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I Watched This Game: Tocchet talk overshadows Canucks loss to Panthers

Rumours of Rick Tocchet replacing Bruce Boudreau as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks proved more interesting than the game itself.
The Vancouver Canucks gave up two power play goals and scored just one of their own in a one-goal loss to the Florida Panthers. graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

On December 27, the Vancouver Canucks moved above .500 for the first time in the 2022-23 season with a 6-2 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Since that game, the Canucks have lost seven of their last eight games, plummeting back down the standings. The seventh loss came on Saturday night against the Florida Panthers, bringing them to a 17-22-3 record on the season.

But what happened on the ice in Sunrise was much less consequential for the Canucks’ season than what was reported off the ice.

An intermission report from Elliotte Friedman essentially confirmed that the Canucks will be hiring Rick Tocchet as their new head coach.

“We’ve been talking the last few days about Rick Tocchet and the possibility of him there [in Vancouver],” said Friedman. “When and if the coaching change comes, I do believe it’s going to be Rick Tocchet.”

This isn’t exactly surprising. It’s been apparent for a long time that Bruce Boudreau wasn’t the first choice as head coach for the Canucks’ new management group — he wasn’t their choice at all, hired directly by owner Francesco Aquilini before Jim Rutherford was hired as president of hockey operations. Rutherford was not even aware that Boudreau had a contract beyond last season.

“It was my understanding that he was going to get a contract for just last year,” said Rutherford on CBC’s After Hours. “He got a contract really for two years, and so he’s still got his contract. It wasn’t that we extended him one year, it was that we just lived by the contract he had.”

Rutherford has repeatedly and publicly criticized Boudreau’s coaching, saying that he “didn’t like our training camp” and calling out the team’s system and structure.

Tocchet’s name has come up recently as the Canucks’ preferred choice. He was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins while Rutherford was the general manager there. As reported by Postmedia’s Patrick Johnston, Rutherford and Aquilini were both in Las Vegas, where Tocchet lives, ten days ago.  

TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that a coaching change could happen in Vancouver in four-to-six weeks, which fits with the timeline of Tocchet needing to give four weeks' notice to TNT, where he’s been a commentator since he was let go as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes.

That also leaves plenty of time to debate the merits of hiring a head coach who made the playoffs just once in four years with the Coyotes, and then only because of the play-in round in the 2020 bubble playoffs after finishing 11th in the Western Conference. The real issue right now is that the Canucks have been actively pursuing and hiring a new coach while Boudreau is still coaching the Canucks.

It feels patently unfair to Boudreau to leave him as a lame-duck coach after repeatedly criticizing his coaching, knowing that his days are numbered. If this management group is determined to replace Boudreau as head coach, leaving him dangling like this is cruel and unnecessary, particularly when they have an assistant coach with NHL head coaching experience in Mike Yeo.

Just let the axe fall. Don’t leave Boudreau hanging. If Rutherford and the missing-in-action general manager Patrik Allvin don’t want Boudreau as the head coach, then fire him already, make Yeo the interim head coach, and then hire someone else. You know, like a normal person.

Heck, coaching this team feels like cruel and unusual punishment. End Boudreau’s suffering, already. 

Speaking of suffering, I watched this game.

