Trade or not, Boeser rediscovering his ‘swagger’ with Canucks is a good thing

Nick Kypreos joins Tim & Friends to partake in a round of Smoke or Fire, discussing whether Brock Boeser will be the first to move on from the Vancouver Canucks, if Patrick Kane will remain with the Chicago Blackhawks, and more.

VANCOUVER – The first rule of sports writing: No cheering in the press box. Although, “Free is better than cheap” for media meals is a close second.

Everyone’s got to eat. And nearly everyone is cheering for Brock Boeser.

The Vancouver Canucks winger, who lost his father in May and for about four hours on Saturday was going to be a healthy scratch on Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Rogers Arena, has shown in the face of personal adversity the last 10 years too much grace and goodness to not wish well.

Whether he is with the Canucks or, increasingly likely, another National Hockey League team, anyone with a heart wants to see Boeser succeed and be happy.

On Tuesday, the morning after a once-in-50-years 7-6 comeback win against the Montreal Canadiens, Boeser was still wondering if that success and happiness can yet come as a Canuck. 

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But the business forces around him, and Boeser’s no-man’s-land spot on the team’s depth chart, have for at least two years been pointing towards a change of teams.

Elliotte Friedman’s reporting Saturday that the Canucks have given permission to agent Ben Hankinson to seek a trade for his client confirmed an uncomfortable truth while adding a powerful kicker that Boeser, himself, is now also open to leaving Vancouver.

Agents don’t get involved in trade talks against their clients’ wishes. And they aren’t invited in to begin a trade mission, but to try to end one.

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“I feel like my name has always been out there, regardless if they’ve given (Hankinson) the green light or not,” Boeser told Sportsnet before flying with the Canucks to San Jose for Wednesday’s game against the Sharks. “I feel like it’s always been like, if there’s a deal in place, I might get dealt. So, I don’t think it really changes anything. 

“When I got the chance to play (on Saturday), I just said ‘screw it’ and went out and played hockey. It felt like I haven’t done that in a long time. I feel like I did that again last night, too (against Montreal). Those are probably my two best games of the season. I felt like my old self, so I’ve just got to make sure I continue to do that and not really worry about the other stuff.

“You’re trying to play scenarios in your head and, I don’t know, I feel like I can’t even picture it unless something happens. The guys have been great. They know that I want to be here and I want to win with them.”

Boeser came within a Dakota Joshua injury at the morning skate from being healthy-scratched by coach Bruce Boudreau, who admitted later Saturday that he had been unaware it was Hockey Fights Cancer Night. 

Boudreau, you may have heard, is working on an expiring contract for a hockey-operations boss in Jim Rutherford, who has found much fault in the coach’s team.

Boudreau is coaching every game like his job depends upon a win, which at least partly explains why he has lost track of the many theme nights NHL teams undertake.

“I’d say it was rock bottom,” Boeser, 25, said of being told at the morning skate that he would sit out against the Arizona Coyotes, healthy, for the first time since he was a rookie. “Just trying to find your game, trying to find your confidence, I was trying to work hard and just kind of felt lost. And then when you come in and see that on the board (in the dressing room), it stings. It hurt a lot. It would have stung any day. But then on that day, it stung more.”

But Boeser not only played against the Coyotes on the third line, after warming up in a pink jersey with his late dad’s nickname, Dukey, stitched on the back, but he scored against Arizona and nearly won the game in overtime before Canuck captain Bo Horvat did.

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Boudreau responded by promoting the Minnesotan back to Elias Pettersson’s line to face the Canadiens on Monday, and the right winger again was far more engaged than he has looked for most of this season. He had an assist and his 16:45 of ice time was Boeser’s highest in seven games – reinforcing just how far he has slipped down the lineup.

Boeser was a Calder Trophy runnerup in 2018, scoring 29 goals in 62 games as the most exciting Canuck newcomer in years. But Pettersson arrived the next season, which is when goalie Thatcher Demko graduated from the minors. Gifted defenceman Quinn Hughes came to Vancouver the season after.

J.T. Miller was acquired in a 2019 trade and Horvat got better year after year. And now Andrei Kuzmenko has arrived from Russia, loved by fans and in need of a big new contract.

Slowed by injuries in all but one of his six NHL seasons, Boeser is still trying to replicate what he achieved as a rookie, even as he is being paid $6.65 million for this season and the next two. 

After missing another training camp, this time with a freak hand injury, Boeser has four goals and 16 points in 20 games, and the Canucks have been outscored 25-14 at five-on-five while he is on the ice.

Boeser hasn’t been one of the Canucks’ top five or six players – this season or last — which is why general manager Patrik Allvin has been looking at offloading the player and his contract. The team has also shopped other high-ticket players Conor Garland, Tyler Myers and Tanner Pearson.

Maybe Hankinson will have better luck, the way agent Pat Brisson was finally able to broker a new home for former Canuck Roberto Luongo in 2014 after a fruitless two-year trade mission by then-GM Mike Gillis. Or maybe Boeser surges back toward the top of the lineup and the Canucks can’t afford to let him go.

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Whatever happens, it’s better for everyone if Boeser plays well.

“Yesterday was so much fun,” he said, smiling at the thought of the four-goal comeback that shook Rogers Arena. “I think everyone had a blast coming back, especially against Montreal. When Petey and I have played together lately, we were good but we weren’t great like we used to be. And this last game … I really feel like I got that chemistry back with him. 

“I haven’t really been myself playing-wise on the ice in a long time. And the last two games, I feel like I’ve found myself again. That’s all I’m thinking about — bringing that to Wednesday’s game.

“I’ve been able to focus, so far. That’s why I keep saying I’m just focused on doing the same thing, playing the same way. I feel like I have my swagger back. And I want to keep it and help our team.”

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