Canucks’ acute dysfunction makes Blackhawks’ problems seem small

The Hawks were just a sideshow Tuesday in Vancouver for Rick Tocchet’s first game as Canucks coach — the end result of a coaching change handled with embarrassing sloppiness.

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Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes and Chicago’s Sam Lafferty vie for the puck.

Neither the Canucks nor Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs this season, but the Hawks’ future looks much brighter of the two.

Stacy Revere/Getty Images file photo

VANCOUVER, B.C. — The Blackhawks were nothing more than a sideshow in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss at Rogers Arena.

Instead, all eyes focused on the Canucks, with the Hawks just happening to be the opponent for Rick Tocchet’s first game as head coach.

The last couple of years have been messy in Vancouver, but the stew has now boiled over. The egregious mishandling of a drawn-out coaching change from Bruce Boudreau to Tocchet revealed a level of organizational dysfunction rarely, if ever, seen in the modern NHL.

Boudreau, beloved by fans and fairly successful throughout his long career, was given less than 14 months in the position to try to resurrect a team that his predecessor, Travis Green, had run aground over four years. That, in itself, reflected excessive impatience.

Far worse, though, was how Boudreau was treated in his final weeks. Tocchet’s imminent hiring had been well-known for a while, and Canucks hockey operations president Jim Rutherford even admitted in an absurd news conference Jan. 16 that he was “calling and talking” to outside coaching candidates.

All the while, Boudreau was abandoned in his post as a lame-duck coach. He teared up in multiple news conferences as the Canucks limped through decisive losses in his final games.

The turmoil has left the Canucks with broken spirits, serious questions about their internal structure and decision-making processes and little hope left that a once-promising rebuild will yield fruit.

The Canucks entered Tuesday at 18-25-3, on pace to miss the playoffs for the eighth time in nine years but not bad enough to enter the draft lottery with high odds. Their prospect pool ranks 28th in the NHL, per The Athletic. They’re well over the salary cap (using long-term injured reserve to stay compliant) and have seven contracts with two-plus years left at more than $4.7 million per year.

Elias Pettersson has plateaued below superstar status. J.T. Miller has struggled immediately after signing an extension. Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser might soon be traded. The past, present and future are all bleak.

None of this is Tocchet’s fault, of course. Hawks coach Luke Richardson — no longer the NHL’s shortest-tenured coach — endorsed Tocchet as a man who “coaches with passion,” and Tocchet largely has hit the right notes so far.

“You’re dealt the hand you’re dealt,” Tocchet said Tuesday. “The hand I’m dealt is [I need to fix] the process. It’s [about] the way we do things.”

Well-liked former Hawks goalie Collin Delia (who started Tuesday) and defenseman Riley Stillman (who was a healthy scratch) have been caught in the crossfire, too.

Instead, the scrutiny has narrowed focus onto the franchise’s upper-level management, among which Rutherford, general manager Patrik Allvin and chairman Francesco Aquilini are the most public-facing characters.

Even Rogers Arena offers evidence of poor foresight. Summer renovations to the Canucks’ locker-room hallway cut off access from the visiting locker room to the visiting coaches’ room, as teams discovered earlier this season. A shoddy, curtained-off miniature hallway within the main hallway provided that access Tuesday.

In a Dec. 26 column, the Sun-Times mentioned the Flyers, Sharks and Coyotes as teams that probably would agree to switch places with the Hawks if offered, despite how unenviable the Hawks’ current position is.

In hindsight, the Canucks also should have been named in that category. A reader email actually pointed that out at the time, and the events of the last month have made that very clear.

The Hawks’ recent past and present also might be bleak, but their future is much brighter, and the leadership group tasked with getting them there appears far more competent.

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