For an organization that has spent almost its entire existence accomplishing nothing, the amount of noise the Vancouver Canucks generate is certainly outsized. Three lost Stanley Cup Finals is the sum of their 53-year existence, and yet it feels like the drama they create always seeps into the greater hockey world, if only because they demand it so. Perhaps given their placing on the West Coast, it’s the only way they can get anyone to pay attention to them between their sporadic spasms of competence, throwing another toddler tantrum instead of just doing what they’re supposed to. Fucking over one of the most well-liked guys in hockey, Bruce Boudreau, is an excellent way to get into the headlines when your play won’t.
The Canucks suck ass this year, which isn’t much of a shock. But they don’t, or at least didn’t, suck in any sort of noticeable way. They’re not really in the “Suck Hard for Bedard” Derby, nor are they anywhere near the playoff chase. They’re in the worst spot you can be in hockey, a nebulous gray area filled with nothing and not heading in any general direction. Basically, Sheffield.
When things are this in the mud and shiftless, firing the coach is a natural turn of events. The Canucks need some sort of overhaul, they have for a very long time now, and they hired in a new GM in Jim Rutherford just about a year ago. A GM wants his own coach, and he didn’t hire Boudreau. But it shouldn’t be all that hard to not tell the world that you’ve interviewed other coaching candidates before you’ve fired the one you’ve got, which is exactly what Rutherford did.
It isn’t a surprise that a GM would have talked to others before firing a coach. It wouldn’t be prudent to fire a guy and then make it up as you go. You want to have a plan in place. But that’s all supposed to be under cover so you don’t completely embarrass the guy you’ve got. Especially when that guy is Boudreau, whom his players and fans always tend to love. You could do this with someone like John Tortorella, of course.
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.
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 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 let out of the bag when he told the world he thought Tanner Pearson’s injury had been mishandled. At no level below Rutherford does anyone feel like they’re being treated well.
Rutherford also decided to extend J.T. Miller instead of trading him, and Miller’s a fine player coming off a 99-point season, but he’ll be in his 30s by the time the team is relevant again. There’s no space to extend captain Bo Horvat, who is headed for the exit door possibly by the time you read this. Which is fine, Horvat isn’t really a franchise-turning player, but how do the Canucks plan to find that? They’ll have to hustle to get into the mix for Bedard or Adam Fantilli, and there are just enough players not quite good enough to make for a contender but not anywhere bad enough to see Vancouver bottom out. They don’t really have too much cap relief coming for another couple seasons unless they can rob some other team blind (never out of the question in the NHL). They’ve seen what a team built around Horvat, Pettersson, Boeser, and Hughes can get them, which is a handful of themselves. Now it’s time to try with just Hughes and a new crew.
But how do they get there? The Canucks have never shown any evidence they know how, which is just about the only tradition they’ve managed in their existence.