If you believe NHL insiders, major changes are coming for the Vancouver Canucks.
Some Canucks fans might look at the way the team performed under Bruce Boudreau to finish off the 2021-22 season and believe the team could afford to stand pat heading into next season. After the coaching change in December, the Canucks went 32-15-10 — a 106-point pace over a full 82-game schedule.
Evidently, Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford feels very differently.
That’s according to Nick Kypreos and John Shannon. In an appearance on the Bob McCown podcast, the two NHL insiders intimated that Rutherford had some strong opinions on the current state of the Canucks.
“It’s broken,” said Kypreos. “He knows it’s broken…He doesn’t like the room, guys. Thinks it’s a country club in there. He’s going to change it up.”
The accusation of a “country club” atmosphere in a locker room is a serious one, as far as hockey culture goes. It means the players are too comfortable and not business-like enough, that they’re okay with losing and just there for a good time, rather than there to do a job.
When a team becomes too comfortable with losing, a major change is sometimes needed. The change in coaching and management in December seemed to shake up the Canucks in various ways — it made it clear that losing had consequences after the team had missed the playoffs in five of the six previous seasons without any consequences at all.
But, if the team as constructed is still fundamentally broken, more needs to change.
Kypreos said Rutherford is “going to make a splash” and Shannon agreed.
“You talked about the word rebuild there — nothing would surprise me with Jim Rutherford in Vancouver,” said Shannon. “The two key dates are what he can don on the draft floor on [July] 7th with a couple of his star players and then what he wants to do in free agency [on July 13].”
In other words, Shannon believes that the Canucks could make some major deals at the draft, with star players in play. According to Shannon, the Canucks’ untouchable core is Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes, Thatcher Demko, and Bo Horvat — everything else is on the table.
That list leaves out two big stars — J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser. Trading one or both of those players would certainly be the splash that Kypreos mentioned but it would also be one of the only ways to acquire a big piece in a major area of need on defence and recoup draft picks and prospects to rebuild the prospect pool for the future.
“He’s going to change it up,” said Kypreos. “What does that mean to Miller? What does that mean to Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, he’s not going to pay? There’s going to be a different look within six months of this team.”
There are a few points to be made here. One is that Rutherford isn’t the general manager of the Canucks. That’s Patrik Allvin, though Rutherford obviously holds great influence over hockey decisions as the president of hockey operations.
Rutherford hasn’t hesitated to pull the trigger on blockbuster deals in the past. He’s traded away big names like Chris Pronger, Brendan Shanahan, Ron Francis, and James Neal. He’s made major deals to acquire the likes of Paul Coffey, Phil Kessel, Doug Weight, and Mark Recchi. Assuming some of that boldness has rubbed off on his protegé Allvin, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some big trades in the coming months.
That said, Rutherford has also gone on the record as saying the Canucks don’t need a full rebuild.
“We're certainly not starting from scratch. There's a lot of good players there,” said Rutherford, also on the Bob McCown podcast. “If you look at the teams that did a total rebuild, it's nice to see those teams doing well now but everybody forgets about the four or five years they had to go through of tough years to get there…I would like to think, with the players we have, that this team can be retooled.”
Rutherford has also said that the Canucks will try to re-sign Miller but setting a goal and accomplishing that goal are two separate things.
Perhaps a retool is what is being described by Kypreos and Shannon — hanging on to a core group of four and making major changes around them to create a Stanley Cup contender. Or maybe the changes Rutherford and Allvin make to the Canucks this offseason won’t quite be so drastic.