The Canucks Finally Make A Change
12:22 PM EST on December 6, 2021
Apparently the quickest way to get something done in Vancouver is to throw a $150 replica jersey onto an ice rink. As the Canucks fell 4-1 in a lifeless effort against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night, a particularly disgruntled fan (out of the many disgruntled fans still left in the building) made their frustration tangible with the sweater toss seen 'round the province.
It was yet another embarrassment for a once-promising team that now holds a record of 8-15-2 on the year and sits in last place in the Pacific Division. But perhaps the insulting punctuation on this insult of a hockey game finally helped push complacent Canucks management to do something that will gruntle the fans. When the team steps onto the ice on Monday against the Kings, they'll be without four key employees who have all been shown the door: GM Jim Benning, head coach Travis Green, assistant GM John Weisbrod, and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner.
These moves—specifically Green and Benning—were a very, very long time coming, and possibly would have happened back in the offseason if it weren't for the anomaly of the COVID year encouraging one last chance. Green moved up from the minors and took over the Canucks at the start of the 2017–18 year, while the team was still bottoming out in a rebuild. He did initially make some very exciting progress, taking the squad all the way to Game 7 of the second round in the bubble on the back of some great goaltending, but the Canucks stalled out and finished last among Canadian teams in 2020–21. This year started just as bad, and most alarmingly for Green, it's been marked by ugly regression from young franchise cornerstones like Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser.
The arrival of Bruce Boudreau, who's replacing Green on the bench on a short-term deal, feels like the best possible move the Canucks could have made here. Not only is the former Caps, Ducks, and Wild boss one of the winningest regular-season head coaches in NHL history, but his personality also appears to be the complete opposite of Green's. Whereas the former Canucks coach earned a rep as an analytical tactician, his outgoing and quippy replacement is widely respected for the relationships he builds with his players. And Boudreau's major weakness—consistent failure in the playoffs—is completely irrelevant to the Canucks right now. If anyone has the magic touch that will ramp up this team's production and confidence, it's going to be him.
The front-office situation, unfortunately, is much knottier, and impossible to solve quickly. Benning's been responsible for this roster since the 2014 offseason. You can credit him for briefly molding the Canucks into a playoff team, as he used the draft to bring the core of that bubble run into existence, but his track record with veteran players—the next stage after the rebuild—is significantly shakier. Jay Beagle, Tanner Pearson, and Loui Eriksson all come to mind as jumpy signings made by the GM to signal that his team meant business, but instead worked against them as they struggled to improve their roster (or even just keep their best guys) while staying under the cap. With over $70 million in spending already committed to next year's roster—ninth-most in the NHL—and with Boeser entering restricted free agency, Vancouver has very little of that financial flexibility bad teams prize more than anything else. And if that wasn't depressing enough, the Canucks also traded away their first-rounder in each of the last two drafts for (admittedly solid) present-day guys, which only pushes their window even further into the future.
So this team is long overdue for a new vision, but the deeply felt flaws and long-term disorder of the franchise does not make it an especially appealing job. Marc Bergevin is reportedly a target, but aside from bringing questions about his disregard for abuse, he's also just a month removed from his firing from a free-spending team in Montreal that's playing even worse than the Canucks. I can't think of an easier way to send more jerseys raining down from the Vancouver faithful. But I also, personally, cannot imagine any quick escape from this mess short of Boudreau sorcery. It was basically just a year ago that the Canucks, despite their then-visible issues, were charismatic, bandwagon-worthy up-and-comers after years in the dark. It's scary how quickly the progress of a rebuild can all just dissolve away.