Rutherford to complete Canucks coaching staff shortly, Miller's future still uncertain

Vancouver Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford arrives for an end of NHL hockey season news conference, in Vancouver, on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. (Darryl Dyck/CP)

VANCOUVER – Nearly six weeks into the offseason, the only thing that has changed between J.T. Miller and the Vancouver Canucks is the trade rumour du jour involving the 99-point power forward. Miller’s coaches, however, have changed a lot and will change some more.

Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said Wednesday he hopes to announce soon a new video coach and confirmed the club is down to a “short list” of candidates to replace Scott Walker as the senior assistant to head coach Bruce Boudreau.

Boudreau agreed in May to return to the Canucks for the option year of the two-year contract he signed with owner Francesco Aquilini in December, but Walker chose for family reasons to return home to Cambridge, Ont.

The Canucks released incumbent video coach Darryl Seward and assistant coach Kyle Gustafson, while retaining assistants Brad Shaw and Jason King and goaltending coach Ian Clark.

General manager Patrik Allvin and Boudreau have been working through a list of candidates to replace Walker, Rutherford told Sportsnet.

“If we can bring in another coach that can cover some areas that need to be strengthened, then that would be an ideal situation,” Rutherford said. “Over the last 30 days now, Bruce and Patrik have been working very closely on a list. . . and now we're down to a real short list of guys that would be good to add to our staff. And Bruce is heavily involved, so he'll be comfortable with him.”

The Canucks coaching mix is a fascinating dynamic.

In his season-ending press conference on May 3, Rutherford made it clear Boudreau, despite going 32-15-10 after replacing head coach Travis Green on Dec. 5, hadn’t done enough to earn an extension and would be welcomed back only on his existing contract.

Rutherford was also critical of the Canucks’ “structure,” citing defensive-zone exits that he called among the poorest in the NHL. Ten days later, the organization announced that Boudreau would return.

The new senior assistant is expected to be highly-technical and capable of helping improve structure. Boudreau’s greatest assets as coach include his positivity and relationship with players, his ability to empower and motivate them.

“I didn't view it as a slap at Bruce,” Rutherford said Wednesday of his critique. “I didn't view it as a challenge to Bruce. I've said this all along, Bruce did a terrific job in getting the most out of our players. We won a lot of games and then ran out of runway at the end. But in order for us to get better. . . we have to have a system and pay more attention to details."

“There's nights where we're going to play loose and the guys are going to cheat at certain times and things like that. But ultimately, we're not going to be a contending team if we just play that way. We have to have structure. But it has nothing to do with challenging Bruce or taking a shot at the job he did. I'm the first one to say he did a terrific job. I'm just being honest.”

Gustafson, the most junior member of the coaching staff last season, is not expected to be replaced. Rutherford said the “eye-in-the-sky” assistant role is likely to be filled from within. Clark could put on the coaching headset in the press box, or the spotter’s role could even be assumed by Daniel and Henrik Sedin, whose recent move to the Canucks’ player-development department won’t preclude them from working closely with the NHL team and its players.

Boudreau is motivated.

"I don’t care what business you’re in, nobody likes to be criticized,” Boudreau told The Athletic two weeks ago. “Your bosses have the right to do whatever they want, and if they want to criticize, some people shy away from it and cower. But if I was a player and the coach would criticize me, I would sit there and think: ‘Oh yeah? I’m going to show you!’ That’s what I’m going to be doing.”

But about one-quarter through the Canucks’ offseason, there’s no further clarity about whether Miller, the team’s leading scorer and best forward, will be part of Boudreau’s lineup next fall.

The 29-year-old has one season remaining under contract at a bargain $5.25 million US, but may be too expensive for the salary-cap-squeezed Canucks to re-sign. Both sides want to know this summer if Miller, 12th in the NHL in scoring with 217 points in 202 games since former GM Jim Benning traded for him three years ago, has a future in Vancouver.

If it looks like he doesn’t, the Canucks are likely to trade Miller this summer to maximize value.

“It's really in the early stages now,” Rutherford said of discussions with Miller and agent Brian Bartlett. “Emilie handles that, and we're just getting prepared for where we're at and what we want to do.”

Emilie Castonguay, a player agent until Rutherford hired her in January, is the Canucks’ assistant general manager in charge of contracts.

“The thing that I can say is we would like to re-sign J.T.,” Rutherford continued. “But we also understand we're dealing with an unrestricted free agent (in 2023) that's a really good player. How far can we go when we've got other areas that we've got to take care of? At some point in time, both sides will have the opportunity to make that decision. But I believe it's mutual, based on everything I've been told, that he wants to return and we would like to sign him to another contract. We will have a better understanding of that in the next month or so.”

• Rutherford confirmed that the Winnipeg Jets will join the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames at the Canucks’ Young Stars Classic in Penticton, B.C., Sept. 14-18. The popular tournament for prospects was last held in 2018.

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