When Bruce Boudreau met with Vancouver Canucks’ Francesco Aquilini last fall to discuss the possibility of becoming the team’s new head coach, he wasn’t afraid to make a big prediction.
Though Boudreau downplayed the possibility of making the playoffs with the media at the time, with Aquilini, he was bold.
“When Francesco asked me about the job, I said, ‘We’ll make the playoffs.’ I’m sure he laughed inside, but it was my goal,” Boudreau told reporters after yesterday’s game.
Behind the happy-go-lucky persona of Boudreau is clearly a burning desire to win.
Even though the Canucks were 8-15-2 when he took over — 29th out of 32 NHL teams in points percentage — Boudreau really thought he could get his team into the postseason. And he didn’t stop believing it, he said, until the Canucks were officially eliminated.
The wheels were even turning inside Boudreau’s mind about Dallas’ last game against Anaheim — with the Canucks coach saying he would give his old buddy Ryan Getzlaf a call to tell the Ducks to get ready.
But in the end, despite a 31-15-9 record in 55 games under Boudreau — good for the 11th-best in the league since December 6 –, it wasn’t enough. That’s all that Boudreau cares about, and it’s all he wants his players to care about too.
“We didn’t accomplish the goal… I don’t ever want it to happen again.”
Boudreau isn’t used to losing, of course.
“I’ve only missed the playoffs once in a season that I started [coaching pro hockey in 1992],” Boudreau explained. “It’s not something that you like to feel. I hate it. I’m all about winning. It’s a sour taste.”
One of the biggest tasks Boudreau had when he took over, was to change the culture of a team that had missed the playoffs every year but one since 2015. That’s not something that happens overnight and perhaps more still needs to be done.
But there is at least one area where the 67-year-old bench boss believes he has gotten through to his group.
“We pushed to win from Day 1… to change the culture to ‘winning is the only thing that matters.’ I think that’s something that I preached every day since the day I got here. Hopefully, it’s sunk in, and there were games when we weren’t good but we still won. And that’s what counts. We can fix the problems as long as we keep winning.”
Quinn Hughes personified this culture of winning after Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Seattle Kraken. Despite breaking the single-season franchise record for points in a season by a defenceman, a record that stood since 1987, Hughes wasn’t in a celebratory mood. After the game, questions about the record included answers about not making the playoffs.
“The guys now, they hate to lose,” Boudreau said. “You can see it on their face, whether it was in Calgary or in Minnesota, they go out to play games and they expect to win the games. And I think that’s what you want in a hockey club, that they expect to win games when they get up there.”
With two games left, Boudreau said the team’s goal is to win both of them and get over 90 points. The Canucks haven’t done that since 2015, but Boudreau has his sights set higher.
It still remains to be seen if Boudreau will be back, and certainly, there will be changes made to the roster. But if nothing else was accomplished this season, for the sake of the franchise, hopefully, Boudreau has begun to change the culture in Vancouver, where the Canucks have just one playoff appearance in the last seven seasons.
And, dare to dream, perhaps this is the beginning of something bigger than merely squeaking into the postseason.
“That’s what you’re here for, to win the Stanley Cup. And the only way you get that is consistently winning and learning ‘hate to lose.’ You’ve got to hate to lose more than you like to win. I’m hoping that if there’s anything that we’ve established this year individually that that’s the case.”
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