President of hockey operations Jim Rutherford was honest with reporters on Monday
Stop us if you’ve heard this before in the last decade or so, but the Vancouver Canucks are in a bit of trouble.
It’s not just the standings, where the Canucks—despite the head coach admitting it would be a “disaster” if the club didn’t make the playoffs this year—are languishing near the bottom of the Western Conference.
No, it seems like there’s a new off-ice distraction every week or so. Whether it’s that head coach’s shaky standing with the new management group, the future of the team’s captain and leading goal scorer, the attitude of the team’s big off-season re-signing, the benchings of big-money skaters or the handling of a player’s injury.
On Monday, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford faced the music from Vancouver’s press corps in a meeting that was originally intended to respond to the aforementioned fallout from Tanner Pearson’s hand surgery. Instead, Rutherford fielded all types of questions, standing in there as the media cycled through a number of different queries.
Whether or not you’re a Canucks fan, it was an interesting exercise in observing how to run an organization. We here at BCBusiness often talk about leadership and the best and worst practices for those in leadership positions. So, we thought we’d take a stab at addressing Rutherford’s (quite unique) press conference. Here are some leadership dos and don’ts we gathered from the presser.
Do: Be honest with your customers
The honesty in Rutherford’s remarks was refreshing. He didn’t have to take as long as he did to answer all the questions presented to him, and he certainly didn’t have to be as starkly honest as he was.
The last regime, fronted by former Canucks GM Jim Benning, absolutely refused to take any ownership for the numerous bad managerial decisions that were made. The lack of responsibility was almost comical.
So, there was some comfort to be found in Rutherford at least admitting that he too is disappointed in the job he’s done since taking over in December 2021.
Rutherford on the core “I definitely know we have to change it. I’m disappointed in the job I’ve done to this point. When I first came here I talked about getting the cap under control…and we haven’t been able to do that” #Canucks @TSNHockey— Farhan Lalji (@FarhanLaljiTSN) January 16, 2023
Don’t: Misunderstand your base
The last Canucks’ regime was known, in some circles, for seemingly mischaracterizing how fans felt. In fact, it often seemed like it was just trying to please an owner who wanted playoff revenue and refused to take a long-term look at rebuilding. In the sense, it had to be a bit triggering for large portions of the fanbase to hear Rutherford dismiss the idea of being patient when that’s exactly what some sections of the city have been preaching for years.
Rutherford said he's not going to preach patience, he understands the frustration of #Canucks fans and the media and that everyone "wants it done sooner than later."— Omar A.R. (@omarcanuck) January 16, 2023
No!! They DON'T want it done sooner than later. They want it STARTED sooner than later.
If that statement brought back some painful memories, you’re not alone. Which brings us to...
Don’t: Make the same mistakes as past administrations
If that wasn’t triggering enough, you had Rutherford lay out a plan that sounded almost exactly like what Jim Benning dragged Canucks fans through for years.
Rutherford: “We’re not looking toward a re-build. I’d rather call it a re-tool. My preference when we make these deals is not necessarily for draft picks. I’d prefer younger players that didn’t work out with their entry level contract and give them a second chance." #Canucks— Ben Kuzma ?? (@benkuzma) January 16, 2023
That sounds a lot like Benning bringing in guys like Sven Baertschi and Derrick Pouliot and Markus Granlund and Emerson Etem and... you get the picture. This is not a new strategy to Canucks fans. In fact, it’s the same one that Benning applied in trying to do an on-the-fly retool instead of stockpiling draft picks.
Do: Negotiate fairly
We’re going to do the reverse Michael Scott thing here a bit, because while negotiating in good faith is absolutely crucial in business management, and Jim Rutherford is purporting to do that with Bo Horvat, the whole process rings a little hollow.
That’s because while Rutherford is rightly trying to practice sound salary cap management in negotiations with the Canucks captain, fans have to be a little miffed that signing J.T. Miller, who had a career season last year, appears to have been a priority over getting Horvat’s signature on a long-term deal.
Now, with Horvat fifth in the league in goals and Miller drawing criticism for sloppy defensive play, that decision is aging badly. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and Miller scored 99 points last season. But instead of selling him off at his highest price, the Canucks decided to retain him at that same value.
Negotiating will always be an important part of running any organization, and while Rutherford is doing his part now, it feels like Canucks fans (and probably Rutherford himself) would have liked a do-over in the summer.
Don’t: Leave your staff hanging
Finally, we come to perhaps the most egregious move this organization has made in continuing to employ Bruce Boudreau—a man this administration didn’t hire—as head coach. Rumours that the Canucks have talked with and are ready to hire Rick Tocchet (who reportedly has to wait for his TV deal to run out, you can’t make this up) leaked out, and while Rutherford didn’t back down from those reports in his presser, it’s just a markedly unfair thing to do to an employee.
“All I can say is that Bruce is our coach right now,” says Rutherford.— Thomas Drance (@ThomasDrance) January 16, 2023
Rutherford confirms he’s made calls to replacement candidates going back months.
“But with that I’m calling and talking, but don’t know that we’re making a change and don’t want to make a change.” #Canucks
Boudreau himself choked back tears in discussing the rumours. It’s one thing to “discuss” with candidates, it’s another for reports to leak out that you have someone very senior on staff that you’re planning to fire the moment it’s convenient. That doesn’t bode well for the rest of the staff who are working under the person and it especially doesn’t work on a hockey team, where the coach is the main motivator. How can his players take him seriously if they know he’s out the door imminently?
Elliotte Friedman : I think you will see a coaching change in 1-2 weeks and it will be Tocchet.— Rick Dhaliwal (@DhaliwalSports) January 16, 2023
Also keep an eye on Sergei Gonchar as an assistant.
It’s great that Rutherford delivered some honesty to Canucks fans, for once. But the message is going to have to change for fans to feel confident in his outlook for the franchise.