  • The one thing that eased my suffering as I watched this game was that the broadcast turned off the digital board ads, likely because of a particularly bad glitch during the parallel game between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs. At least the only thing giving me a headache was the actual game.
  • This sure seemed like a close game! It was a one-goal game, with the Canucks only losing 4-3. Sure, it was only that close because they had the good fortune of scoring a couple of absolutely awful goals against a struggling goaltender, much like they did against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the score sure made it look like this was a close game, which is what really counts, right?
  • It’s stunning that Sergei Bobrovksy made 35 saves in this game because it seemed like he barely knew where the puck was most of the night. Jack Studnicka was so surprised that his gentle chip shot a minute and a half went into the net that his goal celebration was a literal shrug. 
  • Honestly, that goal celebration is so iconic that it makes me want to bump Studnicka up from the F that I gave him in my mid-season player grades.  
  • The Panthers responded thanks to a defensive gaffe by Tyler Myers, who was checking Ryan Lomberg in front of the net, then stopped checking him as Gustav Forsling fired a point shot on net. Guess who was then wide open to finish off the rebound. Yep, Lomberg. After he scored, he then mentioned that Myers had been having some problems with his TPS reports.  
  • The Canucks actually had some good chances in this game, which is why it was oddly hilarious that they only seemed to score on their worst chances. Myers gave the Canucks the 2-1 lead with an innocent-looking wrist shot from the point. Bobrovsky didn’t even move, frozen in place like the bemasked Stanley Ipkiss when he was told to freeze by the cops.  
  • There was no time for the Canucks to celebrate their good fortune as the Panthers immediately responded with the tying goal. Lane Pederson failed to get the puck out and Josh Mahura’s point shot was tipped in by Eric Staal, who was left alone in front by Ethan Bear. In Bear’s defence, he couldn’t anticipate the turnover and had another Panther in front of him to check.
  • The Canucks have a historically-bad penalty kill, so bad penalty calls are particularly aggravating. Dakota Joshua was bumped into Bobrovsky by Radko Gudas, who immediately went after Joshua as if he punched his grandmother in the face. Somehow, Joshua ended up with a goaltender interference call, the Panthers got a power play, and Aaron Ekblad hammered a one-timer past Martin to take a 3-2 lead.
  • On the Panthers’ next power play, the Canucks were anticipating the Ekblad one-timer and ended up with both Curtis Lazar and Ethan Bear cheating towards him. Not only were they unable to prevent Ekblad from blasting a puck on net, but with both Lazar and Bear on Ekblad and Will Lockwood trying to check Sam Reinhart as he retrieved Ekblad’s rebound, that left Aleksander Barkov all alone for Reinhart’s cross-seam pass and a wide-open net. The Canucks’ penalty kill is so bad, you guys.
  • It felt like the only reason the Canucks were able to kill the Panthers’ third power play is that they didn’t get a clear for the first minute-and-a-half of the penalty, which meant Elias Pettersson was stuck on the ice for a long shift, with the upshot being that Pettersson was able to defend the majority of the power play and help actually take away shooting and passing lanes. You know, like a penalty killer.
  • It looked like Myers had scored his second goal of the game in the third period after a strong shift saw Bobrovsky rob J.T. Miller and Bo Horvat. After Bobrovsky kicked aside his diving shot, Horvat slid into the post, knocking it off its moorings, so that the net was off when Myers slapped in the rebound. Was Horvat shoved into the post by Forsling? Maybe. Did the refs care? No.
  • The Canucks finally cashed in on one of their five power plays midway through the third. It looked like Elias Pettersson finally had his first power play goal of the season when he clapped in a long one-timer from the point but the goal was eventually awarded to Horvat — his 30th of the season! — who tipped it ever so slightly. If you slow down the replay, you can see the puck barely tick off Horvat’s stick and start to wobble a little bit more.
  • Honestly, I kind of hope Pettersson has a 50-goal season while not scoring a single goal on the power play. That would be incredible.
  • It was a great play by Pettersson nonetheless. He spotted Miller skating up the left wing and sent a bank pass off the end boards for an unconventional power play zone entry. Miller swooped behind the net and Bobrovsky lost his goal stick to his own defenceman as he followed him, throwing the already unsteady goaltender even more off-balance for when Pettersson sent his shot towards the net.
  • Once again, trailing by one in the final minute, Boudreau sent out an odd player instead of the team’s fourth-leading scorer, Andrei Kuzmenko. Against the Tampa Bay Lightning, it was Lazar, who was robbed on a last-second chance. Saturday against the Panthers, it was Pederson, despite his earlier giveaway that led to a goal against. As Benoit Blanc would say, it makes no damn sense.
  • Like Lazar, Pederson had a chance to tie the game, but his unconsidered whack at a rebound went right into Bobrovsky’s pad. Would the calm-as-a-cucumber Kuzmenko have been more likely to corral that rebound and tuck the puck up under the bar instead? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we’ll never know. 
  • "I wake up every day and go to work until they tell me not to," said Boudreau after the game.