The arrival of Bruce Boudreau, while not an isolated event, was a catalyst for the team. The turnaround was shocking, inspiring, and immediate. So why is there talk of his not returning?
How Can Bruce Boudreau be “Too Successful”?
Travis Green and the Canucks came home to a very tense city. Yes, the team had just closed out their road trip with two straight wins. Unfortunately, the trip was five games long. Those wins were numbers two and three in the previous dozen games. Even worse, the first game back from a road trip is often a rocky one.
And it was. A cautious first period had calmed some of the crowd, leaving them too bored to pick up the “Fire Benning” chants. A trade of goals by Jake Guentzel and Vasili Podkolzin early in the second even brought some cheers. Then a Keystone Kops series of penalties left Vancouver repeatedly two men short, and unlike against the Seattle Kraken, the Pittsburgh Penguins will make teams pay. Guentzel finished his hat-trick, and despite the usual Thatcher Demko heroics, the Canucks went down 4-1.
That was it. Green was fired, Jim Benning was fired, Boudreau came in, and… then things got a bit hazy. Full-scale upheaval everywhere but with the players. There, it was strangely calm – especially given who the new President of Hockey Operations was. Big changes were expected, and soon, but it was understandable if Jim Rutherford wanted some time to look at his team first.
First Things First
Travis Green isn’t a bad coach. His AHL career totals are a respectable 155-110-33 with a Calder Cup Final appearance. This was with a team stripped of quality prospects in Vancouver’s efforts to recapture their 2011 playoff form. One thing Green does well is put structures in place. That’s needed when a team is against a stronger opponent. It doesn’t allow for a whole lot of improvising for more skilled players, but that wasn’t really the Canucks’ issue for most of his tenure, was it?
Coaching, of course, doesn’t happen in a vacuum. This isn’t a virtual hockey management game where you can move names around and let math take care of the rest. Green’s first three years showed slow improvement – 31 wins his first year, 35 in the second, then 36 in just 69 games for his third. A solid playoff run gave players and fans reason to hope for 2020-21, whenever it started.
That hope was immediately kneecapped by the owners’ decision to save money at all costs. That included losing every free agent, no matter how long their tenure (Jacob Markstrom) statistically successful (Tyler Toffoli) or locally connected (Troy Stecher). Even the relatively cheap and useful Josh Leivo was ignored. The effect on the players, most of whom had been working for a playoff spot for years, was considerable. Ownership didn’t outright SAY that they’d rather save money than reward the players, but they didn’t have to.
The result was two six-game losing streaks in a 56-game, COVID-ravaged schedule. Whatever momentum had been gained was buried in a cold grave. Players – and fans – had been abandoned by the team. Stumbling out of the blocks for 2021-22 was both unsurprising and fatal.
Is Everybody Happy!?!
Changes at every level are as clear a message as any team can make. The fans love it, of course, but players see it as a new start, too. The biggest difference between Boudreau and Green is probably player management. Bruce Boudreau is very much known as a “player’s coach” which in translation generally means they have room to breathe. The skilled players have a bit more leeway in how they can react to plays. But also the star offensive players – specifically Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson – are killing penalties now.
It wasn’t just a breath of fresh air on the ice, though. Changing what was largely seen as a two-person administration to include a range of people should – should – mean increased flexibility there, too. Only captain Bo Horvat has been with the team as long as Jim Benning. Every player on the roster can see the end result of Benning’s work. It’s not a great legacy.
The players didn’t change. Everything around them did. The relief was palpable, starting immediately with a seven-game win streak. The season carried on more typically from there. January’s record was a modest 5-4-3, for instance. It was almost enough to get the Canucks into the playoffs, sure, but something more than that happened.
It is fun again. Clouds passed. The new coach got mildly annoyed that fans notice him. Wyatt Arndt looked forward to writing game reviews without finding new ways to say “lose”. The difference between now and a year ago is stark.
No Problem Here
With fans, players, owners, and apparently Boudreau himself liking how the year has gone, why is there any doubt he’ll be back next season? Odds are very good he will be, but his contract is a slightly odd one. Originally described as a “One+One” deal – guaranteed for one season plus an option – it’s actually “One+One+One”. Both the team and the coach have the option of turning down next year’s offer.
Again, with the year ending almost as positively as it could, Bruce Boudreau will very likely return. But there is an extra consideration or two in the air. The first is that Rutherford isn’t the general manager – Patrik Alvin is. Rutherford was asked about Boudreau by Francesco Aquilini before he was hired. If Alvin decides to go in another direction with his coach, that’s going to be his call, not Rutherford’s. That will involve a payout by the Canucks, but they hired a general manager to manage. Presumably, ownership will stay out of the way.
The other side is Boudreau’s. He was extremely successful here, going 32-15-10 since taking over the bench. If he wants to see what other teams are willing to pay, he can. There won’t be any extra payout from Vancouver, but odds are good he won’t need to live off his savings for long. At 67 years old, he may want to coach a team that is closer to competing for the Stanley Cup. To be fair, that’s not Vancouver. Not for a few years, yet. And he can certainly carry his success to anyone willing to give him more than a single year.
Bruce? Boudreau Stays
If we were betting types, then we’d put our money on the extension not being picked up. Instead, look for him to re-sign with the team for two years guaranteed, likely with a team option attached for a third. Of all the coming issues for the Canucks, the coaching staff is the least of their worries.