Bruce Boudreau is one of the kindest human beings working in the NHL today.
He’s also employed by a team that’s (a) in transition, and (b) being run by a GM and president – respectively, Patrik Allvin and Jim Rutherford – who were hired after he was. Consequently, Boudreau finds himself in a delicate work situation.
Rutherford came out Tuesday and told media that Boudreau is welcome to return to the Canucks under the terms he agreed on – a two-year contract that will expire at the end of the 2022-23 season. However, that would make Boudreau a lame-duck coach next year. And that makes his future with the Canucks extremely cloudy.
Boudreau held up his end of the bargain when he was hired by Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini in early December. Boudreau took a team that looked disinterested in rising to the levels of their opponents, and he led Vancouver to a 32-15-10 record, and brought the Canucks to the fringes of the playoff race right up until the final week of the regular season. Boudreau instilled the team with confidence in itself, and the results were excellent.
However, holding onto a head coaching gig in the NHL means having the confidence of the GM and team president, and almost always, that means a head coach can only be secure in his position if he has been hired by the president and/or GM. Boudreau doesn’t have that working in his favor.
Allvin and Rutherford would earn the wrath of Canucks fans if they summarily dismissed him this summer. Instead, in making it clear there would be no contract extension for Boudreau, Canucks brass have set up Boudreau to be fired at the first extended run of sub-par play next season. There has been a tendency among NHL team owners to eschew long-term contracts for head coaches in favor of two-year contracts that tell players the head coach will be around for at least the season they’re playing in, and the season after that..Vancouver is one of the very few that are plainly putting their coach on the chopping block if things go sideways for them again next year.
And you can be quite sure that, if Boudreau is let go in the middle or end of next season, Aquilini doesn’t want to pay Boudreau for the 2023-24 campaign and beyond, the way many teams will do if they fire their coaches this summer or early next year. There’s no way we’ll see teams signing coaches to massive extensions like the eight-year, $50-million contract Toronto gave to Mike Babcock. There’s no hard salary cap for coaches, but there may as well be.
Boudreau has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave Vancouver if he finds a better place for himself before the June 1 deadline that secures his spot with the Canucks. But Boudreau is operating in a buyer’s market. There may be teams that have lost in the first round of the playoffs this year, or teams that came close to making the playoffs, which see Boudreau as a Barry Trotz-type figure who only needs to join the right kind of team to succeed. Even then, it’s hard to see anyone offering Boudreau more than a two-year contract. The grass really isn’t greener than the one Boudreau has in Vancouver.
It’s not exactly fair to an accomplished coach like Boudreau to have him begin next season without job security. But the coaching business isn’t a fair one. And so, if Boudreau keeps a new-look Canucks roster as competitive as the one he crafted this season, he’ll be in a position where Vancouver brass has to give him a two-year deal beginning at the end of the 2022-23 season.
If not – if the Canucks have a six-or-seven-game slide at any point in the coming year – Boudreau will be fired, and Allvin’s preferred pick for coach will be installed. Boudreau understands this as well as anyone. He's a hockey lifer, and he knows how it works. It's all about the results on the ice, and if Boudreau doesn`t produce wins, and lots of them, he won`t be long for Vancouver.