VANCOUVER – It is not unheard of during games that fans of the Vancouver Canucks chant the name of the coach. But usually, it’s when they want him fired.
“Bruce, there it is!” has become a kind of victory song at Rogers Arena since Bruce Boudreau arrived in December and orchestrated one of the most remarkable mid-season turnarounds in franchise history, even if the Canucks’ resurrection under the 67-year-old coach will likely still not get them to the National Hockey League playoffs next month.
Boudreau said early on that he didn’t like the chant because it makes it seem like the game is about the coach, when it’s really about the players.
He also joked after it occurred during his first game in Vancouver, a 4-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Dec. 6, that if the Canucks lose, the chant will be “Bruce, there he goes.”
Makes you wonder what fans might really say if the organization opts out of its contract with the coach whose record with the Canucks improved to 26-13-8 when the team decisively swept back-to-back games this week in Las Vegas and Arizona.
A scaled-down version of “Bruce, there it is!” was clearly audible among Canucks fans at T-Mobile arena during Wednesday’s 5-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights. And gleeful support for a Vancouver coach on the road is unprecedented.
So far, Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin and president Jim Rutherford have not been swept up in Boudreau-mania, responding when asked that, essentially, Boudreau is doing a good job and the head coach will be reviewed after the season.
With an option-year available to the Canucks on the two-year contract Boudreau signed with managing owner Francesco Aquilini in December – a few days before Rutherford was hired – management has no more pressure to deal with Boudreau now than with, say, J.T. Miller, the impact forward who has another season remaining on his contract.
But the understated support for Boudreau, in a market where nearly every utterance is parsed and solicited for interpretation, has contributed to a growing feeling that Rutherford and Allvin may have someone else in mind to coach the Canucks next year.
The issue has become such a regular talking point on radio and social media that Boudreau was queried about it during a press conference last week.
“I think I've done an okay job,” Boudreau said when asked if he’d like a contract extension. “It's a tough question. I mean, I want to coach forever, and I really like Vancouver. I guess that sort of answers the question.”
But management’s appreciation of Boudreau is greater than it appears.
Asked in Las Vegas about Boudreau, Allvin told Sportsnet he feels badly his coach is hearing conjecture that he may be replaced.
“I don’t know where this starts,” Allvin said. “Bruce has done a good job up to this point. We're still in it here and every game is important, and he's preparing the team. I like the communication I have with Bruce, as well.”
What will be the process in deciding Boudreau’s future?
“We'll see where we are after these (final) games, and then, obviously, we will be evaluating,” Allvin said. “But for me, Bruce has done a great job since he got here to Vancouver.”
Asked if this means there’s still a real possibility that Boudreau will coach the Canucks next season and beyond, Allvin said: “Absolutely. Absolutely.”
Yes, he said it twice.
On merit, Boudreau has not only earned the second year of his contract, but deserves an extension so he isn’t mired in the same drama his predecessor, Travis Green, endured last season when he was in the final year of his deal and coached every game as if his livelihood was at stake.
The Canucks’ .638 winning percentage since Boudreau replaced Green is fourth-best in the Western Conference, tied with the Calgary Flames.
The coach has orchestrated a 1.3 goals-per-game turnaround: goals-for have increased to 3.11 per game from 2.36, while goals-against have declined to 2.60 per game from 3.16. That team defence, by the way, ranks Vancouver fifth in the league since Boudreau took over.
The power play has rocketed to fourth in the NHL (26.7%), up from 22nd (17.4%), and the penalty-killing has improved to a respectable 15th (79.8%) from a desultory 32nd (64.6).
As veteran winger Tanner Pearson said recently: “Where were we when this all started, right? (Boudreau) has turned the ship around and... helped us earn a chance back in the playoff mix.”
Objectively, there is no debate about Boudreau’s performance.
But Allvin, hired seven weeks after Boudreau, has the right to choose his coach even if the last Canucks general manager to actually hire his benchman was probably Dave Nonis in 2006, when he promoted Alain Vigneault from the minors to replace Marc Crawford.
What’s clear is how much Boudreau, out of coaching for nearly two years after the Minnesota Wild fired him in February, 2020, wants to stay in Vancouver.
“When you're not in it, and you've been in it your whole life for as long as you can remember, I think the biggest thing you miss is the camaraderie -- being in the battle with a group,” Boudreau said this week.
“Our players have done great. We've had some hiccups, but I think, for the most part, even when we lose, except for a handful of games, we've been really competitive. And that's important. It means we're really close.”
Boudreau refused to answer questions about his future, except to say he was “comfortable” with his contract.
“I'm happy to be doing the job and I think I work hard,” he said. “I love doing it. Like I mean, I get up in the morning and this is all I think about right through the whole day. And so it gives you purpose, you know? When you think that I've been doing it professionally for 47 years, it's all you know. And you don't ever want to stop.”
He won’t have to yet. If it’s not in Vancouver, he’ll be coaching somewhere else next season. That’s how good Boudreau’s last four months have been.