A year and three months ago, this very same author penned a piece on this very same website entitled “Bringing Travis Green into the 2021 season as a lame-duck coach was a short-sighted decision that only served ownership.”
At the time, that was exactly what was happening. Head coach Travis Green entered the 2020/21 season (which only actually featured games in the calendar year of 2021) in the final year of his contract. Despite having led the team through three rounds of playoffs the season prior, Green was not handed an extension.
Instead, he was asked to “prove it,” and given a clear message that his future was riding on the Canucks’ success in 2021. This author suggested that such an approach would create an unnecessary distraction all season long, as well as put unnecessary pressure on Green and his coaching staff to go “all-in” on making the playoffs.
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In the end, it all went about as poorly as any writer could have predicted. The Canucks took a big step back under Green in 2021, underperforming from the get-go and missing the postseason by a long shot. Then, a boatload of excuses — including Green’s lame-duck status — were busted out and, against all odds, he and his staff were then given two-year extensions, with the idea that the Canucks were going to go all-in again in 2021/22.
Two months into the season, Green and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner were fired, to be replaced by Bruce Boudreau and an evolving support staff.
Now, just a few scant months later, the Canucks are facing the prospect of sending another coach into a lame-duck season, with Boudreau’s contract only lasting until the end of 2022/23 — at most — and the Canucks reportedly hesitant to offer him an extension.
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Thankfully, they don’t have to worry about this lame-duck scenario going as badly as Green’s did. This one will turn out much, much worse.
To be clear, the Canucks have options. It has recently come out that both sides have an out-clause after the conclusion of the 2021/22 season — more on Bruce’s side of that later. That means that the Canucks could choose to walk away from Boudreau as of this offseason, or they could choose to extend him beyond 2022/23 as of this offseason. What they absolutely cannot do is leave it to lie for another full season. That, as recent history would suggest, is courting disaster.
The first factor at play is the message that leaving Boudreau dangling would send to the rest of the team, and it’s not a good one. On the one hand, it’s hard to imagine any other coach coming into the situation that Boudreau did this season and performing any better. He took a last-place team that looked like a last-place team and darn-near turned them into a playoff team.
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Boudreau also proved immensely popular among both his players and the Vancouver fanbase. Seeing him go unrewarded would probably ruffle some feathers, and raise some fair questions about what more he could have possibly done.
The precedent is kind of ugly, too: 23-29-4 Green was worth a two-year extension, but not 24-13-8 (as of this writing) Boudreau?
Letting Boudreau go after this season would be massively unpopular. But letting him twist in the wind for 2022/23 should probably be even more unpopular than that.
That popularity brings us to our second factor, which is the notion of going “all-in.” Bruce is a players’ coach, and his players undoubtedly play for him. It wasn’t Boudreau’s systems and set plays that turned around the Canucks’ 2021/22 season, it was his positivity and motivational skills. If the 2022/23 Canucks know that their coach’s future is riding solely on their performance, they’re going to see themselves as “all-in” on, at the very least, making the playoffs.
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And most would agree that the Canucks aren’t at a point in their development as a team where “all-in” is a wise strategy.
Speaking of development, it’s safe to say that this offseason will be one of great change for the Canucks’ roster. Players are going to be moved, trades are going to be made, and GM Patrik Allvin is going to put his stamp on the team. The course of the next decade or so of Canucks hockey is going to be struck.
Is this really the time for a coach with one foot out the door? The 2022/23 season promises to be an important transition year for the Canucks. If the front office is convinced that Boudreau is a possible long-term solution moving forward, they should sign him now and avoid the unnecessary distraction. Let the season be defined by the new roster and the newfound focus on the future; not endless questions about Boudreau’s contract status and whether or not the team still has faith in him.
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And if Boudreau isn’t seen as a long-term solution for the team that Allvin and Co. are building? Then now is the time to cut ties. Why waste another season before moving on to someone else? Use that out-clause and get out now.
The Canucks hope to be competitive within a couple of seasons. A coach should really be in place as of next season and given room to develop their own system for the years to come. A lame-duck coach doesn’t have much staying power, and the Canucks need to start building something that lasts.
Boudreau or no Boudreau, the decision needs to be made now. Again, as we mentioned in that old Green article, the risk is purely financial and rests solely on ownership. Any decision made now can be undone with a firing, something that can’t be said for player movement.
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All of which brings us to our final factor, which is that the decision might soon be taken out of the Canucks’ hands entirely. As we previously mentioned, Boudreau’s side of the current contract also contains an out-clause after this season. Given the miraculous work he’s done for the Canucks, one has to imagine that he’d receive some contract offers this offseason well in excess of a single season.
If the Canucks aren’t willing to commit to Boudreau, he’s well within his rights to cut ties himself, activate his out-clause, and sign somewhere else for a few years.
Moving forward without Boudreau might even be the right decision, but if it is, it’s probably one that everyone would feel more comfortable with the Canucks making themselves. Having one’s hand forced is never good, and the optics of the source of the “Bruce, there it is!” chant bailing on the team after a single season are not fantastic.
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In reality, the Canucks have less than a month to make their choice. By the end of the 2021/22 regular season, Boudreau really should either be handed an extension or his walking papers. Anything else is a disaster waiting to happen and, even worse, it’s a disaster that Canucks fans just lived through already a season ago.
If Boudreau enters this offseason on an expiring contract, there are three basic outcomes that might play out. One, he could use his out-clause to walk. Two, he could stick around for the season, be unsuccessful, and burn a year of the Canucks’ much-needed retool. Three, he could continue his success with the team, push them into the playoffs against all likelihood, and then force the team into handing him a sizeable, long-term contract extension anyway.
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None of those are better outcomes than the Canucks would get if they just made their decision now.
There’s a reason the phrase “lame-duck” is never delivered with positive connotations.