Canucks fans say goodbye to classy coach Bruce Boudreau, who gets send-off by players, Hughes hits 30 goals in Devils win, Gallant’s latest shuffling splits up Panarin and Trocheck

On Saturday night at Rogers Place in Vancouver, Canucks fans said goodbye to lovable coach Bruce Boudreau. In what amounted to the final game behind the Vancouver bench for the NHL lifer, the Canucks fell short in a 4-2 home loss to the Oilers.

Although they were simply outgunned by a sizzling Connor McDavid, who scored his 40th goal and added his 48th assist to hit 88 points in just his 48th game of a remarkable season, the Canucks didn’t give up. After falling behind 3-0, they tried their best to send out Boudreau with a win.

It just wasn’t meant to be. Despite first-year Russian Andrei Kuzmenko scoring his 19th goal, and the polarizing J.T. Miller adding his 18th early in the third period, they couldn’t overcome a three-goal deficit.

With Spencer Martin lifted for an extra attacker in the final minute, Zach Hyman helped set up an empty netter for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins with 35 seconds left to put Edmonton ahead 4-2.

As time wound down, the popular Boudreau again heard the familiar chants, “Bruce There It Is! Bruce There It Is!”, from an appreciative crowd. Something he’s never experienced over a 48-year career saw an emotional Boudreau thank the fans by clapping and waving back as he left the bench with Miller seated right in front of him. Canucks players waited to go off after the affable coach.

The classy coach knew it was over. He’d only been there for over a year. Prior to the final game, he questioned why they let him stay for so long. The rumors started last November due to Jim Rutherford not giving him a ringing endorsement. The fact he was so noncommittal on such a good man was classless. That’s how the Canucks organization will be described in hockey circles for a while.

To have to constantly hear his name bandied about had to be very frustrating. Boudreau still was a total pro through it all. He did the pregame and postgame interviews in the same polite manner that makes the 68-year old so lovable. He’d even make sarcastic remarks in reference to his job status to keep things light.

That’s about what we’ve come to expect from a prideful man who loves the sport. A true hockey lifer whose enthusiasm and passion are what make him such a pleasure to see talk. It’s unfortunate that he never won a Cup behind the bench. He certainly had some good teams in Washington and Anaheim. That’s how hard it can be to win. You have to be lucky.

If he never coaches another game, Boudreau finishes with a respectable 617-342-128 record. That’s a .626 win percentage. He was a winner in all four NHL cities. A former Jack Adams recipient, Boudreau can be proud of his work. Of course, he hoped things would go better in Year Two with Vancouver. It wasn’t meant to be.

Despite boasting star talent by making the risky commitment to sign J.T. Miller to a contract extension that kicks in next season at an average cap hit of $8 million running thru 2030, the Canucks find themselves up against it.

Team captain Bo Horvat remains on track to score over 50 goals with his 30 pacing the team. He could price himself out which is why the organization might have to make the tough decision to trade him. It would be a tremendous loss for the club.

If they can’t keep Horvat, who is in his final season making $5.5 million, what exactly will they get back for the 27-year old complete center? Unless they can find a taker for oft-injured streaky scorer Brock Boeser, who has two more years remaining at an AAV of $6.65 million, it doesn’t look promising for keeping Horvat.

Even with a core that will include Thatcher Demko, Quinn Hughes, Miller and they hope Elias Pettersson (RFA in ’24), without Horvat it would feel incomplete. They can thank former GM Jim Benning for that. Before he was fired along with Travis Green 13 months ago, the Canucks only made the playoffs twice over eight years under him.

Now, the Canucks have another coach. As had been rumored by Elliotte Friedman and discussed on Hockey Night In Canada, Rick Tocchet takes over. The former Coyotes coach had worked as a studio analyst for the NHL On TNT. He gets a second chance at coaching. It won’t be easy.

Seeing players like Horvat and Tyler Myers interviewed about Boudreau gives us more insight into the emotions in the Canucks room. They clearly loved and respected Boudreau. In the video above, Horvat mentioned how much he cared about each player always asking if they were okay. He formed special relationships with his players.

The way the players handled it was professional. It can’t be easy to have to face such questions about the coach and complicated situation following games. You hope for the best for those guys going forward.

For Boudreau, he can hold his head high. He is an great example of how to maintain professionalism. He loved what he did. Amidst the chaos and emotions which were visible both at the end of Saturday night’s game and afterwards at the podium, he was still the same passionate coach he’s always been.

