The Vancouver Canucks, mired in a troubled season that reached a low point over the weekend, are embarking on major changes.
What those changes will look like moving forward from an organizational standpoint remains an open-ended question, though — even after Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini addressed the front-office revamp on Monday.
Aquilini said the team will conduct a “thorough and exhaustive search” for its next general manager following Sunday’s firing of Jim Benning. Asked about his approach to filling out his leadership team, including the possibility of installing a team president in addition to a GM, Aquilini said “everything is on the table.”
On Sunday, one day removed from a lop-sided loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins and many weeks into calls for change from fans — including the loudest message, delivered via a sweater thrown to the ice Saturday night — the Canucks announced the firing of four key members of the leadership team: Benning, assistant GM John Weisbrod, head coach Travis Green, and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner. The team appointed an interim leadership group, led by acting GM Stan Smyl, to navigate this immediate period of change and hired veteran bench boss Bruce Boudreau as the team’s new head coach.
During Monday’s press conference, Aquilini acknowledged the discontent around the team.
“I know our fans, and the media, are frustrated and unhappy. But I assure you that no one is more frustrated and unhappy than me and my family,” he said during his opening statement, accompanied by Smyl. “I’m also disappointed and surprised — in the off-season, we believed we’d have a much better team than what we’ve been seeing, that we’d have a better, competitive team this year. So, now it’s time to go in a different direction with a new coach and a new GM.”
Aquilini thanked Benning, Weisbrod, Green, and Baumgartner for their work over their respective tenures with the team, saying they “are good people, and they gave their all and their best to this franchise.”
This mid-season organizational shakeup is, of course, just the beginning of the changes to take place in Vancouver. While Smyl will fulfill all GM duties in the interim, any major decisions relating to a roster overhaul — including any ideas of rebuilding — will be made by the incoming GM.
“The general manager is really, ultimately responsible for the direction of this team,” Aquilini said. “He picks the players, he picks the coaches, he sets the tone. Whether there should be more people? That’s a decision the general manager makes.
“…I’m there to support them. Whatever they need, I give them the support. This question about influence, this has been going on a number of years, and I’d just like to put it to rest. Owners, own. Managers, manage. Coaches, coach. Players, play.”
Boudreau’s track record ‘speaks for itself’
From an organizational standpoint, we don’t yet know who will be tasked with shaping the next chapter of NHL hockey in Vancouver. On the ice and in the immediate future, however, is a different story. Earlier Monday, Boudreau held his first practice as Canucks head coach, the brief skate his lone on-ice opportunity to see the players up-close before the 8-15-2 club hosts the Los Angeles Kings for their first game under his guidance.
“Bruce is a veteran coach, he’s very experienced, and his track record speaks for itself,” Aquilini said when asked why he believed Boudreau was the right person to lead the Canucks out of the Pacific Division basement. “He’s had a lot of success in these types of situations, and we just felt that it was the right time.”
As head coach in Washington, Anaheim, and Minnesota, Boudreau has been known for his ability to get the most out of his players and quickly turn a team’s fate around through a fast-paced, aggressive playing style that leans heavily on his big-name leaders and younger stars.
Canucks captain Bo Horvat and veterans Tanner Pearson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all spoke with reporters following their first Boudreau-led practice earlier Monday, all three expressing excitement about the change and preaching accountability amongst themselves to get the job done.
“We want to get back to being a competitive team again,” said Aquilini, echoing his players’ sentiments. “That’s what we’re hoping for.”