The Vancouver Canucks’ future is unclear, including for coach Bruce Boudreau and center Bo Horvat, after president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said Monday that the team will require “major surgery” to become a Stanley Cup contender.
The Canucks (18-22-3) are on course to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third straight season. Vancouver, which hosts the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; SNP, BSSUNX, ESPN+, SN NOW), entered Monday 12 points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference.
“When I came here, I knew it was going to be a big challenge and I thought we’re going to have to minor surgery,” Rutherford said during a wide-ranging news conference. “Have I changed my position? Yeah, we have to do major surgery and between now and the start of next season, we’re going to have to make some changes.
“Some won’t be very popular, some will be popular, but we’re going to have to really do some things that I didn’t think we would normally have to do when I first got here on how we make those changes.”
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Rutherford, who won the Stanley Cup as general manager of Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 and as GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, has been frustrated in his efforts to make changes since being hired by the Canucks on Dec. 9, 2021.
Short term, he faces questions about Boudreau, who has endured regular speculation about his job security, and Horvat, who is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
Boudreau was hired Dec. 5, 2021, five days before Rutherford, who is sticking with him for the moment.
“Bruce is our coach and that’s the way it is today,” Rutherford said.
But Rutherford confirmed that he has spoken to potential candidates to replace Boudreau.
“I will say I have and I’m not going to get into names,” Rutherford said. “And this is even going back a couple of months ago, that I have called a few people to talk to people, but with that it was clear that I’m calling and talking but don’t know that we’re making a change and don’t want to make a change.”
Rutherford didn’t sound confident that the Canucks will be able to re-sign Horvat. The 27-year-old is tied for fourth in the League with 30 goals in 43 games, one shy of his NHL career-high of 31 goals in 71 games last season and appears headed for a big payday the Canucks don’t have the NHL salary cap space to accommodate.
“We, I believe, have taken our best shot, and the contract that we have on the table for Bo right now I think is a fair contract for what he’s done up until this year,” Rutherford said about the Canucks captain. “But it’s certainly under market value for what he’s done this year. So we’re in a pickle here. He’s had a career year, a career run, and he’s looking for his money. He deserves it. I don’t blame him.”
Rutherford also said he’s begun preliminary talks with forward Andrei Kuzmenko about a new contract. The 26-year-old has 38 points (17 goals, 21 assists) in 42 games in his first NHL season and also is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Long term, Rutherford must figure how to create salary cap space to retool the Canucks roster and make them competitive again. He acknowledged that moving core players and contract buyouts this offseason are options he might need to utilize.
“I’m disappointed in the job I’ve done to this point because when I first came here, I talked about getting control of the (salary) cap, … getting rid of some contracts, and we haven’t been able to do that,” Rutherford said. “Now, the opportunity hasn’t been there, but it’s still my job to get it done. Until we do that, we’re not going to be able to make the kind of changes that we need to make, and certainly the changes we need to make to put ourselves in a better position (so) when there’s players available, we can go and get them.”
Rutherford resisted using the word rebuild for the transformation the Canucks require.
“I’d rather call it a retool,” he said. “My preferences when we make these deals is not necessarily for draft picks that maybe come in and help the team four years from now, five years from now. I’d prefer to get younger NHL players that maybe didn’t work out on their entry-level contract. You know, bring them in and give them a second chance.
“We’ll still try to acquire some draft picks, but we have to go about this in a way that it’s not a long-term rebuild and I think we can do that. The possibilities are out there.”
Without naming names, Rutherford suggested that trading a player from Vancouver’s core might be necessary to jump start the process.
“I still believe in the core and I still believe that we have a lot of good players, but with that, when I talk about major surgery, well, there could be core players that have to move out,” he said. “It may be the way, it may be the only way that we can get significant players back where you take a core player, and you can get a good, young center and a good right-shot defenseman. It may be the only way to do it.”
Rutherford did not put a timetable on how long this retool will take, but when asked if he thought it could be completed in less than three years, he said, “I’d like to think it’s quicker than that.”
“We’ve got a lot of good players here,” he said. “I actually had this conversation with the team at our opening dinner, and I talked to the team about (how) we have really a lot of good players, but do we have a team? And we’ve never come together as a team, and what a team is to win at all costs. … You can’t just be happy to live in a beautiful city, get paid a lot of money, come to the rink and just play and go home. There has to be attention to details. There has to be accountability.
“All those things are very important to become a regular playoff team. And that’s what we have to work towards.”
Rutherford is 73, but said he’s committed to seeing through the job he signed up for 13 months ago.
“Yeah, I am,” he said. “If I have health issues, then I’m out and I can’t do it. But I like a challenge and, man, I’ve got a challenge.”