Jim Rutherford’s constant public criticisms of Bruce Boudreau’s system could come back to haunt him
6 months ago
Jim Rutherford is nothing if not brutally honest. But after some recent interviews, including an appearance on Sportsnet 650 Monday evening, his candidness has begun to verge on open hostility towards the man behind the Canucks’ bench.
The president of hockey ops expressed serious disappointment with the Canucks’ 3-6-3 start, and despite accepting some responsibility for the lineup’s lack of depth, Rutherford spent the vast majority of the 14-minute interview criticizing the team’s systems.
“This is not going to get changed in a real short period of time. I know we all recognize that there’s a real challenge here related to contracts and different things like that. But at this point, I would have expected better,” Rutherford said.
“I didn’t like our training camp, and we continued into the early part of the season the same way as our training camp was. There’s a lot of things that have to happen, but in order for us to become a better team we have to play with a stronger system.”
Calling attention to the team’s system is yet another example of Rutherford painting a target directly on the back of his head coach, Bruce Boudreau. The president of hockey operations has routinely critiqued Boudreau’s systems — or lack thereof — in the public eye, which has only become a bigger talking point since Rutherford confirmed he hadn’t known about the second year on the coach’s contract when he took the president job.
When asked about having the right people behind the bench, Rutherford once again all but refused to show a unified front and back Boudreau.
“When we talk to the coaches, we stress that the style that the team played that had success in the second half of last season was a loose style and it was more on the offensive side,” he said. “Our goaltender played great in the second half and really helped win a lot of those games or bail us out in wide-open games.”
“I don’t believe that style of play you can sustain over a long period of time if you want to contend for a playoff spot.”
With the Canucks embarking on a five-game Eastern road trip that could make or break their season, it looks a lot like Rutherford is setting up to make a coaching change sooner rather than later. But for anybody who’s been watching this team for the past month, it’s hard to see how a different voice behind the bench will solve much.
Boudreau’s decisions have been far from perfect, particularly when it comes to optimizing the skill of his younger players, and are more than open to critique. But the biggest issue at hand for the Canucks surrounds the overall quality of their roster, a problem that lies squarely at the feet of the front office.
Rutherford didn’t let the players off the hook for their part in the team’s struggles, either, expressing a need for more accountability after numerous blown leads. But even that came off as a veiled shot at the coaching staff.
“It’s understandable that teams are going to give up leads, it happens all over the league. But the fact that it has happened as many times it has for the Canucks in this short period of time, it’s a major concern,” Rutherford said. “Something has to be fixed when you’re winning at home 3-0 in your own building and you have the goaltender that we have and the players that we have. We should not lose that game and unfortunately, we did. Every point is critical to us at this point.”
Rutherford also addressed the lack of changes, particularly on defence, and why the team hasn’t done more to fix those holes. While the Canucks did make a move to acquire young puck mover Ethan Bear from Carolina last week, there’s a lot of work left to go on the blue line, and Rutherford knows it.
“We need to make [the blue line] younger, and we took a step forward there when we finally were able to get Ethan Bear. We’d worked at that deal for a few months but we didn’t have the cap space until we finally got creative enough that we could do it,” Rutherford said about the trade that brought Bear to Vancouver.
But, much like several recent interviews, Rutherford repeated his sentiment that the trade market he and Patrik Allvin had hoped for hasn’t materialized.
“That’s going to be the goal going into next offseason, that we’ve acquired more younger assets, whether it’s younger players, draft picks, and opened up cap space. That’s going to be a tough thing to unravel. We’ve tried to do it since last January, but the players that’ve become the obvious ones that are not going to be here long term, there’s not necessarily a return or even [teams] that are willing to take them.”
“I don’t want people to take this the wrong way, like we’re just pushing it off till next offseason. We’re willing to do something right now if something’s available to us.”
So while Rutherford is stressing patience with the front office in the trade department, he’s preaching the exact opposite when it comes to Boudreau and the coaching staff. And that choice could be a critical error for the veteran NHL executive, and his hand-picked front office, if the market they’re hoping for never arrives.
At some point, Rutherford will indeed get the okay from Canucks ownership to let Boudreau go and replace him with a new voice. But if the lineup the new coach inherits is all but the same as the one Boudreau was handed, how much will the results actually change? It’s hard to imagine this team experiencing any kind of boost like the one they had when Boudreau arrived last year.
But with the amount of public scapegoating the current coach and his system have been on the receiving end of, Rutherford seems convinced that a different coach will yield far better results. But in the likely event that the next Canucks coach can’t get the ship as currently constructed to float, who will be left to take the fall?
NHL executives often get to play the “new voice” card only once or twice per tenure. And right now, it’s worth questioning if Jim Rutherford is playing his far too soon.
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