The Vancouver Canucks’ 2021-22 season turned on a dime on December 5.
That’s when the Canucks fired Jim Benning as general manager and Travis Green as head coach, bringing in Bruce Boudreau. It was an intriguing hire because Boudreau had rescued a flailing franchise before, taking the 2007-08 Washington Capitals from the NHL basement to the playoffs when he was brought in after 21 games.
Boudreau wasn’t quite able to repeat that feat — the Canucks are all-but guaranteed to miss the playoffs after struggling through March — but he did improve the team. Canucks fans embraced the new bench boss when the Canucks rattled off seven-straight wins after he was hired, serenading him with chants of “Bruce, there it is.”
The Canucks have gone 24-13-8 so far under Boudreau, which would put them on pace for 102 points over the course of a full 82-game season. While there are still 12 games remaining this season for that record to change, 102 points is not just a playoff pace, it would be the fifth-most points in franchise history.
It seems obvious that Boudreau will be back behind the bench for the Canucks next season to see if he can replicate or improve upon those results if he can coach the team right from the start of training camp.
Except, maybe not.
There have been rumblings that Boudreau’s return isn’t quite as certain as it might seem. NHL insiders have begun to chime in on the subject, suggesting that Boudreau might not return.
“There is a possibility that Boudreau might not be coming back next year,” said Elliotte Friedman on the 32 Thoughts Podcast. “He’s done an unbelievable job there…he helped fill that building and bring some fans back and create some excitement and get them going the right way but it hardly seems like a one hundred per cent foregone conclusion that he is coming back next season, which I find incredibly hard to believe.”
“Jim Rutherford wants to make sure 100 percent that Bruce Boudreau is his guy,” said John Shannon on an appearance on Sekeres & Price. “And perhaps there's a little bit on Bruce's side that he wants to make sure he wants to stay in Vancouver, too.”
“I'm just not so sure that for Rutherford and Allvin he's the guy they want long term,” said Jeff Marek on Halford & Brough in the Morning. “I don't understand it. I don't agree with it.”
It’s important to keep in mind that Boudreau was not hired by Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin or by president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford, although Rutherford was consulted on Boudreau’s hiring. Boudreau was hired directly by owner Francesco Aquilini.
Most new general managers choose to hire their own head coach, so it would be completely understandable if Allvin and Rutherford wanted to put their own man in place — someone who reflects their ideals and philosophy for running a hockey team.
That might not be the most popular move with Canucks fans, who have grown to love Boudreau for both the results he’s gotten on the ice and his personality.
Here’s the other side of it: it’s not entirely the Canucks’ call.
When Boudreau was hired, it was reported that he had a two-year deal, which meant he wasn’t your typical interim coach on a temporary contract. Except, it turns out it wasn’t actually a two-year deal, as unearthed by Friedman.
Boudreau actually has a one-year deal with an option for the second year. The Canucks can exercise that option and sign him for a second year, at which point they would probably want to sign him to a contract extension so that he doesn’t enter next season as a lame duck coach.
If the Canucks don’t exercise that option, Boudreau gets paid an unknown amount.
Boudreau, however, also has the option to go on the open market. With the way he turned around the Canucks season, he may well have garnered interest from other NHL teams. If Boudreau exercises that option, he doesn’t get the payment that he would if the Canucks chose not to bring him back.
So, both the Canucks and Boudreau have to be in agreement in order for him to return next year. If either side is at all uncertain, negotiations between them could be very interesting.