VANCOUVER – It is a bridge extended. Is it a bridge too far?
The three-year contract Brock Boeser signed Friday with the Vancouver Canucks gave his National Hockey League team some time and a little salary-cap wiggle room, and the 25-year-old winger some stability after a difficult season that was capped by the loss of his father in May.
The deal removed the uncertainty of potential arbitration – the Canucks could have filed against their restricted free agent on Saturday – and essentially doubles the three-year bridge deal Boeser signed in 2019 at the expiration of his entry-level contract.
But it is also a gamble by both sides.
In surrendering one of his unrestricted-free-agency-eligible seasons by accepting a three-year term instead of a one- or two-year deal, Boeser is betting that he will improve and score enough goals the next three seasons to still command that elusive long-term contract when he will be 28 years old.
The Canucks are gambling that Boeser, with a clearer focus, will bounce back from this past season’s erratic 46-point campaign and earn his new annual salary of $6.65 million US.
“I think this shows a lot about Brock Boeser here making a commitment to the Vancouver Canucks and what we want to accomplish,” general manager Patrik Allvin told reporters on a Zoom call late Friday. “I think Brock is in a good spot and he knows he's a good hockey player and he knows he's got the support all the way from the ownership and the management and the coaching staff and his teammates here. This shows that Brock wants to be a big part of the Vancouver Canucks moving forward.”
Head coach Bruce Boudreau had a more effusive reaction to the re-signing of Boeser, which headlined a surprisingly busy Canada Day for the Canucks, who also hired Mike Yeo to fill out its coaching staff and signed top prospect Jack Rathbone to a two-year, one-way contract.
“I'm really happy for Brock,” Boudreau told Sportsnet. “I'm really happy that this isn't hanging over his head anymore. And I'm really happy for us. We all know that he's got the capability of being a great player. And I think last year has to be an anomaly. A lot of great players go through that one-year anomaly. He had a reason (with his dad’s declining health), but still.
“I would think that he'll be so hungry to play now that you'll see the Brock Boeser of two years ago and three years ago. I know he's probably really excited about signing the deal, and I know he wanted to come back to us. We want guys that want to be here, and I know he wanted to be here.”
Boeser appeared headed to stardom when he scored 29 goals in 62 games as a rookie in 2017-18 and was a runnerup in Calder Trophy balloting. But his season ended with a serious back injury, and injuries affected him the following two seasons before the Minnesotan posted 23 goals and 49 points in 56 games during the pandemic-shortened campaign of 2021.
He should be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but also needs to sharpen his focus and drive and improve his overall game as the organization, rebuilt this year under Allvin and president Jim Rutherford, tries to move its talented young players beyond a mindset of individual achievement.
“He obviously was going through a tough time off the ice last year,” Allvin said of Boeser. “I'm hopeful here that we can create an environment where our players will push themselves and raise the standard and we can see growth in every single one. They're capable of it. They're a very talented group of players. They just need to be pushed and they need to have the right mindset -- more of a winning mindset and the sacrifices that you need to do in order to be successful every day.”
Boudreau’s coaching staff will have a massive role in achieving this.
A former head coach in Minnesota and St. Louis, Yeo has been hired to be Boudreau’s senior assistant, replacing Scott Walker, who chose for family reasons not to return to the Canucks. But the club also announced Friday that Abbotsford Canucks head coach Trent Cull had been promoted to the NHL staff after key assistant Brad Shaw left to become associate coach under John Tortorella in Philadelphia.
Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton will take over the AHL team in Abbotsford. The Canucks announced last week that Dylan Crawford had been hired as video coach. Incumbents on Boudreau’s staff are assistant coach Jason King and director of goaltending Ian Clark.
Rutherford said at his year-end press conference that the Canucks, despite finishing the season 32-15-10 under Boudreau, required more “structure” and management would work with Boudreau to improve the staff.
Yeo wasn’t at the top of management’s list of coaching candidates, but he was Boudreau’s first choice. After a lot of interviews and due diligence, Allvin agreed that the 48-year-old who spent the last three seasons as an assistant in Philadelphia would be a good fit as a senior assistant in Vancouver.
Yeo is regarded as a highly-detailed, technical coach.
“I think we really improved our coaching staff and our group, and that's how Bruce feels,” Allvin said. “In the end, I think Bruce and I are working together here (and) I want to make sure that Bruce gets the right people to work with on the day to day stuff. Bruce was really excited when we were able to get this in place.”
“First of all, we talked to an awful lot of people,” Boudreau said. “It kept coming back to Mike. This guy is a great communicator and he is very hockey knowledgeable. And he's done everything. I just thought he would be a perfect fit for me to, you know, help coach me.
“I want a high-energy, high-positivity coaching staff, and a staff that's going to be really together. And I think that's what we're getting with him.”
With Boeser signed, the biggest issue facing Allvin – besides next week’s entry draft in Montreal and free agency the following week – is the future of top Canucks forward J.T. Miller. The 99-point scorer is going into the final year of his contract but, at age 29, may be too expensive for the team to re-sign to a seven- or eight-year deal.
Allvin re-iterated Friday that management does not feel there is an imminent deadline to either re-sign or trade Miller.
“We want to keep him here in Vancouver and I'm hopeful of that,” he said. “Ideally, you would like to get the deal done here today. But if that's not going to happen, we're going to continue to talk and see what the best options are. I mean, there's a lot of players playing on their last year of their contracts.”