By: Brayden Fengler / September 15, 2022
As much as Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau was worried that last season’s “Bruce there it is” chants were going to transition into “Bruce there he goes”, it seems as though that won’t be happening, at least not for another year. Coach Bruce will soon be behind the bench again with the Canucks in his first full season with the club.
His coaching style clearly connected with the team last winter, when former head coach Travis Green’s style was no longer doing the trick. But how will Bruce manage his second season with the organization, and how has he managed second seasons with his previous clubs?
New Coach Bump
As few Canucks fans will need reminding the team was in dire straits before Bruce’s arrival in early December of last year. Of the last 20 games played by Travis Green’s Canucks the team had lost 14 of those contests.
Although Green himself couldn’t, and still shouldn’t, be blamed for the overall structure of the team at the time. Hindsight though certainly points to coaching as a bigger factor for the team’s poor performance than was considered at the time.
Nevertheless, Green was ousted in December, along with then General Manager Jim Benning, and the rest as they say is history. Bruce did his best to make President and GM, Jim Rutherford and Patrik Allvin’s jobs harder, by winning as many games as possible.
Bruce took the Canucks from losing nearly 75% of their last 20 games with Green, to winning more than 50% of their next 20 games with him, the Canucks won 11 games in that stretch to be exact. With seven of those wins coming consecutively, immediately after Bruce’s hiring.
Bruce did what he could with his new team, who had, and still has structural issues far removed from the coach’s purview. Above all, the new coach gave the fan base hope for a time, hope that perhaps this squad doesn’t need to be imploded but perhaps molded into something that may not be as far out of reach as it once seemed.
So can Bruce really continue to provide that hope to the fan base going into his second season with the Canucks?
Bruce’s Second Seasons
Bruce is no stranger to being a mid-season hire and a mid-season hero to a franchise. Bruce was hired in the middle of the year during his coaching tenures with both the Washington Capitals and the Anaheim Ducks. Most noticeable is his time with Washington in 2007-08. In this case he took a team that was floundering horribly in their early months of the year and drove them all the way to the Conference Quarterfinals.
Unfortunately for Canucks fans, Bruce was not able to work quite as much magic in Vancouver during his first year, but this points to a trend evident in Bruce’s career. Bruce is able to quickly capture a room, and provide a bright light at teams darkest times. What’s encouraging is that that light doesn’t just go away after his first season with a club.
In Bruce’s second season with the Capitals where he coached a full 82 games compared to the prior season’s 61, Bruce maintained a win rate of 60% between the two seasons.
This with just the slightest marginal difference of less than a percentage point favouring the results of his second year with the Capitals. Bruce helped earn that team 108 points on the year, taking them as far as the Conference Semifinals.
With Anaheim his results over his first and second season were similar, he earned the Ducks 62 points across the 58 games that he coached for them during his first year in 2011-12.
Then, even with the lockout-shortened season that followed, Bruce with just 48 games coached that Ducks team to a 66-point year, earning the club a trip to the playoffs, which they hadn’t had the year prior.
In both major instances when Bruce has joined a team mid-season and then continued to coach that team in the following years, those teams do not just drop off. If anything, Bruce’s teams improve in their second year with him as coach, and there’s no reason to think this won’t be the case for the Canucks.
Improved personnel and fresh management aside, another glimmer of hope for the Canucks is the very fact that Bruce’s history (albeit a sample size of two teams) shows that players don’t just improve around Bruce when he’s a new voice, they listen to Bruce and improve with him into future seasons.
Bruce’s Hopes for the Canucks
Bruce is very much back in B.C. and was making the round again in the media. In a brief interview that he had with Global BC when he first got back into town, he cited reasons for some of his excitement and anticipation for the coming season with the Canucks.
Some key takeaways were that he was hopeful and believed all along, that J.T. Miller would remain a Canuck into this season. Bruce reported speaking with Miller, and what could’ve been just hype-man coach talk, seems to have turned into reality. Bruce spoke highly of Miller’s desire to return, and after all Miller is returning.
Of the new and returning players, Bruce also mentioned being excited to see Vasily Podkolzin’s further development, as many Canucks fans are, and excitement around getting to work closely with Ilya Mikheyev, who Bruce seems enamored with due to his speed.
Bruce has of course spoken to other members of his club over the off-season, as a coach should. Although it would’ve been unlikely for him to openly choose to voice player concerns, from what Bruce has said, the vibe among players seems to be positive. Time will tell if Bruce can continue his strong second-season streak with the Canucks and uphold this positivity.
That streak continuing depends a lot on if the few moves made by management this off-season actually translate into improved performance on the ice. But regardless of what this team looks like come early October, right now the vibes are good, and that isn’t always the case before a new Canucks season.