By: Brayden Fengler / January 27, 2022
And there we have it folks, with the signing of Patrik Allvin as the new GM of the Vancouver Canucks the search for the last remaining stone on the front office infinity gauntlet has been completed (for now maybe…). We have come full circle since the front-office shakeup that began on December 5th, with the firing of most notably then Canucks Head Coach Travis Green and General Manager Jim Benning.
The end of 2021 and into 2022 has consisted of the most monumental string of front office moves that the Canucks organization has seen in recent history, and arguably in franchise history as well.
There were more Canucks front office hirings and firings over the last two months than you can count on two hands, so it’s understandable if you maybe didn’t catch the details on every single one. If you did miss a detail here and there, that’s where this article comes in.
Below you will be taken along a lovely 53-day journey and bear witness to the aftermath of an organization finally admitting it has a problem and miraculously and uncharacteristically taking the steps to actually deal with that problem.
Dec 5th: The Big Day
More than half of the most notable front office “transactions” either happened on, or their stories were broken on December 5th, 2021. Following the December 4th demoralizing home-ice loss to the Penguins, the ball that Francesco Aquilini had by all accounts already got rolling days prior, had finally picked up enough steam to topple its first victims.
Fired: Head Coach – Travis Green and General Manager – Jim Benning
News broke first about the firing of Head Coach Travis Green, and while there was a brief panic in the market that Aquilini was going to make this move in a poorly veiled attempt to release a bit of pressure in the market and buy Benning more time, that ended up not being the case.
Jim Benning being let go as Canucks GM was a long time coming, and the reasons for why that is, are probably not lost on any Canucks fan that are engaged enough to find themselves reading this article. But for a quick refresher on the most recent reasons, the market had simply just grown tired of Benning’s empty promises, that were on display yet again.
The team was profusely underperforming to that point in the season, and by all accounts, Benning had been given full control over the previous summer to build a significantly better team, unburdened by COVID money restrictions, and yet he failed to do so.
It was of course no help to the situation that the coach he just re-signed, wasn’t able to get even an ounce of production out of the roster either. While the chants in the market were more for Benning’s head and not Green’s, it has become clear in hindsight that both of them really did have to go, in order to give this team the fresh start that they needed.
Fired: Assistant Coach – Nolan Baumgartner and Assistant General Manager – John Weisbrod
These two moves are of course a shock to no one, as their superiors who entrusted them with their positions had been canned, so why as their right-hand men why would these two be sticking around?
For what it’s worth when speaking to Halford & Brough, Baumgartner denied the idea that he and Green had lost the room, citing a number of other factors for the team’s poor performance, including their overall slow start suffocating their momentum and key players not performing up to their potential.
In retrospect, though it again becomes hard to see it any other way than the very way that Baumgartner is denying. This since the Canucks’ record in the standings has improved dramatically in recent weeks, without Baumgartner and Green, yet their roster has pretty much stayed the same.
Jim Benning’s right-hand man John Weisbrod was of course also let go. As the main soundboard to Benning, it would never have made sense to keep him around, as is league standard and something he is familiar with when being fired alongside his last GM Jay Feaster in Calgary back in 2013.
Other Canucks AGM Chris Gear (who we will get into later) was not fired hand in hand with Weisbrod, potentially, seen as more distant to Benning and someone that could help steer the ship in the interim. It’s unclear how much merit there is to the long-running joke among Canucks fans that Weisbrod didn’t actually do all that much, but Gear for his part tried to answer that very question in a recent interview on Canucks Conversation:
Hired: Head Coach – Bruce Boudreau / Assistant Coach – Scott Walker
Bruce there it is. Out with the old, quickly in with the new. Although a new GM was not immediately named to the team, a new coach and assistant coach were, with former Minnesota Wild coach Bruce Boudreau and his first pick for Assistant Coach, Scott Walker being brought on.
Bruce is no stranger to joining a struggling team’s locker room mid-season; he’s done it before, maybe most notably with the Washington Capitals in 2007, where he ended up winning the Jack Adams award that year for his efforts with the team.
Bruce brings a whole different vibe than Travis does. Recent history has proven that this vibe change was the right decision, for the time being at least, as the Canucks are now 10-4-3 under Bruce.
Scott Walker had crossed paths with Bruce before his hiring in Vancouver, as he was on BBQ Bruce’s radar if and when an opportunity like this ever presented itself to him again. Walker was on Bruce’s Washington Capitals team as a player in the 2009-10 season and was nearly selected as his Assistant Coach during his time with the Wild. Ultimately though it was this opportunity that finally allowed the two to work side by side.
Dec 9th: From Jim to Jim
One of the first things Franky mentioned after the firing of GM Jim Benning, is that the search for the next Canucks front office leader would be long and exhaustive. With Chris Gear staying on board along with Stan Smyl standing in as the interim GM, it seemed as though the team would be in good hands for the time being.
Well apparently Mr. Aquilini had another set of hands in mind, as he quickly hired Jim Rutherford, former Penguins GM to head up the Canucks in a President of Hockey Operations role, and also act as the team’s new interim GM, on two days after Smyl’s appointment to that position.
