The NHL is one of the most cutthroat leagues in professional sports, with big franchises making huge decisions on a regular basis. Part of that comes from their desire to win trophies, but other teams simply make choices because they want to try and build a club culture. One team that is very much in the process of rebuilding its entire culture from the ground up is the Vancouver Canucks. The Canucks are a reputable franchise, but one that has endured a tough period in recent years.
That has led to some big hires, none more important than the arrival of Jim Rutherford as the President of Hockey Operations at the club. His arrival comes with one strict remit: build the Canucks into a winning franchise once again. With a mass overhaul of the front office not only expected, but needed, it looks like Rutherford will not spare any expense – or give anyone a second chance if he feels it is not warranted.
Indeed, at his introductory presser this week, Canucks owner Francesco Aquilini said that he was looking to hire a General Manager. Upon speaking with Rutherford, though, it was clear that a change would be needed. Instead, Rutherford took on the President of Hockey Ops role, and a GM will be appointed in due course.
About that important decision, Aquilini noted: “Jim thought that a president role would be something he’d be interested in, and then when he said that to me, that kind of piqued my interest. And I thought that could work well.”
However, Rutherford also admitted that he had previously knocked back a chance to work for the franchise. A bout of illness meant that he was unable to provide a clear answer by the pre-set December 4th-5th deadline, but Aquilini was keen to get his man and remained patient.
What happens next?
As Rutherford himself noted, he will be making some big changes to the team. The 72-year-old Hall of Famer is one of the most important hires that the team has made in some time, having a Stanley Cup success on his CV when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 as GM. He also was part of the Pittsburgh Penguins who won the Cup in 2016 and 2017. This is a person with huge experience in the sport, but also someone who has won recently.
Also, Rutherford noted he intended to invest more in analytics, and wanted to build a more diverse staff at the club where possible. Given the Canucks have not won the Stanley Cup for over 50 years – their last success coming in 1970 – the franchise is at the stage where it will consider just about any solution to try and turn things around.
Noting that “the bar wasn’t high enough” in the past, it looks like the duo broadly agree that standards need to be raised ASAP. Given the importance of getting this right, and the amount of change needed within the organisation, it will be interesting to see how Rutherford plays with the soon-to-arrive GM.
It could be just the catalyst for progress and change that the Canucks have been waiting for all these years.