The Vancouver Canucks expect to make changes this summer, says general manager Patrik Allvin.
And he’s tasked players with figuring out how they can help improve the team going forward.
“I’m excited by the response from the players,” Allvin said in a season-ending press conference Monday. “But I’m sure we’ve got to continue to work with the players … and see where we are.”
The Canucks are coming off a tumultuous season both on and off the ice.
Vancouver got off to a disastrous start, going 0-5-2 out of the gate, including a home opener that saw jerseys tossed to the ice and boos echo through the stands following a 5-1 drubbing by the Buffalo Sabres.
The Canucks finished the campaign with a 38-37-7 record and missed the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Medical staff faced questions when a series of high-profile injuries hit the lineup, including a groin ailment that kept star goalie Thatcher Demko off the ice for nearly four months and another where winger Tanner Pearson suffered multiple setbacks following a broken hand.
Management came under fire ahead of the all-star break when, after extended speculation, the Canucks finally fired head coach Bruce Boudreau. The veteran bench boss was replaced with Rick Tocchet on Jan. 22.
“I give the players a lot of credit,” the new coach said Monday. “It was a tough situation this year. So I give them a lot of credit for how they bounced back in certain respects.”
Vancouver went 20-12-4 under Tocchet to close out the season.
The success has been divisive in the market, with some saying the Canucks should have lost more games to improve their odds in the upcoming draft lottery, while others have chalked up the wins to a temporary new-coach bump.
Tocchet has heard all the chatter around his team.
“I love that stuff because that should fuel players. It fuels me,” said the former NHL forward. “We can change the narratives, whatever people say.”
Changing coaches midseason created a new atmosphere around the rink, Allvin said, noting that Tocchet, new assistant coach Adam Foote and new defensive development specialist Sergei Gonchar brought a new mindset to the group.
“(The players have) got to know what their role and responsibility is,” the GM said.
“It’s my job to communicate with the coaching staff how we’re going to run this team moving forward. And I think the coaching staff have built in a fairly short period of time that trust from the players. They enjoy walking back in here, they enjoy being in practice, they enjoy getting teaching, communication, pushing themselves harder.”
More changes will come this off-season, Allvin said.
Vancouver has a core of young stars, including centre Elias Pettersson, who posted a career-high 102 points this season, and defenceman Quinn Hughes, who broke his own record for points by a Canucks defenceman with 76 on the campaign.
Both the front office and coaching staff are looking at how to surround their top players with a solid supporting cast, Allvin said.
Finding a third-line centre — whether from within the team’s current crop of emerging talent or on the open market — will be a priority. Management will also look at options for backing up Demko, though Allvin said he doesn’t want to spend too much money on a second netminder.
“Our job is to get better from game one to game 82,” he said. “I’m very excited about the core of good players that we have here. And I don’t see a reason why we can’t push (for a playoff spot) coming into game one next year.”
Vancouver remains tight against the NHL’s salary cap heading into the 2023-24 season, however, and the GM admitted that he’ll need to be creative in order to adjust his lineup.
Allvin said he’s looking to make “lateral moves” and “hockey deals” in the coming months, and that he’s not intending to buy out any of the contracts currently on the team’s books.
“This group is touching the surface of becoming a good team,” he said. “So I don’t want to use buyouts if we don’t have to that will kind of affect us in a couple of years when this group is actually — hopefully — taking off.”
—Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press