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The Vancouver Canucks Have Already Left Their New Coach Speechless

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JANUARY 25: Head coach Rick Tocchet of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during the third period against the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena on January 25, 2023 in Seattle, Washington.
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Maybe Bruce Boudreau was on to something. On the eve of his firing, a reporter asked him about the timing of the drawn-out and shockingly public process to replace him as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks, and he pointed to the team's upcoming schedule. Having played their back-to-back games against Colorado and Edmonton, the Canucks could now offer Boudreau's successor a softer slate of opponents, two-thirds of whom are actively tanking. "I don't know the reason I'm still here," Boudreau said. "Maybe because the next games are Chicago, Seattle, Columbus."

However surreal it was to see a head coach muse about what awaited the team's next head coach in the coming days, it was equally surreal to watch the press conference introducing Rick Tocchet as that next head coach the following day. GM Patrik Allvin clumsily described the decision as one made that morning. (I guess we're to believe that Tocchet accepted the job, assembled a staff, and arrived in Vancouver for the press conference in the span of a couple hours.) And neither he nor team president Jim Rutherford seemed to understand why the Vancouver fanbase, and really the broader hockey world, has been so appalled by their treatment of Boudreau. They called the drama a product of media coverage. "It was the speculation that drove this," Rutherford said. It's no real surprise that they didn't grasp the role they'd played. In firing Boudreau, after all, they were scapegoating a coach for a host of poor roster decisions he had nothing to do with.

No part of Vancouver's dysfunction is Tocchet's fault, either; Boudreau wasn't the only one put in an unfair position by management. But given the "new stepfather" dynamic of the coaching change, the home crowd's chilly reaction to Tocchet at his first game as head coach was to be expected. Canucks reporters said the boos during Tocchet's introduction on Tuesday were tempered by some applause. About three minutes into the game against the Blackhawks, a fan threw a Canucks jersey onto the ice. Good luck, Rick. You will never be our real dad.

For one night, and one night only, the joke was on that jerseyless fan. To begin the Tocchet era, the Canucks outscored and outshot the Blackhawks. They looked in control. Chicago's high-danger scoring chances, which we can assume would have been abundant and real without Vancouver's stout defensive effort, totaled just five to Vancouver's 16. Were it not definitely the case that what Chicago is doing this season is far shrewder than whatever Vancouver is doing, the game might've even evoked warm memories of Boudreau's installation last winter, after which the Canucks won seven straight games to power themselves back into playoff contention.

This time, the magic wore off quickly. Tocchet's honeymoon period ended in his second game on Wednesday night, on the road against Seattle. They gave up five goals through two periods, and ended up losing 6-1. The classic "Bruce, there it is" chant—perhaps born of solidarity, but more likely of the urge to troll—made its way through the arena.

A new Canucks era has dawned. Recall that the Canucks just fired a coach so talkative he was nicknamed "Gabby," a guy last seen good-naturedly riffing at a press conference he knew would be his last in Vancouver, when his team was 18-25-3. If last night's postgame presser is any indication, Tocchet doesn't have quite the same mettle:

What made the Vancouver fiasco so strange is that it all seemed a high price to pay for someone who has no real record of success as a head coach, and certainly not the one Boudreau does. Tocchet sympathizers raise the Arizona Coyotes Objection, and say that to judge Tocchet by his tenure at a lawless clown franchise with lacking rosters would be unfair. Maybe you can spot the problem with that argument.

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