Enough can’t be said about his heart. What a great man. I have nothing but admiration for him. Wherever he winds up, he’ll land on his feet. Hopefully, it’s on TV. If not, all the best to him and his family.

In other hockey related news, the Devils defeated the Penguins on Sunday 2-1 in overtime at The Prudential Center. Jack Hughes scored number 30 in game 46. What a year he’s having. His 58 points pace the team who trail first place Carolina by two points.

After the refs properly ruled that Pens defenseman Marcus Pettersson jumped on too soon to negate his potential overtime winner, which led to a bench minor for too many men, Hughes and Nico Hischier combined to set up Dougie Hamilton for the OT winner. A good one-timer upstairs past Tristan Jarry’s glove to the Devils the win.

They’re sitting in second in the Metropolitan Division with a 30-12-4 record good for 64 points. After a lull in December, they are winning games again. In fact, since Dec. 30 when they defeated the Penguins 4-2, they are 8-1-2 with the only loss in regulation coming to the Blues on Jan. 5. They’re 6-0-1 since and are now seven points up on the third place Rangers, who host the Panthers tonight.

With it looking more promising for the Devils to return to the playoffs, look for Team President and GM Tom Fitzgerald to add a key piece near the trade deadline. They could be linked to Timo Meier. A player who is a hot commodity.

As for the Rangers, after losing 3-1 to the NHL best Bruins, who continue to dominate the competition, coach Gerard Gallant wasn’t happy with his second line. Feeling that they give up more scoring chances than they generate, which has been true most of the season, he called out Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck.

It was clear that something had to change. Trocheck, who’s been a good addition to the team despite not having much chemistry with Panarin, will center a checking line later against the suddenly rejuvenated Panthers. He’ll anchor Jimmy Vesey and Barclay Goodrow on the third line. Both fit his straightaway style better than Panarin, who likes to skate around and try risky passes through the middle.

Instead of moving Filip Chytil up to anchor the second line, Gallant decided to bump Panarin back up to the top line where he’ll play with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. At least the way they lined up during a rare public practice that many fans attended on Saturday, Kreider will start on his off side. We’ll see if it works later.

They haven’t played much together. But it combines the team’s best three offensive forwards on the first line. It’ll be interesting to see if they can click. When the coach has tried this before, it hasn’t clicked. They did produce two goals for and none against. It should be a strong puck possession unit that will have the puck on the forecheck. We’ll see how it goes.

Chytil is reunited with Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko. The question is are they the second line again. When Turk tried that last month, it netted positive results. The only difference was Trocheck had Kreider on his new line which provided a scoring threat.

When asked about playing the trio of former first round picks together again, Gallant felt that they are more instinctive as a line. Not as hesitant. Something we’ve seen with Lafreniere, who enters the game without a goal in the last 17. Kakko hasn’t exactly lit the lamp much lately either. But he did record a two assist game. However, nine goals in 46 games isn’t enough production for a player who’s shown improvement. They need more.

As for Chytil, he has 12 goals and 12 assists for 24 points. He’s stayed aggressive and played a straight line game. The only change I would’ve made was having the left shot Chytil replace Trocheck on the top power play.

Gallant remains loyal to his five-man unit that features Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Panarin, Kreider and Trocheck. Supposedly, they had Zibanejad and Panarin work in opposite circles to throw a new wrinkle. The recent struggles of that first unit is why the team is ranked 16th. They’ve become too predictable. We’ll see if things change against an opponent who isn’t the most disciplined.

With Julien Gauthier returning off injured reserve, it forced the Rangers to make a move. Rather than waive someone else (cough Sammy Blais), they placed Jonny Brodzinski on waivers. He didn’t deserve it. He brings a nice element of speed and grit. He cleared and went to Hartford.

Of course, Vitaly Kravtsov is the odd man out. Despite doing nothing wrong lately, he likely will play on a new checking line with Jake Leschyshyn and Gauthier. It makes little sense. Kravtsov has to play his off wing due to Gauthier playing the right side.

He will get fourth line minutes and is off the power play due to Gallant preferring to have Jacob Trouba with K’Andre Miller on the second unit. The forwards are Chytil, Lafreniere and Kakko. They have had success recently since adding Miller to PP2.

It feels like Kravtsov is in purgatory. He needs to escape Gallant. I think a trade would be welcome for both parties. Maybe the Blues for Vladimir Tarasenko if they can make the money match up. I have no idea how. It’s much harder to make a trade for a big name player due to the hard cap.

There isn’t much else to add. I don’t agree with how Gallant runs the team. I’m not alone. But this is what it is for now. I’ll have more later.


About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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