After firing general manager (GM) Jim Benning, assistant GMs (AGM) John Weisbrod, Chris Gear and Jonathan Wall last week, the Vancouver Canucks hired a new president of hockey operations in veteran executive Jim Rutherford on Thursday. Since then, they have gone 4-0 under new head coach Bruce Boudreau and are finally on a positive track 29 games into the 2021-22 season.
The Canucks introduced Rutherford to the media on Monday in a press conference alongside owner Francesco Aquilini. With a new era starting in Vancouver, there were understandably a lot of questions on which direction the new figurehead will lead this team in the future. Will it be a retool or rebuild? Who will he hire as a new GM? Some of them were answered, while others will remain to be seen. Here are a few takeaways as we await his first move as president of the organization.
Rutherford Will Bring In a New Assistant GM This Week
One of the first tidbits of interesting information was the fact that Rutherford will be bringing in a new AGM this week before settling on a GM. Elliotte Friedman reported last week that he could be eyeing Pittsburgh Penguins’ AGM Jason Botterill as a candidate for his new GM, but that could change to him being brought in as an assistant instead. Patrik Allvin was also discussed in that same report as he was the interim GM in Pittsburgh after Rutherford left.
Considering Rutherford already has names in mind for a new AGM, those names could carry some weight. Anything from Friedman should always be taken seriously, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Botterill or Allvin be introduced as the next addition to the Canucks’ revamped front office.
Rutherford Wasn’t Clear On If New GM Will Be Experienced or Not
When asked about his search for a new GM, Rutherford revealed that he had compiled a list of 40 candidates that was broken into two categories, ones with GM experience who are without a job right now and ones that are AGMs who he could mentor. He also said that he wants to get someone in the role sooner rather than later, but wants to get it right the first time. So, basically, we don’t know who he will ultimately choose to succeed Benning.
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Before Rutherford was officially hired, names like Mike Gillis, Laurence Gilman, John Ferguson Jr., Marc Bergevin and of course, Jason Botterill, were bandied about. So, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that his list contains people with and without experience considering the names we are already hearing.
The Canucks Need a Culture Change
The biggest revelation to come from this press conference was the fact that the Canucks needed a culture change from the front office down to the coaching staff. When long-time employees Gear and Wall were dismissed a few days ago, there was considerable unrest in the media. Described by Sportnet’s Ian MacIntyre as a “bad look for both owners and their new super-boss,” the question of why they were fired was sure to come up.
Answered first by Aquilini and reiterated by Rutherford, the reason was clear, they wanted to clear the deck and begin a new culture in Vancouver.
I just came to the conclusion that we need a change, a new culture. We decided to clean the slate for Jim.Francesco Aquilini
I didn’t request any moves, but when you’re changing the culture, sometimes when you have people that have been here a long time, it’s harder to do. What I’m trying to do is change the culture and get to that consistent, positive winning attitude.Jim Rutherford
In other words, they believed that Gear and Wall were set in their ways and would have had a harder time changing their views in a new culture of leadership. In the end, they wanted new and fresh faces to make the transition easier for everyone.
Rutherford Wants To Have a Diverse Front Office
The best question, in my opinion, came from Jon Hernandez of CBC News when he asked about the potential for a more diverse group of executives moving forward, instead of a continuation of the “old boys” club. Rutherford answered in the affirmative when he said, “I know our society is changing all the time…I would like to see a more diverse staff if possible.” He continued, “Now, that’s easier for me to sit here and say. You really have to search for that, for people that want to do it and that are capable of doing it.” With that information in hand, could we see a GM or AGM like Hayley Wickenheiser in Vancouver at some point?
Wickenheiser is a rising star in the hockey executive world after becoming director of player development for the Toronto Maple Leafs. I guess time will tell, but her smarts and personality would be a welcome addition to the new culture the Canucks are trying to build.
Canucks Will Not Trade Premium Draft Picks
Another positive piece of news was the announcement that Rutherford will not be looking to trade premium draft picks like first and second-rounders. The Canucks have not had a first-round pick in the last two drafts and coming up on two very deep and elite-level classes in 2022 and 2023, they can ill afford to lose any more. In an effort to make the playoffs, Benning has moved those picks in trades for J.T. Miller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland. The last time they had a first-round pick was back in 2019 when they drafted Vasily Podkolzin.
Rutherford will instead be looking to increase the depth of young talent and focus on short-term veterans that cost only late-round picks. That, I’m sure made Canucks Nation breathe a sigh of relief especially after all the reports from the past that saw him spend first-round picks on short-term solutions for the Penguins. The Canucks need to build up their blue-chip prospect pool again if they want to see success in the future. Now is not the time for drastic moves that cost more first-round picks and further bleed the coffers dry.
Rutherford Signed Off On Boudreau Before He Was Hired
A lot of people were confused when the Canucks fired Green and hired Boudreau before a new GM was installed to replace Benning. When a leadership group is shifted at the top, they usually want to have a coach of their choosing. Well, it turns out Rutherford was okay with Boudreau coming in as head coach.
Before accepting the job, Aquilini asked his soon-to-be president if he was comfortable with Boudreau coming in to lead the Canucks. Of course, he was fine with the man that he had known for 50 years. He didn’t even hesitate when asked if he was okay with it. “Most definitely…having a guy like Bruce where he gives the players a lot of confidence and makes them feel good about themself was really the right guy at this time for this organization…”
Rutherford may not have been involved in the search for a new head coach, but he certainly was more than okay with Boudreau being the choice moving forward. Well at least for the next season and a half anyway.
Rutherford Believes Demko is a Franchise Goaltender
Not like fans didn’t know already, but Rutherford believes the Canucks have a franchise goaltender in Thatcher Demko. The man that has carried the team on his back at times got an early vote of confidence from the new president and interim GM. Why not? It would be criminal to say that he has not been the Canucks’ MVP so far this season. Currently riding a four-game winning streak, he was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday after posting a ridiculous 1.20 goals-against average (GAA) and a .962 save percentage (SV%) to go along with one shutout.
Demko has been lights out all season long and deserves all the accolades that are coming his way right now. Boudreau even went as far as saying that Team USA should be looking at him when it comes to the Olympics in February. That’s how good he has been.
The Rutherford Era Has Officially Begun
Now that Rutherford has been officially installed as president of hockey operations and interim GM, it will be interesting to see what his next moves will be. Fleshing out the front office and putting the right people in the right positions will be his priority over player movement at the outset. That doesn’t mean he won’t be listening to offers that come his way, however. He just won’t be actively calling GMs in an attempt to make moves.
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As long as the Canucks are putting W’s in the win column, change on the ice will not be the first thing on his mind. He wants to get his front office in order first. There were a lot of positives that came from this initial press conference. Now let’s see if his words turn into action that finally brings a championship to Vancouver for the first time.
Matthew Zator is a THW freelance writer, media editor, and scout who lives and breathes Vancouver Canucks hockey, the NHL Draft, and prospects in general. He loves talking about young players and their potential. Matthew is a must-read for Canucks fans and fans of the NHL Draft and its prospects. For interview requests or content information, you can follow Matthew through his social media accounts which are listed under his photo at the conclusion of articles like this one about Tyler Motte.