VANCOUVER – It’s an extended bridge. Is the bridge too far?
The three-year contract Brock Boeser signed with the Vancouver Canucks on Friday gave his National Hockey League team some time and some wiggle room at the salary cap, and the 25-year-old winger some stability after a difficult season limited by defeat his father in May.
The deal removed the uncertainty of a possible arbitration — the Canucks could have sued their restricted free agent Saturday — and essentially doubles the three-year bridge deal Boeser signed in 2019 after his entry-level contract expired.
But it’s also a gamble on both sides.
By giving up one of his unrestricted free agency seasons by accepting a three-year tenure instead of a one- or two-year contract, Boeser is betting he will improve and score enough goals over the next three seasons to still command it elusive long-term contract when he will be 28 years old.
The Canucks are banking on Boeser rebounding from last season’s erratic 46-point campaign with a clearer focus and earning his new annual salary of $6.65 million.
“I think that says a lot about Brock Boeser making a commitment to the Vancouver Canucks here and what we’re trying to achieve,” general manager Patrik Allvin told reporters on a Zoom call late Friday. “I think Brock is in a good place and he knows he’s a good hockey player and he knows he has the support from the owners and management and the coaching staff and his teammates here. It shows that Brock wants to be a big part of the Vancouver Canucks’ development.”
Head coach Bruce Boudreau was more effusive about the signing of Boeser, who officiated a surprisingly busy Canada Day for the Canucks, who also hired Mike Yeo to fill their coaching staff and signed top prospect Jack Rathbone on a two-year, one-way contract.
“I’m really happy for Brock,” Boudreau told Sportsnet. “I’m really glad he’s not getting over his head anymore. And I’m very happy for us. We all know he has the ability to be a great player. And I think last year must be an anomaly. Many great players go through this year-long anomaly. He had a reason (with his father’s declining health), but still.
“I would think he’s going to be so hungry to play now that you’re going to see the Brock Boeser from two years ago and three years ago. I know he’s probably very excited to sign the deal and I know he wanted to come back to us. We want guys who want to be here and I know he wanted to be here.”
Boeser seemed on his way to stardom as he scored 29 goals in 62 games and finished second in Calder Trophy voting in 2017-18 as a rookie. However, his season ended with a serious back injury, and injuries affected him the following two seasons before the Minnesotan scored 23 goals and 49 points in 56 games during the 2021 season shortened by the pandemic.
He should be a 30-goal scorer in the NHL, but he also needs to sharpen his focus and drive and improve his overall game as the organization, rebuilt this year under Allvin and President Jim Rutherford, seeks to nurture its talented young players to move beyond a mindset of individual achievement.
“He obviously went through a rough time off the ice last year,” Allvin said of Boeser. “I’m confident we can create an environment here where our players push themselves and raise the standard and we can see growth in each and every one. You are able to do this. They are a very talented group of players. They just need to be driven and they need to have the right attitude – more of a winning attitude and the sacrifices it takes to be successful every day.”
Boudreau’s coaching staff will play a big part in that.
Yeo, a former head coach at Minnesota and St. Louis, was hired as Boudreau’s senior assistant, replacing Scott Walker, who chose not to return to the Canucks for family reasons. But the club also announced on Friday that Abbotsford Canucks head coach Trent Cull had been promoted to the NHL staff after key assistant Brad Shaw left to become an associate coach under John Tortorella in Philadelphia.
Former Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton will take charge of the AHL team in Abbotsford. The Canucks announced last week that Dylan Crawford had been hired as video coach. The incumbents on Boudreau’s staff are assistant coach Jason King and goalkeeping director Ian Clark.
Rutherford said at his year-end press conference that although the Canucks finished the season 32-15-10 under Boudreau, they needed more “structure” and management would work with Boudreau to improve staffing.
Yeo wasn’t top of management’s list of coaching candidates, but he was Boudreau’s first choice. After much interviewing and due diligence, Allvin agreed that the 48-year-old, who spent the last three seasons as an assistant in Philadelphia, would be a good fit as a senior assistant in Vancouver.
Yeo is considered a highly detailed, technical coach.
“I think we’ve really improved our coaching staff and our group and that’s how Bruce feels,” Allvin said. “In the end, I think Bruce and I are working together here (and) I want to make sure Bruce gets the right people to work with on the day-to-day things. Bruce was really excited when we were able to make that happen.”
“First of all, we talked to a lot of people,” Boudreau said. “It kept coming back to Mike. This guy is a great communicator and he knows hockey very well. And he did everything. I just thought he would be a perfect fit to coach me.
“I want an energetic, positive coaching staff and a staff that really pulls together. And I think we get that with him.”
With Boeser signed, the biggest concern for Allvin — alongside draft entry next week in Montreal and free agency the following week — is the future of Canucks top forward JT Miller. The 99-point scorer is entering the final year of his contract but at the age of 29 it could be too expensive for the team to re-sign a seven- or eight-year deal.
Allvin reiterated Friday that management doesn’t think there’s an imminent deadline to either re-sign Miller or trade.
“We want to keep him here in Vancouver and I hope so,” he said. “Ideally, you want to close the deal here today. But if that’s not going to happen, we’ll keep talking and see what the best options are. I mean, a lot of players are in their final year of contract.”