford may well hand-pick Allvin to replace him once again on the other side of the continent. Allvin is back to assistant general manager now but Pittsburgh has given Vancouver permission to speak to him. They likely wouldn’t do that unless it was for a promotion rather than a sideways move.

Allvin’s responsibilities with Pittsburgh have increased beyond scouting, adding salary cap and collective bargaining agreement issues to his plate. But realistically, he won’t be doing anything alone – and not just because of the Canucks current president of hockey operations looking over his shoulder.

Shared Burden

Rutherford isn’t just looking for the Canucks general manager. He’s likely going to hire one or two more assistant general managers and place them into appropriate positions. His hiring of Derek Clancey fills the role of someone who has a scouting-heavy history. The other two assistant GMs are more likely to specialize in communication, management, and coordination – Jennifer Botterill or Angela Ruggerio would fit very well here – and numbers like Tulsky or Mandrycky.

One name that’s come out of the blue is Sean Burke. He’s worked in a wide number of positions for different teams, but most intriguing is his international experience. Burke also has plenty of general manager or assistant general manager experience with Team Canada. Just how much weight the short-tournament format carries in the NHL is difficult to say, but he has been a general manager at the World Championships, Olympics, and for the Spengler Cup.

There is still a pile of names out there who are intriguing. We suspect options with general manager experience are a bit less likely, but that’s coming strictly from impressions from Rutherford. He wants someone who will work with him rather than someone who’s done the job and might have conflicting ideas. He knows he’s not going to be the general manager past this contract, but that doesn’t mean he wants it to be difficult. Trying to reset the team will be plenty of that.

*Okay, maybe one more but let’s not talk about Jim Matheson right now.

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