General manager Patrik Allvin feels strongly that his Vancouver Canucks needed a coaching change — whether the passionate fan base wanted one or not.
The change came Sunday when the Canucks officially fired head coach Bruce Boudreau and replaced him with Rick Tocchet.
The former coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes is the 21st head coach in the franchise’s history.
“Those decisions are never easy,” Allvin said in a press conference. “But at this point I felt there was needed a new voice to see if we can get this group to buy in, to play a different way.”
Talk has long swirled that the beleaguered Canucks (18-25-3) were planning a coaching change, and many criticized the organization’s decision to keep the 68-year-old Boudreau behind the bench amid rumours that management was already in talks with his replacement.
Jim Rutherford, the team’s president of hockey operations, said he’s been “too direct and too honest” in interviews, and that affected Boudreau.
“Unfortunately, it’s turned out the way it did. Nobody takes great pride in this,” he said. “I’ve known Bruce for a long time. He’s been a friend and I feel very bad about it. And if I’ve offended anybody in the process, I apologize personally, on behalf of the Canucks.”
Assistant coach Trent Cull was also dismissed Sunday.
In addition to the 58-year-old Tocchet, the team has added Adam Foote as an assistant coach and Sergei Gonchar as a defensive development coach.
Foote and Gonchar were both NHL defencemen, and Tocchet played 18 seasons as a forward.
While Vancouver consistently found ways to score this season, the team also given up an average of 3.96 goals per game. The Canucks’ penalty kill has been a liability, operating at league-worst 65.9 per cent.
Fixing the team’s back end will be a priority, Tocchet said.
“You can’t win this game if you’re going to be at the bottom of those categories,” he said. “With that, there is structure. There is some hard rules to keep the puck out of your net without sacrificing offence.
“Don’t get me wrong, but that’s one thing we all know that’s got to improve around here, absolutely.”
Change won’t happen all at once, the new coach said.
“We’ve just got to go in every day and take a bite,” Tocchet said, noting that he has work to do in evaluating the roster and determining where he can get more out of players.
“It’s just really small bites at times, slow it down a little bit. I’m sure the players heads are spinning and my job is to get their heads to slow down a little bit and just play the game.”
The changes come after the Edmonton Oilers handed Vancouver a 4-2 defeat Saturday, marking the Canucks’ third loss in a row and their ninth in the last 10 games.
Vancouver has given up multi-goal leads in eight losses this season and sits sixth in the Pacific Division, 14 points out of a playoff spot.
Boudreau — who holds a 617-342-128 coaching record over 15 NHL seasons — was hired on Dec. 6, 2021, replacing former head coach Travis Green. Under his guidance, Vancouver went 32-15-10 to close out last season and missed playoffs by five points.
The coach took some time after Saturday’s loss to stand on the bench and applaud the crowd as they chanted “Bruce, there it is!” to the tune of Tag Team’s “Whoomp! (There it is)”.
“I just wanted to savour looking at the stands because who knows if I’m ever going to get this chance again,” he said. “And just keep that in my mind and the memory, let it burn there forever.”
Canucks defenceman Luke Schenn said players continued to compete for Boudreau despite an abundance of outside noise and a disappointing string of results.
“Obviously, we feel like we let him down in the room. He deserves better. I think that’s on us as players,” he said after Saturday’s loss. “I’ve played obviously a long time and I’ve gone through, I don’t know, a handful of coaching changes. And a lot of time you do need a shake up and sometimes coaches do lose the room and I don’t think this was the case here.
“Guys enjoy playing for Bruce and in this room, we feel like we let him down. We wanted to continue to try to do better for him and unfortunately, just too many losses pile up.”
Boudreau made an impression on both the players and the fan base, Allvin said, but the decision to make a change was based on results, process and where the Canucks sit in the standings.
Asked whether he was concerned about rebuilding trust with the team’s loyal followers, the general manager said what fans really want is to see the Canucks succeed.
“I believe the fans here and the city of Vancouver is missing a banner up in the rafters. That’s what they’re waiting for, right?” Allvin said. “And winning hockey games. I think that’s what the fans want to see. And I believe that fans want to see a team that competes every night and plays the right way.”
After last season’s success, expectations for the Canucks were high heading into the 2022-23 campaign.
“Not making the playoffs would be a disaster for us,” Boudreau said ahead of training camp.
“But to make the playoffs we have to do better and be more consistent over 82 games, not just 56 games or whatever the number was. … I would call it a failure if we didn’t succeed in our goals this year.”
The Canucks lost their first seven games of the season and made history by becoming the first NHL team to lose its first four outings while giving up multi-point leads in each.
In late October, Allvin told reporters Boudreau still had his support, but weeks later, Rutherford publicly criticized the team’s performance.
“If we were playing in a real strong structure, it would make it easier for our defence to play,” he told a Vancouver radio station on Nov. 7. “And it wouldn’t matter who was on our defence. But right now, we don’t have that strong structure, and we need to change the makeup of our defence.”
The Canucks hired Boudreau before either Rutherford or Allvin took their roles in Vancouver.
The coach said Saturday that he believed his tenure was over after “certain things were said” in November.
“And it wasn’t. We kept going. We kept going,” Boudreau said. This last stretch was pretty tough. … The guys gave it their all. I’m so proud of them.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press