Last week, the Vancouver Canucks announced that Bruce Boudreau would be returning to coach the team for at least the 2022/23 season.
Some saw the drama surrounding the announcement, and the decision-making that preceded it, as unnecessary. Boudreau was, after all, already under contract for the 2022/23, and had more than earned the opportunity to at least finish that contract out.
The announcement essentially amounted to both the club and Boudreau publicly choosing not to use either side of their mutual out-clause, which would have ended Boudreau’s contract as of this offseason.
So, if Boudreau wanted to come back, and the Canucks wanted him back, why all the tension and uncertainty?
Under previous regimes, the answer might have been a collective shrug. But the Canucks are under new management, and now there’s a method to the madness. In this case, the way that Boudreau negotiations progressed is actually a good sign of the front office’s aptitude and fortitude.
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And it’s also a really good sign of where Bruce’s head is at, too.
GM Patrik Allvin and POHO Jim Rutherford appear to have decided very early on that they would like Boudreau to return as coach for the 2022/23 season, and how could they have decided otherwise? It’s hard to imagine anyone coming into the situation that Boudreau came into with the 2021/22 Canucks and doing a better job.
Even if you don’t believe he’s the long-term solution behind the bench, you kind of have to give him a full year to work with, no?
What they did not want to offer at this time, however, was any extension beyond 2022/23.
For his part, Boudreau clearly wanted to return, too. But from a business perspective, it would have been foolish for him to not at least try to leverage his remarkable run of success into some more guaranteed money. It’s speculative, sure, but it’s also very, very likely.
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So while Boudreau had probably hoped for an extension beyond next season, the Canucks made it clear they weren’t going to budge.
The theoretical standoff ensued, and then it intensified.
Boudreau always had the leverage of using his out-clause to look elsewhere, but the Canucks held firm.
Boudreau decided to return, extension-less, for the 2022/23 season, anyway.
What you’re reading there, folks, is a coach who could have easily tried to bluff his employers into a contract extension, and his employers not budging on their process and plan.
And that’s just such a refreshing change for this franchise.
Sure, it might not be the most popular way to do business, at least on the surface. Boudreau earned a lot of good graces from the Vancouver fanbase last season — chants and all — and this was viewed by many as fairly ruthless treatment of him.
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By all rights, he probably deserved an extension. But Allvin and Co. didn’t want to give him one, and they correctly bet that they could get him to return without any additional money being spent. And they were right.
It’s a negotiating tactic — again, if this truly was a negotiation — that is cold, efficient, and devoid of any complicating emotions. But it’s probably the way things should be done most of the time, and it’s a sharp change in direction for a team that tended to make emotion-driven decisions under the Jim Benning regime.
When push came to shove, Benning tended to fold like lasagna noodles. In their first test, Allvin and Rutherford stood as firm as week-old biscotti.
That bodes well for a franchise that is about to negotiate new contracts with Brock Boeser, JT Miller, Bo Horvat, and Elias Pettersson over the next three years — as well as for a franchise that is going to have to make some painful cap-cutting transactions in the near future.
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Was there risk involved in holding firm and not bucking up with an extension for Bruce? Absolutely.
Boudreau could have walked. He had the right, and there was probably ample financial reason to do so. But had that happened, the Canucks would have simply moved on to another coach without too much worry. They seem to have decided that the reward of having greater contract flexibility with Boudreau was greater than the risk of losing him and, again, they were proven 100% correct in their assessment.
Which brings us to why this whole thing is also a really good sign on Boudreau’s end, too.
Did he “lose” this round of negotiations? Maybe. He didn’t receive the extension that he probably desired.
But, you know what? Bruce decided to come back to Vancouver for another season, anyway.
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He almost certainly would have received at least a few multi-year contract offers from other clubs had he activated his out-clause and gone into this offseason as a free agent. There are seven NHL teams without a permanent head coach as of this writing, and that number is only going to grow in the coming weeks.
So, why didn’t Boudreau go through with his supposed threat of leaving for more financially-secure pastures?
Here, the answers are the opposite of what they were on management’s side of things. Boudreau’s reasons for returning must be almost all emotion-based. He wants to finish what he started in Vancouver. He sees potential in the players. He believes he can guide this team to meaningful success.
“I have as special a relationship with these players in Vancouver as I did with the guys in Washington on my first NHL job,” Boudreau told Vancouver Hockey Now ahead of his decision to return, “My dream now is to win as much as possible with the Vancouver Canucks. We started something special here and I want to see it to fruition.”
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And that’s exactly where a team should want its coach’s head to be at.
Let management be the ruthless, business-driven ones. Let the coach wear his emotions on his sleeve.
Let management view players and staff as assets to be exchanged freely. Let Bruce see his players as people — people worth giving up a little extra guaranteed cash just to stay working with.
There’s room for both within a single franchise. In fact, one might even argue that this is the way successful hockey teams are supposed to be run, even if that’s not the way it’s been done in the past.