UPDATE May 13 4:45 p.m.
The Vancouver Canucks have confirmed that Bruce Boudreau will be back behind the bench next season.
"We are pleased to see Bruce's commitment to return to the Canucks next season," said Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin in a statement. "He has done a great job since arriving in Vancouver and we are eager to see the team continue to perform under his leadership as they did during the second half of the season."
ORIGINAL May 12 1:05 p.m.
Who will be the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks next season?
It will probably be Bruce Boudreau, which isn’t too surprising considering how he turned the team’s fortunes around this past season. But it’s not 100 per cent certain.
The second year of Boudreau’s current contract is an option year. Either side has the option to back out of the contract, with the Canucks paying a financial penalty if they choose to do so. The Canucks have said they want Boudreau back but are not willing to offer a contract extension ahead of next season. Instead, Boudreau would just be under contract for that one more year.
“In our business, you have to be cautious with your decisions and you have to do them for the right reasons,” said Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford. “If you don’t, you’re gonna get yourself in a position someday where you’re paying three or four coaches in the same year. And that’s when managing up will become difficult.”
In other words, offering a long-term contract extension to a coach that you might need to fire in the future can cause a team’s ownership to start to wonder why he’s paying so much money for coaches who are not working for the team anymore.
"The plan and desire is to come back."
Still, the Canucks want Boudreau back. And Boudreau wants to come back. That was reiterated in a report from Vancouver Hockey Now’s Rob Simpson, who spoke to Boudreau on Wednesday.
“I have as special a relationship with these players in Vancouver as I did with the guys in Washington on my first NHL job,” said Boudreau to Simpson. “I’m just taking a breather here, the plan and desire is to come back.”
That Boudreau wants to return is nothing new. It’s something he repeated multiple times towards the end of the season, though he also said multiple times that any negotiations would take place once the season was over.
There is something somewhat new in the report, however. According to Boudreau, the holdup on deciding to come back is mostly just because he needs a break after the Canucks’ run. But there are also what Simpson refers to as “minor details” that need to be ironed out with Rutherford and Canucks’ general manager Patrik Allvin.
“Boudreau hopes to nail down a couple of items with management next week and would like to have things settled within the next ten days if possible,” reports Simpson. “The items do not involve his term or salary.”
That’s an interesting statement in light of what Rutherford and Allvin said at their end-of-the-year press conference.
“He’s done a good job since he got here,” said Rutherford. “He’s a player’s coach. He motivates and he got as much out of players as he could get. So, I liked the job he’s done.
“He knows we want him back. He was told that before the season was over, so he knows our position. He did a terrific job but he didn’t coach a whole season here. We would like to see him back and work with him on a few things — everybody working together to make it better.”
It’s that last part — wanting to work with Boudreau on a few things — that is so intriguing, especially in combination with other comments Rutherford made about the Canucks’ structure and difficulty breaking the puck out of the defensive zone. As much as the Canucks want to bring Boudreau back, it seems like they want to make some changes to the team’s systems.
Are those the “couple of items” that need to be nailed down?
A head coach and GM need to be on the same page
It’s important to keep in mind that Boudreau wasn’t Allvin’s hire. General managers typically like to bring in their own head coach to help define how the team plays on the ice.
It’s particularly important that a GM and head coach are on the same page heading into the offseason. If a GM wants a certain style of play from his team, he will acquire (and remove) players with that in mind. If the coach isn’t going to use that style of play, then the acquired players could wind up being square pegs in round holes.
If the GM and coach are not on the same page, a coach that likes to use bottom-six forwards on the penalty kill, for example, might start the season without any good penalty killers in that bottom-six.
So, for a new GM to keep a previously-hired head coach, they need to see eye-to-eye about what they want the team to look like. Canucks fans have seen that before, when Mike Gillis decided to keep head coach Alain Vigneault when he was hired as GM of the Canucks in 2008.
Gillis specifically wanted to know if Vigneault could reverse course away from the defensive-minded style that they had played while Dave Nonis was GM. That was a team that, somewhat similar to the current Canucks, was overly dependent on a star goaltender. Gillis wanted to build a more offensive-minded team but needed to know if Vigneault would be able to coach that style.
"I put Alain through a very strenuous period," said Gillis. "I designed 32 questions that I wanted him to answer. He answered them and we talked about why he felt the way he did about certain questions, and I was not only satisfied but very pleased with the answers. A lot of them went to the real core of coach-player relationships and he handled it admirably."
“We had to become a more offensive team," he added. "If you're going to succeed in the playoffs now, you're going to have to score goals, instead of the reverse — for years, you had to prevent goals. Right now, with the way penalties are called and the style of play, you have to be able to score.”
That worked out pretty well for the Canucks, as they become one of the most offensively-potent teams in the NHL over the next few seasons. Daniel and Henrik Sedin won back-to-back Art Ross Trophies, the team won back-to-back Presidents’ Trophies, and the Canucks came one game away from winning the Stanley Cup.
A lot of that started from Gillis and Vigneault being on the same page about what kind of team they wanted to see on the ice.
What is the identity of the Canucks?
Now, Allvin and Boudreau — along with Rutherford — will need to have the same conversation. Who do they want the Canucks to be? What is the identity of the team and what will be the identity of the team? What types of players will Allvin need to acquire and how will Boudreau need to coach for the Canucks to become that team?
There are other details, of course, that might need to be ironed out between a coach and general manager.
There could be changes to the coaching staff apart from Boudreau. When the Canucks fired Travis Green as head coach, his assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner went with him, but the Canucks retained assistant coaches Jason King, Brad Shaw, and Kyle Gustafson, and video coach Darryl Seward.
While the Canucks’ power play improved over the course of the season and finished in the league’s top ten, their penalty kill was still one of the worst in the NHL, which could result in changes.
June 1 is the deadline for Boudreau to make a decision to return or not.