Say whatever you will about the current state of the Vancouver Canucks…
Say whatever you will about head coach Bruce Boudreau…
And say whatever you will about Boudreau’s future with the Canucks…
We can all probably agree that Boudreau, at the very least, deserves better than the public castigation he’s currently being subjected to.
President of Hockey Operations Jim Rutherford, for one, has definitely taken our “saying whatever you will” advice to heart. Late Monday, Rutherford sat down for an interview with Sportsnet650 and then a couple of follow-up chats, and he did not mince words.
No matter the question, no matter the framing, Rutherford’s answers eventually circled back to Boudreau, and not in the complimentary sense. Though he avoided mentioning Boudreau’s name specifically, Rutherford made his complaints and disappointments plain.
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When asked about the Canucks’ blueline, which Rutherford had previously called “adequate when healthy” against the opinion of any reasonable pundit, Rutherford laid blame at the foot of Boudreau’s system.
Rutherford even went as far as to imply that it didn’t matter who played defence, and that it was the structure that a team played with that really counts. A patently ridiculous suggestion to anyone who has even glanced at the Canucks’ depth chart, but one that again eschews all responsibility for the Canucks’ start from management and places it squarely on Boudreau’s shoulders.
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Rutherford didn’t stop there. His critiques of Boudreau went all the way back to training camp, which he described as not having “enough extra drive and tempo”, before mentioning — you guessed it — a lack of “a structure to make it easier for the players to play in all situations.”
Rutherford also took aim at Boudreau’s lineup decisions…
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…his “loose system,” his lack of “accountability,” and the unsustainability of the team’s success under him.
In fact, if there’s one thing that was made perfectly clear, it was that Rutherford believes that the team that he and GM Patrik Allvin have put together is good enough to be competing, and that coaching is the primary factor holding them back.
“In order for us to become a better team, we have to play with a stronger system,” Rutherford said.
If anyone wanted to walk away from this interview with the comforting delusion that Rutherford was blaming “the system” more so than Boudreau himself, that hope ended when Rutherford was asked straight-up if he believed that Boudreau was a coach who could employ the sort of system that he felt the Canucks needed in order to succeed.
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Rutherford didn’t even offer a platitude. He refused to give his (still currently employed) coach a vote of confidence.
It’s not even like this is the first time this has happened this season, either. Earlier in the year, Rutherford went on After Hours and threw Boudreau under the bus in much the same fashion, even making sure to draw out the revelation that he took the Canucks job before he knew Boudreau was signed on to a two-year contract.
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All of which is decidedly unfortunate, and downright unpleasant, if we’re being totally honest. It’s certainly not a good look for a franchise to which Rutherford was supposed to bring some much-needed class and composure.
We’re not saying that all, or any, criticism of Boudreau is invalid. He does, after all, have the Canucks off to one of the worst starts in team history. If Boudreau were fired tomorrow, it might be controversial, but it would also be easily justified.
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This continual public bashing, on the other hand? That’s a lot harder to swallow.
Whatever one’s opinion on his coaching style, most have to agree that Boudreau is one of the more loveable figures in recent franchise memory. He’s been affable with the media, friendly with the fans, and possessing of the sorts of sound bites that haven’t been heard in Vancouver in a good, long while. During a time of turmoil, he’s been a beacon of wholesomeness and love of the game. He’s got his own chant, for Petey’s sake, through which the fanbase makes their adoration of him plain on a near-nightly basis.
The people love Bruce, and rightly so. No one enjoys hearing him named and shamed on the radio. No one.
Never mind the hypocrisy and lack of personal responsibility shown in Rutherford’s words. Did he not already identify the Canucks’ lack of transition blueliners as a major stumbling block to their success? To say that, then add the grand total of one Riley Stillman to the roster, and then proceed to criticize the coach for the continued shoddy performance of that blueline isn’t just misleading, it’s downright sanctimonious.
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It doesn’t make the organization look professional or ruthless or even cunning. It makes the organization look like one that is embarrassed in itself, and is looking to pass that embarrassment on down the line.
It’s not as if Boudreau is some rookie coach in need of redirection. He just became the second-fastest coach ever to reach 600 wins. He’s a living legend, and that should carry with it a degree of respect that Boudreau simply has not been receiving from management.
The Canucks’ front office already had an opportunity to part ways with Boudreau this offseason. Instead, they left him dangling in the wind for a while before bringing him back, along with a decidedly half-hearted vote of self-confidence.
But if Rutherford and Allvin had an opportunity to replace Boudreau, did not, and are now here a couple of months later stating that he’s the problem, who really made the mistake?
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Did the club not double-down on Boudreau’s run of success with the Canucks last year by running back nearly the exact same roster? Did they not make clear that they believed at least some of that success was legitimate and sustainable when they signed JT Miller — a player who reached all-new career heights under Boudreau — to one of the largest contracts in franchise history?
To have done so little to support Boudreau on the ice, and to be so actively unsupportive of him off the ice, has turned an already-ugly situation into a deeply bitter one. Battle lines are being drawn in Canucks-land, and that might not be a wise strategy for any involved.
Most fans already lean “Team Boudreau.” A Boudreau firing was always going to be controversial. Doing it after making so many statements like this is going to be received especially poorly.
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And if Rutherford gets what is plainly his way, and Boudreau is fired, to be replaced with a coach of Rutherford’s choosing? What then?
Is anyone really expecting anyone, short of the ghost of Toe Blake, to turn this team around?
And when the next coach can’t do it, either, who then does the blame fall to?