VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks are eager to start a new chapter with Rick Tocchet as coach.
Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau as Canucks coach Sunday, less than 16 hours after Boudreau fought back tears on the bench and with the media following a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. Tocchet ran his first practice Monday and admitted there isn’t much time to implement all the system changes he’s looking to make prior to making his debut with Vancouver on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks at Rogers Arena (10 p.m. ET; TVAS, SNP, NBCSCH, ESPN+, SN NOW), but his players seemed willing to try a different approach after losing 10 of their past 11 games in regulation.
“This is no disrespect to Bruce,” Vancouver forward J.T. Miller said. “I had a great relationship with him and it [stinks] to see him leave, but at the same time we are professionals and I think Bruce would understand that as of today, we need to move on and start worrying about the foundation we want to build for this team. We want to put our best foot forward and start something fresh right now.”
The foundation under Tocchet needs to include defensive improvements; the Canucks rank 31st in the NHL in goals-against (3.96 per game) and last on the penalty kill (65.9 percent). Vancouver is sixth in the eight-team Pacific Division, 14 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference despite being 11th in scoring with an average of 3.28 goals per game.
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Fixing it will take time, and the Canucks don’t have much with three games in four days before a nine-day break. They visit the Seattle Kraken on Wednesday and host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday.
Tocchet started Monday with a team meeting that included a couple of video examples of what he’d like to change. Then, a brisk practice emphasized a quick pace and intense battle drills down low, with Tocchet and his new assistants, former NHL defensemen Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar, talking to individual players.
“It’s all about relationships in this game,” Tocchet said. “Yeah, Xs and Os and all that stuff I get, but players should have a voice and it should be a partnership. But there’s some mindset stuff that has to be non-negotiable.”
Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson said he knows what to expect after playing for Tocchet with the Arizona Coyotes from 2017-21.
“He’s a high-energy guy and brings a lot of structure,” Ekman-Larsson said. “He’s going to have a lot of rules and be hard on us. [Tocchet] wants us to play with a lot of speed and work harder and smarter. I think it’s going to be a lot of skating and not standing still as much. I think that’s going to benefit our group.”
For Tocchet, he believes improved defense will come with making more predictable plays.
“Everybody has to know where the puck is going,” he said. “Even average skaters look faster when you play a little more predictable. That doesn’t mean not having creativity, it’s more of just know where the puck is going, who is your man off a rush? Who’s is playing net-front? How do you box out? Things like that.”
Consistent answers to those questions have proved problematic for the Canucks, who are on pace to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs a third straight season and on their third coach in the past two, with Boudreau replacing Travis Green on Dec. 5, 2021.
“I don’t want to speak in a sense of what Bruce didn’t bring for our team, but it’s our game in a nutshell,” Miller said. “Sometimes we show we can play direct and limit our turnovers and track back and really defend first. Every time we make it hard on other teams, we seem to have more offense. It’s amazing how that works. When we struggle, our battle level comes down, so today was about moving our legs and moving our feet and getting some battle and physicality into practice.
“To work hard and play physical and skate, those are things that are very, very controllable no matter who the coach is.”