This move seemed to surprise many, as although the prospect of the Canucks gaining a President of Hockey Ops was refreshing, many wondered how Rutherford would handle the team as its GM in the meantime. More so the media and fans thought that lack of transparency over appointing and then un-appointing Stan Smyl as interim GM seemed confusing.
The whole turn of events seemed like just another example of the backtracking and double talk that has pledged the perception of this organization for years. Which of course prompted this interesting tweet from Mr.Aquilini himself.
Dec 10th: A Wrench in the Gears
With Rutherford in the mix, it became all the more clear that Chris Gear’s days with the hockey club were numbered. Despite hanging on by his fingernails for five more days than some of his colleagues, the last surviving AGM was ultimately and unsurprisingly let go.
Gear is more of a victim than Weisbrod and Benning. He was on the front lines of some of the Canucks biggest contract talks, but he wasn’t necessarily the man making the call to bring those contracts to the table in the first place.
That was Benning, and like Green, Gear was simply attached to his boss for good and for ill, and in the name of a clean slate, he parted ways amicably with the club citing no hard feelings. He elaborates on his departure more in public conversations and articles he has contributed to over at his new place of employment, Daily Faceoff/ The Nation Network.
Dec 15th: The First Manager is Hired
Not even a week into Rutherford’s tenure with the team, hiring papers were placed in front of one Derek Clancey. Derek was hired to serve as a new Assistant General Manager under Jim Rutherford’s Vancouver Canucks.
Rutherford of course was no stranger to Clancey as he served as a Pro Scout under him in Pittsburgh, starting in 2007, and then later became director of Pro Scouting with the Pens. He was with the Penguins during all three of their most recent Stanley Cup wins. Most recently he worked in scouting with the Calgary Flames, yet he has never held a GM or AGM role. This is the beginning of a trend that you will start to see with the other hirings made by Jim Rutherford.
January 20th: It’s a Numbers Game
The most notable change to the Canucks front office that wasn’t in a management position was the hiring of Rachel Doerrie, a 25-year-old Hockey Analyst, with a laundry list of credentials that are nothing short of remarkably impressive.
She’s worked in various Hockey/Sports related roles for the Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, CWHL, Sudbery Wolves, Hockey Canada, The Athletic, Nipissing University, The New Jersey Devils, York University and has also been the host of the Staff & Graph Podcast, a show covering all things hockey stats and tactics.
Rachel is a no brainer of a hire, she lives and breathes hockey analytics and her new role with Vancouver comes at a time in her career where not only does she have the skills, but she has a treasure trove of experiences to draw from in order to execute those skills effectively for her new team.
It’s astounding she was not already working in a similar position for another NHL team. Her hiring marks a good sign of things to come, as it indicates that Rutherford is not afraid to think outside the box in terms of allowing this team to rely more heavily on analytics and the brilliant minds that occupy that space.
January 24th: Chalk Another One Up On The Vision Board
Like other new Canucks AGM Derek Clancey, Émilie Castonguay has never worked in a Managerial role for an NHL organization before. Émilie has worked for Momentum Hockey Agency for the past nearly eight years, her current role before her new Canucks job being Managing Partner.
As a player agent of her caliber, she is perfectly primed for the role she is about to undertake with Vancouver. What’s even more written in the stars about this, is the long-term aspiration she had about wanting to move to and work in Vancouver.
She grew up in Montreal and played hockey herself for a large portion of her life, but when setting her sights on a future in the industry, she created a vision board and on that vision board she put “Vancouver 38”. This meaning she wanted to be living and working in Vancouver before that age. She turns 38 in just under 2 months, so if that isn’t fate then I don’t know what is.
January 26th: And It All Comes Together
Although the real work is far from over, the work of replacing the hole that was yet to be fully filled after Jim Benning was fired, has now been filled with Rutherford’s hiring of Patrik Allvin. Again, Allvin is someone that Rutherford has connections with from his time in the Burgh.
Allvin was AGM under Rutherford while in Pittsburgh and before that, acted as Director of Amateur Scouting for the team. Again another Penguin front office guy that has been around for a lot of success that the eastern conference team has seen in recent hockey history.
Like all of these key hires, this is a person that has yet to have a shot at the job he is being brought on for. But Allvin’s wealth of experience in lower roles makes him well suited for the journey he is about to embark on. Rutherford’s vision seems to be clear now, as an old hockey man himself, he is staying away from just hiring more of that type of leader.
Instead, he’s using his experience and keen eye as a veteran in the hockey world, to spot those that have been banging on the doors to their respective parts of the industry. Rutherford has seemingly found people, not with a background of handling the exact responsibilities in the jobs they have been given, but people who are desperately deserving of a chance to show that they can be responsible for so much more.
Allvin’s hiring should also put to rest any fears people may have had about Rutherford’s search for a GM somehow ending up with him putting the GM crown on his own head. Now that the Avengers of the Canucks front office and coaching staff have been assembled, it will be fun to see what battles they choose to fight and what ones they are able to win.