Vancouver Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini says he may have been “too patient” in waiting for the struggling NHL team to turn its season around.
His patience ran out Sunday as the team cleaned house, firing general manager Jim Benning, assistant manager Jim Weisbrod, head coach Travis Green and assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner.
“These are difficult decisions. These are not easy. I mean, to fire everybody at the same time, that’s a hard thing to do and maybe I was a little bit too patient,” Aquilini told reporters Monday. “I was hoping for a turnaround. We were losing these games by one goal and maybe I was too optimistic, and so we made the change when we made the change.”
The changes followed a dismal start to the season. Vancouver sits last in the Pacific Division with an 8-15-2 record.
Stan Smyl, a former Canucks right-winger who was promoted from senior adviser to interim general manager on Sunday, said the moves send the right message to a locker room that was waiting for something to happen.
“Things weren’t working. Was it the decision on the GM? Was it the decision on a coach? We didn’t have all those answers and the players were looking around for answers, and what happens when you get to this point is you start finger pointing,” he said.
“Bottom line, our performance this season hasn’t been good enough. We do have some talented young players and a good core to build around, but we need to be better.”
The search for new hockey operations leadership is underway, Aquilini said, and “everything is on the table,” including potentially hiring both a GM and a president.
Right now, though, he wants to see his team get back in the win column.
“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,” Aquilini said. “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.”
The Canucks replaced Green with Bruce Boudreau, signing the veteran NHL coach to a deal through the 2022-23 season.
The 66-year-old Toronto native has served as head coach for the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild. He won the Jack Adams Award as the league’s top coach in 2008 when he took over the floundering Capitals and guided them through a bounce back season.
Aquilini said Smyl suggested Boudreau as a replacement and after some discussions, Aquilini made the coach an offer.
“Bruce is a veteran coach, he’s very experienced, his record speaks for itself. He’s had a lot of success in these situations and we just felt that it was the right time,” Aquilini said. “I think we want to get back to being a competitive team again. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
Fired by the Wild in February 2020, Boudreau said he’s been dying to get back behind an NHL bench.
“When approached (by Vancouver), I thought ‘This is perfect,’” he said. “I’ve always wanted to coach in Canada and so this was going to be a great opportunity and I jumped at it.”
The coach said he wants the Canucks to be an aggressive offensive team, but one that’s responsible in its own zone, too.
He recognizes that Vancouver has areas where it needs to improve, but he sees promise in the team’s young stars — even those who have underperformed so far this season.
“As far as I’m concerned, all of these guys have opportunities right now to start over,” he said. “I’m not going to look at somebody and say ‘Geez, you weren’t very good for the first 15 games so you’re not going to get a chance to play.’ It’s ‘This is what you’re supposed to be. Let’s see what you’ve got.’”
Boudreau got on the ice with his new group Monday morning. Canucks captain Bo Horvat said he brought “a lot of positive energy” and some new ideas, including changes the team looked to implement Monday night when they hosted the L.A. Kings.
“Our team needed a spark,” Horvat said. “It brings us new life. But at the same time, we have to go out there and prove it now.”
A fresh voice can always help out in the locker room, said left-winger Tanner Pearson.
“Hopefully getting (Boudreau) in here, we can take a deep breath and maybe start from scratch, maybe not worry about the last 25 games,” he said. “Yeah, we’re in the hole a bit but we can get ourselves out by being positive.”
While Boudreau’s excited about the new challenge, he isn’t looking too far into the future just yet. Instead, he said he’s set small goals for the team, starting with collecting more wins than losses in this week’s homestand.
“You’d really like to make it a winning team from here on in. And to get the guys happy, to get the fan base happy again with them winning,” he said.
“Wherever that leads, that leads. We just don’t want things to continue what they’re doing what they’re doing. If it ends up getting into a playoff spot, fine and dandy. That’s our ultimate goal for everybody.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press