What the Brock Boeser rumours and drama tell us about the state of the Canucks


VANCOUVER — Brock Boeser took the ice for the warmup skate Saturday night wearing a special Hockey Fights Cancer edition Vancouver Canucks jersey with his late father’s nickname “Dukey” emblazoned on the nameplate.

It was a touching tribute. It meant a lot to Boeser and his family.

That Boeser stepped onto the ice at all Saturday evening, however, was a surprise to keen observers around this team.

Boeser had been slated to be a healthy scratch. He was an extra during line rushes at the club’s morning skate. He stayed out with the scratches and backup netminder Collin Delia after the skate to put in extra work, getting “rinsed” by Canucks assistant coaches.

Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau even confirmed that Boeser would be a healthy scratch Saturday night, describing the decision as “tough love.”

“It was a very important game for me and my family,” Boeser said of the emotions he felt throughout the day, “so when I came in this morning and my name wasn’t on the whiteboard it hurt — it hurt bad.”

There was Boeser, though, come the evening, taking warmups. Wearing an emotionally resonant purple version of the Canucks sweater, and preparing to perform with a heavy heart.

Boeser got into the lineup on Saturday only because Dakota Joshua was injured, the undisclosed injury surfacing early in the afternoon.

So Boeser was thrust into the lineup unexpectedly. He dressed, he played and he played well. He scored the tying goal to force overtime in Vancouver’s smash-and-grab victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

He was inches from ending the game himself in overtime.

Then, because of course, Boeser was thrust into the limelight of the hockey rumour news cycle.

On Saturday night’s “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted that Boeser’s agent Ben Hankinson of Octagon Athlete Representation has been granted permission by the hockey club to seek a trade for his client.

While it’s tempting to connect the club’s tone-deaf handling of Boeser with his name surfacing so publicly on the trade block, these situations aren’t connected. The club should’ve dressed Boeser on Saturday for a multitude of reasons, but Boeser isn’t being made available — nor has his agent reportedly been enlisted to help the club facilitate such a deal — as a result of what occurred Saturday.

Hard as it might seem to believe, the parallel controversies that surrounded Boeser on Saturday night were coincidental. Boeser being available on the trade market isn’t new and it’s not a one-sided situation.

Boeser is available because the club wants to clear cap space, and because it just isn’t really working out for either side this season.

That Boeser’s agent has reportedly been granted permission to help facilitate a deal speaks volumes about Boeser’s value on the trade market. He’s far from the only useful player Canucks brass would consider moving at the moment even if the return is meagre. Even if the club would have to take back an inefficient contract to complete the transaction.

The trade drama, though, that’s sideshow stuff. What matters more is how this latest bit of self-inflected Canucks drama offers a window into an organization struggling with alignment at seemingly every level.

Boudreau is in the last year of his contract and is coaching for his job. He’s playing the wheels off of his best players, as if his very future behind an NHL bench in Vancouver and beyond hinges on every point earned. That’s crucial context for why things went down the way they did Saturday.

The stakes are high for Boudreau and so is the pressure. And a fair bit of the internal pressure involves management pushing for Boudreau to hold key Canucks players accountable for mistakes, inconsistent work rate and being too comfortable.

If you’ve watched this club’s effort level on this current homestand, including for 50 minutes against Arizona on Saturday night, you can surely understand management’s frustration on this score.

Which brings us to Boeser, who has been productive this season but has fallen off of the first power-play unit and out of the top six.

This week Boeser played the first period of Thursday night’s game on the top line. He struggled in that spot and the experiment only lasted one period, as Vancouver went on to lose 5-1 to the Florida Panthers. Then he was back on a bottom-six line with Conor Garland and Sheldon Dries again.

In the wake of that performance, scratching Boeser seems defensible. There’s really no doubt that Boeser’s five-on-five form has been uncharacteristically poor throughout this season.

Still, how does it make sense to scratch Boeser if you’re an organization that’s trying to trade him? That only hurts the club’s severely diminished leverage in trade talks.

It certainly doesn’t make a lick of sense, and is heartless to boot, to scratch Boeser on Hockey Fights Cancer night.

Boudreau, however, said after the game that he wasn’t aware of the theme of the game when he made the decision to drop Boeser from his lineup Friday evening.

So it wasn’t willful malice from a head coach who, based on everything we know of his character and personality, is incapable of behaving in that manner. It’s just that Boudreau seems to be operating in a silo, under pressure from all sides, but with very different short-term incentives from those of the wider organization — on both the business and hockey operations side.

That Boeser was caught in the middle of this, that the drama spilled into public view in this manner, is messy and par for the course.

Even when the Canucks win, the seams are showing everywhere for an organization struggling to get out of its own way.

(Photo of Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson during a stop in play in the third period Saturday night: Bob Frid / USA Today)


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