VANCOUVER – On the eve of his summer vacation, Bruce Boudreau looked Monday neither uncertain nor uneasy about his coaching future. This off-season should be a lot more enjoyable for him than the last one.
Despite the to-be-determined option year on his contract with the Vancouver Canucks, the 67-year-old head coach said at his season-ending press conference that he is confident he will be back with the National Hockey League team he led to a 32-15-10 record after he was hired in December.
Boudreau had spent the previous 22 months unemployed after being fired by the Minnesota Wild, and last summer was granted just two unsuccessful job interviews by NHL teams.
“It's funny because when I when I left Minnesota, it was really a bad taste in my mouth,” Boudreau said after the Canucks ended their season six points short of a playoff spot. “And when you're a year out and you interview for a couple jobs in the summer and you don't get them, you just wonder, like: ‘Do people think the time has passed or what have you?’
“And then coming back and having that kind of record, and having the team play the way they did in a lot of different areas positively, it makes you believe when you go home that you did well. And that you still can do the job. The other thing is you know you still have the fire in your belly and the desire to do the job. You wake up every morning and can't wait to get back to the job. And that's what I found out: once I started doing it again, I couldn't wait to get to work. Sometimes you don't realize how much you love something until you don't have it, and then you get it back and you realize it.”
Boudreau coached his 1,000th NHL game in Vancouver, and also reached 599 wins, deprived of another milestone by a season-ending 3-2 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Friday. His .649 winning percentage with the Canucks, albeit from a tiny sample, would over time make him the most successful coach in franchise history.
No wonder fans, players and – truth be told – reporters want the quotable coach back. But Canucks president Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin, who will meet the media on Tuesday, have said they’ll review the season and Boudreau’s performance before making a decision on the coach who preceded them to Vancouver.
The option clause on the “two-year contract” that Boudreau signed with owner Francesco Aquilini is open to both sides, which puts the coach in position to demand an extension before agreeing to return.
“I told Patrik and Jim that I wanted to coach here next year,” Boudreau said. “We're just talking right now. I think they want me back and I know I want to be back, so I think it should work out.”
Boudreau said the only thing he knows for sure is that he is going home to Hershey, Pa., on Wednesday.
He and his wife, Crystal, own and operate the Hershey Cubs, a junior team in the United States Premier Hockey League. Bruce and his grown sons, Ben, Andy and Brady, also run summer hockey camps in Belleville, Ont., and St. Catharines.
“I usually just run the Gatorade back and forth now,” Boudreau joked after his press conference.
An avid baseball fan, Boudreau said he was offered a rookie-league contract by the Pittsburgh Pirates after he won a Memorial Cup with the Toronto Marlboros in 1975, but turned down the Major League organization because he was singularly focussed on becoming a professional hockey player. But he’ll attend Toronto Blue Jays games when he’s in his hometown, and sometimes drives two hours south from Hershey to watch the Washington Nationals.
Boudreau said he also plans to play lots of golf this summer. A seven-handicap, his home backs on to Hershey Country Club, where he is a member.
“I’ll go out in the evening and play the second hole five times,” he said.
Whatever he does, Boudreau will be thinking about the Canucks, what they accomplished and how to make them better next season.
“I think the biggest thing is the team believing that they could win every game,” he said of the change in culture he witnessed the last five months. “It didn't matter whether we played Minnesota, Calgary, Colorado, any one of the really good teams in the West, we thought we could win. That makes you feel pretty good that the players came ready to play.”
In his far-ranging press conference, Boudreau said:
• The organization was aware of winger Brock Boeser’s concern for his ailing father, Duke, and supported him any way it could, offering him a leave of absence if needed.
“If you have a core covenant on your team, the first thing is always family first,” Boudreau said. “It was tough on him. If you look at his (season), it starts out with holding out a little bit, and when you don't have a full training camp, it's really difficult. And then you have this (Boeser's dad's health) on top of it. It makes for a long, tough year. I think Brock will be great next year, and I hope everything goes well at home. But he knows he has our support for anything he needs.”
• Ideally, Boudreau would like to play starting goalie Thatcher Demko, who ended the season with an undisclosed injury, about 55 games next season rather than the 64 he logged this year.
• With Demko, a star defenceman in Quinn Hughes and formidable 1-2-3 punch at centre with J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson and Bo Horvat, the Canucks are close to being contenders.
“With a couple little tweaks here and there,” Boudreau said, “I think this team can be very, very dangerous next year.”
• Boudreau has no plans to change the coaching staff he largely inherited from Travis Green.
“You end the year not making the playoffs,” he explained. “But it's very rare that you end the year not making the playoffs but on a very positive note. And I think (players will) take that all summer, and they will look to come back and be a different team in training camp and at the beginning (of the season) than they have been in the past. That's going to be the biggest factor is that this summer, they're going to come back and they're going to expect to win.”