A 57-game sample size was not big enough for Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford to commit to a contract extension for head coach Bruce Boudreau.
“We would be willing to have him back under the contract that he agreed to when he came here,” said Rutherford at the Canucks’ season-ending media availability on Tuesday. “That’s certainly not to say that at the end of next year we wouldn’t want him back if he continues to do the job he’s doing.
“I just feel as good a job as he’s done, it wasn’t a full season.”
The Canucks started the 2021-22 campaign with a record of 8-15-2 before then-coach Travis Green and general manager Jim Benning were fired in early December. Team owner Francesco Aquilini immediately hired Boudreau before Rutherford came on board a few days later.
“In our agreement, both sides have until June 1,” Rutherford explained about the timeline on a decision for Boudreau’s future. “Our talks with him have been very positive. He’s well aware that we appreciate and respect the job he’s done. We explained to him why we’re doing it the way we’re doing it, and why we want him back.”
“I told (GM) Patrik (Allvin) and Jim that I wanted to coach here next year,” Boudreau said in a separate availability on Monday. “We’re just talking right now and I’m sure, hopefully, things get done. But I think they want me back and I know I want to be back, so I think it should work out.”
— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) May 3, 2022
Under Boudreau, the Canucks posted a record of 32-15-10, a 106-point pace over a full 82-game season. They remained in the playoff hunt until the final week of the regular season, ultimately finishing five points out of a wild-card playoff spot.
But while the team showed promise, Rutherford was unflinching in his assessment that more changes are needed.
“We’d like to see our team play a more structured game and not depend on our goalie as much,” he said. “But we certainly feel that there are enough good players here to continue to build here in the next year or two toward getting to be a consistent playoff team and a contender.”
The off-season to-do list begins with professional and amateur scouting meetings this month, ahead of the 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal on July 7-8 and the opening of free agency on July 13.
“We’d like to stay with our same plan,” Rutherford said. “We have players, keep them in their mid-20s or younger so that the team can come together in the next year or two. There may be a case where it ends up in free agency, maybe a couple of weeks in, that a player in their 30s falls back and we may feel that that’s the right thing to do at the right price and the right term. But our plan is still the same.”
One of the club’s top off-season priorities will be handling the next contract of forward Brock Boeser. The 25-year-old is set to become a restricted free agent with a qualifying offer requirement of $7.5 million with arbitration rights.
“We’ve had positive talks with Brock and his agent,” said Allvin. “So we’ve just got to continue to do that.”
Two other top forwards, captain Bo Horvat and leading scorer J.T. Miller, each have one year remaining on their current deals. They will be eligible to sign contract extensions after July 13.
“When the time comes, we’ll definitely reach out to their agents,” Allvin said. “I had exit meetings with J.T. and I will have with Bo next week. They’re good players, so we want to talk about it, for sure.”
Rutherford’s off-season plans extend well beyond player personnel decisions. He announced Tuesday that the club will be undertaking a major off-season renovation of the dressing rooms and team services areas at Rogers Arena, and that plans are progressing for the Canucks’ first dedicated practice rink in franchise history.
The off-season schedule also includes the return of the post-draft development and prospects camp at the University of British Columbia from July 10-15, training camp in Whistler on Sept. 23-24, and the return of the YoungStars Classic and rookie camp in Penticton from Sept. 14-18, following a three-year hiatus.
With a view toward enhancing the organization’s footprint across British Columbia, the Canucks moved their AHL farm club to the Fraser Valley this season.
“This could be the best franchise in the American Hockey League over time,” Rutherford said. “When Francesco first came and talked to me, that was a priority of a number of things that we talked about, the importance of having that franchise here in British Columbia. And make sure you have good players there, so we have a good team every year. It’s very important to our franchise.”
The Abbotsford Canucks are set to begin their best-of-three first-round playoff series on the road Tuesday night, against the Bakersfield Condors.
Key players include Spencer Martin, who signed a contract extension that puts him in position to become Thatcher Demko’s backup on the NHL squad next season, and Vasily Podkolzin, the 20-year-old first-round draft pick who finished with 14 goals and 26 points in his rookie season with Vancouver this year.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for all those young players to get the experience of playing in the playoffs and playing important hockey in May,” said Allvin.
Carol Schram, The Canadian Press