When the full line-changing of the Vancouver Canucks’ guard occurred back in early December 2021, several assumptions were made that seemed fair at the time.
It was assumed that the sacking of the bulk of the front office and coaching staff was an indication that eight years of rebuilding had been a failure.
It was assumed that the current core of the Canucks had been deemed “not good enough.”
It was assumed that the new front office would be at least partially dismantling and then re-rebuilding said core.
All of these notions were supported by statements made by incoming POHO Jim Rutherford and incoming GM Patrik Allvin at the time. There was ample talk of taking “a step back,” of making “difficult decisions” regarding roster players, and of “restocking” the franchise’s depleted prospect cupboards.
Flash-forward nine months, and most of those assumptions have been proven false.
Not only has there been no step-back, no dismantling, and no re-rebuild, the Canucks have seemingly doubled down on the core that was supposedly “not good enough” by signing its oldest member, J.T. Miller, to a seven-year extension. He joins Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, Brock Boeser, Conor Garland, and Vasily Podkolzin as core or pseudo-core players all under team control for multiple years to come. All indications are that Bo Horvat will join their number in the coming months.
The most significant member of the team shipped out to this point has been Tyler Motte. The most significant future asset returned to the Canucks has been the third rounder that Ottawa exchanged for Travis Hamonic.
In other words, things have not gone the way that most in the fanbase and mediasphere thought they would back in December of 2021.
So, what happened in the interim to upset the plan?
The answer appears to be Bruce Boudreau.
The Rutherford/Allvin management team was brought in at the exact same time as Boudreau, but they were the ones given multi-year commitments. Boudreau, on the other hand, received a two-year contract with a double-sided out-clause after the 2021/22 season. He was very clearly thought of as a temporary replacement, a veteran fill-in intended to cover for a while after continuing with Travis Green became untenable. Most thought that Boudreau would just be there until Rutherford and Allvin could hire a coach of their choice on a more permanent basis.
But then Boudreau started winning, and he didn’t really stop. And in doing so, he changed how people viewed the Canucks’ core, and may just have forever altered the direction of the franchise.
To be clear, it’s not necessarily the case that anyone was wrong to make the assumptions that they did. The Canucks, for all their talent, were very clearly not good enough to compete — nor were they approaching that status — with Green at the helm. Just take a look a the raw numbers:
Canucks under Green
Canucks under Boudreau
The results couldn’t be starker if they were starring in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Under Green, the Canucks were not a competitive team — save for that one miraculous bubble run in 2020 — nor were they one that appeared to be heading in a particularly competitive direction.
Arguments can be made that certain components of the core, like Pettersson and Hughes, were still developing throughout most of Green’s tenure, hampering his ability to compete. And there’s merit to that line of thinking, sure, but by the time Green was fired, there were also significant concerns that the potential of the organization’s most talented players had stagnated.
At that point, most would have agreed that the core needed some serious upgrades and a few years of future-focused retooling to get to where it needed to be to compete. At the very least, most — including, if their initial statements are to be believed, Rutherford and Allvin — believed that some older members of the core would need to be shipped out in order to supplement the remaining core with some blue-chip prospects.
And yet, here we are on the cusp of the 2022/23 season, and the Canucks appear to be all-in on the core as it was under Green, right down to a commitment to keep Miller in the fold for the better part of the next decade.
This can best be understood as a big bet on Boudreau. Truly, his presence appears to be the only real difference between the Canucks’ core as they were understood before (substandard, inadequate, in need of another rebuild) and the Canucks’ core as they are understood today (on the right track, a few steps away, in need of tweaks and upgrades).
What else, really, has changed?
The bet being made is that the Canucks under Boudreau are more a reflection of their true selves and honest ability than the Canucks under Green were. It’s a bet on Boudreau really being that good of a coach (and on Green really having been that bad of one).
But make no mistake, it is a gamble. In committing to the current core, the front office is betting on the team continuing to play about as good as they have been under Boudreau thus far for the foreseeable future.
Based on last season, that might seem likely, but it’s important to remember that Boudreau has only coached 57 games for the Canucks to date. There’s still plenty of time for that small sample size to be proven faulty.
What will people say if the Canucks slip back into mediocrity this season, having already made a major monetary commitment to being competitive in the near future?
It’s a risk, no doubt, but it’s one that many in the fanbase seem comfortable with the Canucks making. If there’s one thing that can be said unambiguously about Boudreau already, it’s that he has firmly won the faith of the Canucks’ faithful.
But the Canucks’ doubling-down on this core is also a big bet on someone else whose name begins with a ‘B,’ and he’s a far more controversial figure in Vancouver.
We’re talking, of course, about Jim Benning.
Back in December of 2021, the banners were flying, the chants were ringing, and the sentiment was clear: Benning had failed in his eight-year run as Canucks’ GM, and failed big.
Flash-forward nine months, and this is still very much the House That Benning Built. All Rutherford and Allvin have done is buy a few new ottomans and hired a new majordomo, and now they’re trying to flip it as a luxury property.
Those aforementioned core players? With the exception of Horvat, all were acquired by Benning.
Those aforementioned multi-year contracts? With the exception of Miller’s, all were negotiated and signed by the Benning front office.
Is the new management team not saying, through their actions, that they believe that the core Benning assembled is mostly fine, and was just an Andrey Kuzmenko, an Ilya Mikheyev, and a Curtis Lazar away from competing?
Imagine dropping such an opinion on #Canucks twitter, or our own CanucksArmy comment section, circa November 2021.
Evisceration would have been certain.
Now, Rutherford and Allvin are sharing the same sentiment, and everyone seems to be alright with it.
Such is the power of Boudreau.
We are being slightly disingenuous here, as the new management team is almost certainly not finished making changes to the Canucks. Another RHD or two are going to have to be acquired at some point in the next couple of seasons, and one or more forwards are going to have be shipped out to make room.
But the core truth remains the same: a Canucks’ core that looked lost under Green has found itself again under Boudreau, and has done enough to restore belief in their long-term viability.
It’s a testament to Boudreau’s immediate impact that, in turning around the Canucks, he’s also turned around new management’s whole perspective on the franchise — and could, in time, change everyone’s perspective on the old management, too.
But that’s only if the bet made on Boudreau (and Benning) actually pays off.