Last season, everything that could go wrong did for the Vancouver Canucks. The on-ice product was terrible as they finished at the bottom of the all-Canadian North Division, grabbing just 50 points over 56 games and finishing the season with a -37 goal differential.
Off the ice, the team dealt with a severe COVID-19 outbreak that led to plenty of media rumours that obviously irked some of the players. The virus ripped through the organization and the effects of that outbreak are still being felt to this day. Brandon Sutter has still not resumed hockey activities because of long-term effects from the illness.
Among all that craziness, it was former head coach Travis Green that had to deal with the media most nights. Not only did he have to answer for why his team was severely underperforming on the ice, he also had to answer difficult questions about the COVID-19 outbreak on the team.
That wasn’t an easy task, nor was it fair.
It’s been said over and over that Canadian markets are different in terms of the media scrutiny applied to each franchise and Vancouver can be one of the tougher markets. There’s no doubt that a lot was asked of Travis Green and upper management was called out as a result.
It was widely reported that certain players were not happy with how the outbreak was handled by the team. This eventually led to certain players speaking publicly about how they felt rushed back into play and the NHL responding by giving a few extra days off, though still forcing the team to play through a hellish schedule to end the season.
“To be brutally honest, we’re going to need more time than this to come back and play,” Miller said in April of 2021. “Even the guys that didn’t get it aren’t ready to play.”
The entire handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in April was an embarrassment for the franchise and reflected poorly on the organization. Now that the Omicron variant is presenting similar challenges with multiple Canucks having confirmed cases and almost 10% of the entire league entering the protocol over the last five days, it’s been refreshing to see Jim Rutherford take control of the situation and handle it with strong communication skills.
Despite only being on the job for a short period of time, Rutherford has had to deal with a few emergency press conferences related to COVID-19 developments with the team. He has done a good job at expressing concern for the safety of the players while also making it apparent that this is a rapidly changing situation.
“As you know with these spreads, there’s usually one or two guys a day, or at least that’s the way it’s going now.” said Rutherford in a press conference on Saturday. “For now, we’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope there’s not anymore.”
Canucks president Jim Rutherford on input from players re COVID or anything: "The players have to play; they don't get to make final decisions on certain things. But they're such an important part, they need to be heard on everything, especially something this critical."— Iain MacIntyre (@imacSportsnet) December 16, 2021
For Rutherford — as well as new head coach Bruce Boudreau — it would be easy to take a selfish approach to the postponement of the Canucks games over the weekend. The team is the hottest in the NHL and their success has reflected very well on the two new hires. With a win against the Leafs in the game that was supposed to happen on Saturday, Boudreau would have tied the NHL record for most consecutive wins with a new team as a head coach.
“From a team point of view, this [the game against the Leafs] was going to be a really good test for us.” commented Rutherford, “The Maple Leafs are one of the top teams in the league and we would have gotten a good look at how our team responded against them...we’re disappointed but safety comes first.”
Rutherford has appeared cool, calm, and collected in every press conference he has done during his time in Vancouver, something that could perhaps be attributed to his decades of experience in the league. However, even he hasn’t seen a situation like this one before and he’s done a good job of navigating it, a stark contrast to how it was done last season.
He’s allowed Boudreau to focus on hockey for the most part, or at least as much as possible during times like these. While everyone hopes that the Canucks outbreak ends here, COVID-19 numbers are spiking across the country and this is surely a stressful time for members of the team that went through this last year.
Fans are often quick to forget that these players have families and that the outbreaks are stressful and scary. For all those that are pushing for the games to continue, remember what Miller had to say during the outbreak last season.
“This isn’t about hockey for our team. This is about the health and safety of our players , their family and their children.”