Bowness builds success on decency, respect and accountability
Canucks’ treatment of Boudreau a disgrace
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Experts tell us dinosaurs went extinct about 65 million years ago, give or take. Unfortunately, we now have ample proof at least a handful are still kicking around and currently employed by NHL organizations.
How else to explain a series of head-scratching events in recent days that illustrate what a cold, cruel business this can be and how plenty of mindsets are stuck in the dark ages.
Let’s start in Vancouver, where the Canucks have provided an alarming template of how not to treat people. They turned what should have been a rather routine event — replacing a head coach — into a masterclass in boorish, borderline-abusive behaviour.
Shame on them for the shoddy mishandling of Bruce Boudreau, the beloved bench boss whose termination was painfully and unnecessarily dragged out. This was botched from the start, with president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford and general manager Patrik Allvin allowing Boudreau to twist in the wind for far too long while also feeding the frenzy surrounding his perilous job status.
The issue here isn’t the fact they fired him. That happens all the time, and is expected in a results-oriented industry. It’s how they went about doing it.
Oh, the irony, that on Saturday — the day the club was championing the importance of mental-health awareness — Boudreau was reduced to tears at both the morning skate and immediately after the final buzzer of a 4-2 loss to the visiting Edmonton Oilers, with the crowd chanting his name and players on both teams acknowledging the worst-kept secret in hockey that management had been too cowardly to confirm.
Incredibly, the Canucks then paraded some season-ticket holders into his final media availability that night, basically turning his suffering into sport. “Hey, folks, come and watch the guy we’ve horribly mistreated in his most emotional, vulnerable state (thanks to us!!!). Make sure you take plenty of photos and videos!”
It was tone-deaf in so many ways. Not surprisingly, Rutherford and Allvin took little to no accountability, suggesting the media was to blame.
The Canucks don’t deserve Boudreau, and I’d like to think this callous conduct will come back to bite them in a big way. Karma’s a you-know-what, as the saying goes. Then I see a report from NHL insider Frank Seravalli in his Daily Faceoff video blog Monday he’s heard from other NHL executives who see Boudreau as the one in the wrong here.
“Drama queen,” is apparently how he was described. Lovely.
Unfortunately, this kind of misery loves company. We saw further proof of that Saturday as Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter crapped all over the NHL debut of Jakob Pelletier. Sutter was asked by a scribe to comment on what he saw from the 21-year-old first-round draft pick (2019) during an impressive 6-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
“Jakob Pelletier?” the perpetually cranky Sutter said out loud as he picked up a gamesheet in front of him. “What number is he?”
To further mock and ridicule the young man, Sutter proceeded to read out his statistics, which included less than seven minutes of ice time, one shot on goal and one hit. And that was it. Not a single kind or congratulatory or encouraging word, with one final dagger to come.
“It’s the NHL. 21 years-old. Long ways to go,” Sutter growled.
Geez, thanks for the insight. What an embarrassing look, not just for Sutter but the entire organization he represents. You wonder how this sort of public humiliation plays out behind the scenes, especially in the locker room of the Flames and their AHL team from which Pelletier had been called up.
You often hear about players willing to go through a wall for their coach. I suspect some would love to toss Sutter into one.
Perhaps this helps explain why Johnny Gaudreau and then Matthew Tkachuk both sought one-way tickets out of Calgary last summer, despite achieving significant individual and team success.
Sutter’s “old school” act has grown stale, to say the least. This style of coaching may be able to achieve some short-term gains, but it comes with a significant cost. Just look at John Tortorella for another example of a guy who seems to enjoy reminding his players it’s his way or the highway, and seems unwilling to change with the times.
Contrast that with what we are seeing here in Winnipeg this year, with 67-year-old Rick Bowness breathing new life into the Jets. It was fitting that on the same day Boudreau was being treated like the bearded lady at the circus, and Sutter was raining all over a top prospect’s big day, there was Bowness on the ice at the morning skate in Ottawa with his two-year-old grandson, Brendan.
It was a wholesome, feel-good moment, reminding us once again that the Jets have a good one in the fold. Despite his age, Bowness hasn’t lost the ability to make meaningful connections with his players. He’s also not afraid to admit he’s not always the smartest one in the room and is open to hearing and learning new things despite his vast experience.
It’s a refreshing running theme we’ve heard all year, and is a major reason why a roster that didn’t change much from last season is flying so much higher in this one.
Bowness isn’t afraid to hold everyone accountable — he moved top scorer Mark Scheifele to the fourth line last week to send a message — but he does it in such an open and honest manner that doesn’t appear to rub anyone the wrong way. He treats his troops with respect, from the biggest stars to the depth and role players, and creates the type of environment that breeds success. It’s not rocket science.
I get that pro hockey can be ruthless, with a “What have you done for me lately?” mentality. But I’d also like to think there’s still a place for decency and respect, and that nice guys don’t always have to finish last, as the old saying goes.
In a world filled with far too many Jim Rutherfords and Patrik Allvins and Darryl Sutters and John Tortorellas, choose to be a Bruce Boudreau or a Rick Bowness. If nothing else, you’ll sleep better at night.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
Updated on Tuesday, January 24, 2023 6:16 PM CST: Fixes typo