They say that coaches are “hired to be fired,” and that idiom seems to be especially true in the case of Bruce Boudreau and the Vancouver Canucks.
In many ways, the writing has been on the wall about Boudreau’s impending departure since shortly after he took the position in the first place. The only difference is, these days the writing is in big, bold, 48-point font. Everyone and their dog seem pretty confident in reporting that Boudreau will be fired at some point in the next few weeks, and that’s created a situation for the Canucks from which it’s hard to imagine any positive outcomes.
Since everyone is already talking about his dismissal and Boudreau is thus operating as a lame duck coach from here on out, the opportunity to grant him anything approaching a classy exit have come and gone. Then again, that chance may have been long gone already, given every other slight that Boudreau has been subjected to in the year-and-a-month since his hiring.
POHO Jim Rutherford and GM Patrik Allvin each let the media know, fairly early on in the relationship, that neither of them had chosen Boudreau as their coach, and nor were they particularly happy with the choice that was made.
Both of them, but especially Rutherford, took every opportunity to toss Boudreau under the media bus. Unbidden comments were made about his contract status, his lack of structure, and how the Canucks’ inability to win was mostly on his shoulders, and certainly not on the roster that management had failed to do much of anything with.
Boudreau is one of the winningest coaches in NHL history, and now he’s got national media talking about his replacement while he’s still on the job, all the while his bosses are still routinely shredding him. It’s, at the very least, a disrespectful end to Boudreau’s time in Vancouver, and that could prove risky business for the Canucks.
There’s no doubt that Boudreau is already among the most popular coaches to ever tend the bench in Vancouver. How many other coaches have had their own chant (that didn’t precede with “Fire”)? None, that’s how many.
Given the Canucks’ general lack of success, fans could probably accept the firing of Boudreau at face value. But the perceived mistreatment? That’s not going to play well when the fanbase is already so clearly in Boudreau’s corner and so clearly not in management’s.
And fans aren’t the only ones who adore Boudreau. He’s always been a player’s coach, and these players still seem to love Boudreau, despite everything. Given that this particular set of players has already proven willing to call out what they see as organizational “mishandling” of their teammates, it’s not hard to predict some dressing room tension whenever the inevitable firing goes down — and if there’s one thing the Canucks don’t need, it’s more tension in the dressing room.
It all adds up to plenty of ill will, both within the franchise and without. It’s hard not to see at least some level of backlash occurring when Boudreau finally gets the axe. Fans will register their displeasure, and players might, too.
It also seems like the exact sort of situation that might scare any other serious coaching candidates away from considering Vancouver as a possible destination. Why would a Barry Trotz, for example, want anything to do with an organization that treats a coaching legend this way?
Obviously, that part might not apply to Rick Tocchet, who has a pre-established relationship with Rutherford and has already been speculatively anointed by most as the Canucks’ next head coach. But hiring Tocchet could come with its own set of potential problems.
Tocchet would arrive with some positive coaching traits, and even some in particular that seem particularly suited to solving some of the Canucks’ issues: accountability, emphasis on physicality, and a no-nonsense attitude. But he would also arrive amid a bevy of possible question marks.
Perhaps the worst outcome to a Tocchet hiring is the same outcome that followed the Boudreau hiring last year: a new coach bounce. If all Tocchet does is whip the Canucks into enough shape to just barely miss the playoffs again, nobody will be happy, and right now that’s almost a best-case scenario.
The only greater success that Tocchet could possibly achieve would be to genuinely impress his system upon the Canucks and actually start the long and arduous process of fixing their structural and fundamental issues. Even then, however, there’s a real pointlessness to the success. Why worry about making systemic changes with a roster that will need to be mostly upturned before the Canucks start seriously competing? Even if he clicks with the team right away, Tocchet really doesn’t seem like the man for the moment.
Then there are the genuinely negative possible outcomes. Tocchet does have a history of clashing with his team’s stars, including one former star in particular that is now on the Vancouver roster in Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
Now, that history does have some fans salivating at the possibility of OEL choosing retirement over playing another season under Tocchet. But that abrasiveness suddenly becomes a lot less appealing if Tocchet starts to clash with the likes of Elias Pettersson or Quinn Hughes, and that’s certainly not impossible.
At this point, the Canucks’ primary mission should be to ensure that Pettersson stays in Vancouver for the entirety of his career. With whispers already abound about his wanting out, do the Canucks really want to risk bringing in a coach with whom Pettersson might feud?
And then there’s the likeliest outcome of all, which is that Tocchet is unable find much, if any, success in Vancouver. After all, no coach has, and all but management are ready and willing to say that it’s because the roster isn’t good enough. The odds are that Tocchet will fail, too, and then where does that leave the Canucks? With more time wasted before the acceptance of a necessary rebuild; and with all the more reason to question Rutherford and Allvin, who will have finally had the chance to bring in “their guy” to coach and then potentially see it end exactly the same as it did when it wasn’t “their guy.” It will be one more reason to doubt management, and that’s one thing that the Canucks’ market isn’t short on right now.
Really, of all the myriad possible conclusions to the current coaching controversy, it does seem as if the best outcome might be the simplest and most boring, which is firing Boudreau and replacing him with an interim coach in the form of Mike Yeo.
It’s true that Yeo has helmed an NHL bench before, but that’s mostly irrelevant. Hiring him has the benefit of being an in-house choice, which should lessen the chances of a new coach bounce and hasten the move toward serious roster changes. It does nothing to fool anyone into thinking the playoffs are still within reach, and that’s a good thing for everyone.
There are some who would prefer Jeremy Colliton as the interim replacement, but that might be counterproductive to the team’s long-term plans. Colliton is finding success down in Abbotsford, and he should be allowed to cook there for at least the remainder of the season so that he can continue to insulate prospects from the mess occurring at the NHL level.
There may not be a good outcome to be found, but Yeo as the interim seems like the outcome with the least bad in it, and that’s maybe the best that can be hoped for at this point.