The biggest topics during Jim Rutherford’s press conference on the Canucks’ future
4 months ago
When Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford began today’s press conference, it was to update the public on Tanner Pearson’s ongoing injury issues.
That conference ended after about 20 minutes or so. Then a new half hour-long presser began.
Rutherford fielded questions on a number of topics surrounding the team’s future, from team building process, to the salary cap, to tanking. That’s why we’ve picked out some of the biggest topics discussed in the press conference and have included his answers to those questions.
The early returns: “I’m disappointed in the job I’ve done at this point.”
“I’m disappointed in the job I’ve done at this point,” Rutherford said about his year on the job.
“When I first came here, I talked about getting control of the cap. Getting the cap back to where it is, getting rid of some contracts and we’ve been able to do that. Now the opportunity hasn’t been there, but it’s still my job to get it done. Until we do that, we’re not going to be able to make the kinds of changes that we need to make, or certainly the changes we need to make to put ourselves in a better position.”
But he hesitated to suggest the problem is with the core of the team itself. “The changes we need to make are not with the core players. The changes we need to make are the other players on the team, and it could end up being core players.”
He also let it be known that the job is going to take more work than he initially anticipated.
“When I came here, I knew it was going to be a big challenge. And I thought we were gonna have to do minor surgery. Have I changed my position? Yeah, we have to do major surgery.”
Cap situation: “We’re stuck with contracts we can’t move’
When it came to the team’s cap situation, Rutherford admitted how difficult it’s been to improve that issue. But he also feels that they can still fix the team into a playoff contender within three years, despite the stumbling block their existing contracts are providing.
“The trades that we make are trying to get players 26-25 years or younger and bringing this team together within the next year or two. This was never going to be a quick fix. There’s a long game here. But I don’t want to sit here and preach patience, because I know the frustration of the fans and the media and everybody wants it done sooner than later just like I do. But in a cap world it’s not that easy to do. It’s not like we’ve had deal trades on the table that we walked away from,” Rutherford said.
“All the core players aren’t going to end up still being here. But we haven’t had the opportunity to take those steps. We’re halfway through the season, and we’re stuck with contracts that we can’t move. Until we move those out or until they expire, It’s going to be hard to make those changes.”
But when asked about the need to give J.T. Miller a lengthy contract extension, further squeezing their remaining salary cap in the process, he argued that Miller’s contract won’t be an issue when the salary cap goes up.
“You have to have some of those players okay. The cap is going to keep going up and up, by the time we get to a point if you want to use J.T.’s contract, for example, the cap’s gonna be $90 or $95 million. That contract is not going to affect what the Canucks do several years down the road. So you have to have some of those players. And we are taking a step back whether we want to or not. And we’re not happy about that. I’m not laughing about it. But the fact of the matter is, we’re in the process of taking a step back.”
A lot of what Rutherford was pitching to the market sounded eerily similar to statements made by the previous front office regime, and he didn’t exactly deny that fact.
“I can’t speak for what was done in the past, I’m only speaking for myself. It’s my viewpoint that this is the way we should go. When I talk about what we’re doing, we’re trying to bring younger players in and to help develop these younger players as they’re playing. So some of the changes we make when we get to free agency, we may add an older guy, but it’s not like we’re going to go trade for an older guy or we’re going to give a first round pick for an older guy. We’re going to stick to the plan of keeping our draft picks, trying to add more draft picks and trying to add younger players break them trying to bring them together, hopefully together sooner than their three-year plan.”
Fan frustration: Just disgruntled employees?
Rutherford noted that there’s been growing frustration among the fanbase, but he also seemed to place the blame for it on people who know former employees let go under his watch, rather than the product on the ice.
“There were 32 people since I’ve come that are not with the Vancouver Canucks hockey club, and since that we’ve added 24 people. So when you have those kinds of changes, there’s gonna be people upset. There’s people out there that have friends that have worked here, and there’s people that have connections. And so of course, you’re gonna have people that feel that way.”
Boudreau: ‘Bruce is our coach’; ‘I have [talked to new coaching candidates]’
It only took Rutherford a few minutes to go from temporarily taking head coach Bruce Boudreau off the chopping block to immediately throwing him back onto it.
When asked about Boudreau’s future behind the bench after reports that the team was planning to replace him with Rick Tocchet within the month, Rutherford seemed to offer the semblance of an olive branch.
“There’s lots of speculation out there, Bruce is our coach now,” Rutherford said. “When we got off to a slow start this year we, the hockey staff, watched the coaching staff closer. There’s been times where we’ve had real good runs, and the team has played pretty well and there’s been times where we haven’t, and why is that? And when I say this, I’m not pointing this at Bruce, you know. Bruce is a friend, I really like Bruce and he’s done good work. But this is what we review all the time and try to make a decision.”
“So all I can say is that Bruce is our coach right now.”
Rutherford then immediately wrote Boudreau’s death sentence when he was asked if he had spoken to any new head coaching candidates.
“We have. I’ll say I have and I’m not going to get into names. And this is even going back a couple of months ago that I have. I have called a few people to talk to people, yes… but with that, it was clear that I’m calling and talking but I don’t know that we’re making a change, and don’t want to make a change.”
Say what you will about Rutherford, but you don’t need to read tea leaves to know how this increasingly uncomfortable situation is going to play out.
His own future: ‘If I have health issues, I’m out’
When asked about his willingness to be in Vancouver for the long haul Rutherford maintained he was fully committed, health permitting. “Yeah, I am. If I have health issues, then I’m out. Then I can’t do it. But I like a challenge, and man, I’ve got a challenge.”
Tanking: ‘I thought we were tanking’
With the team’s record in a near-freefall, Rutherford was asked about why the team wasn’t interested in tanking to accumulate draft picks and prospects to build a better team in the future at the cost of fielding a mediocre team now. He responded with a pretty clear about face.
“I thought we were tanking. We’re pretty close to the bottom.”
He then proceeded to describe ‘game fixing’ as opposed to tanking. “I would never, running the team, go and tell the coach or the players ‘don’t play hard for this game’. They have a job to do, to come to work every game and try to win that game.”
Rebuild or retool?
As many have before him, Rutherford refused to use the term “rebuild” to describe what the team is doing. But more importantly, he emphasized his belief that the current core group is good enough to win if they start playing like a team.
“We played a game here a week ago against Colorado. And you look at how that game was played. That was played like a team that wanted to win at all costs. How many of those games have we seen? We don’t see many of those games here. You gotta be all in. You can’t just be happy to live in a beautiful city, get paid a lot of money to come to the rink, to just play and go home. There has to be attention to details, there has to be accountability, all those things that are very important to become a regular playoff team. And that’s what we have to work on.”
We’ll see in the coming weeks whether or not that can change.
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