'Hope is disappearing': Canucks fans frustrated over disappointing season
VANCOUVER — Lopsided losses. A heavily critiqued coaching change. Jerseys on the ice.
Vancouver Canucks faithful have seen it all during yet another disappointing season — and several say they're frustrated not only with the on-ice performance, but with a lack of answers from the team's front office.
“We’re stuck in a state of perpetual mediocrity and it’s extremely frustrating because hope is disappearing," said fan Andrew Melo.
Ahead of the 2022-23 campaign, the Canucks vowed to make a playoff push. Through 49 games, the team sits 14 points out of a post-season berth with a 20-26-3 record.
Players have been booed off home ice in several games, with jerseys tossed from the stands on multiple occasions.
Lorne Perry has been a Canucks fan for more than 50 years. He spent his childhood listening to broadcasts on his transistor radio and remembers watching the franchise's first-ever NHL game on an emergency room TV after breaking his hip while playing rugby.
As an adult, he spent decades rushing home to watch games. Now, there are times he doesn't even bother turning on the TV.
“I just don’t feel the enthusiasm that I used to,” Perry said.
“Winning and losing isn’t as important as a good game. … There’s been spells over the last few years, like the end of last year, where there were wins, but they also played good hockey. I enjoy watching good hockey.”
Fans are opting out of watching games in person, too.
While the team has reported attendance of more than 18,000 for every game this season, rows of empty seats and darkened suites have become the norm at Rogers Arena.
Less than half an hour before puck drop on Jan. 27, hundreds of tickets were still available for a battle between the Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Ads on Craigslist offered lower-bowl seats for as little as $50 a head.
Tickets for future home games can be scooped up for $42 on the online resale market, though marquee matchups are still demanding big bucks — the cheapest seat for a March 4 tilt with the Maple Leafs was going for $185 on Friday.
Melo is among those who've decided against attending Canucks' games this year.
“And that’s specifically because I’m not enjoying the product that they’re putting on the ice," he said.
"And I don’t like the fact that they haven’t bought into a full rebuild. The lack of direction makes me not want to attend games anymore, which is a shame, because I used to love attending games.”
Canucks president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford said last month that the team needs "major surgery," but that management was planning a "retool" instead of a rebuild.
Many fans have expressed frustration with the sentiment.
“It seems like there’s a real lack of direction or purpose in the moves that the front office makes," said Andy Per. "I think it’s pretty clear that the roster they have right now isn’t good enough, but we keep making changes around the edges and trying to put a square peg in a round hole.”
August Badke also feels there's "a bit of directionlessness" within the front office.
"What’s the trajectory for getting back into some sort of contention?" Badke asked. "It seems like it’s been a really long time since we’ve been in contention. And that seems less like it’s on players and more on management choices.”
One choice that drew the ire not only of fans but many in the hockey community was how the Canucks handled the termination of head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Talk swirled for weeks that the club was planning a change and many criticized the decision to keep Boudreau behind the bench even after rumours emerged that management was already in talks with his replacement.
“I think the coaching situation felt mishandled," Badke said. "It felt very messy. Knowing it was coming for so long made it hard to watch the bench.”
Boudreau was finally fired on Jan. 22 and replaced with Rick Tocchet, former coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Arizona Coyotes.
The entire situation with Boudreau, who was hired in December 2021, was frustrating, said Adam Piercy.
"He was brought in, really, in a no-win situation, hired before a president or general manager was in place," he said. "It’s just not the way that things are done. And he deserved a lot better than what he got.”
A move the Canucks made this week seems to have landed better with the fan base.
On Monday, Vancouver traded captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders for forwards Anthony Beauvillier and Aatu Raty, and a protected first-round pick in the 2023 draft.
“It’s really sad to see Bo leave," said Ella De Groot. "But for me, it’s a good sign that (management's) willing to shake up the core.”
The trade makes sense to longtime fan Chris Keogh.
"It gives me quiet confidence," he said. "And if (the trade) gets us to a point that we’re rebuilding, if we get a good player out of this draft year … I think that’s progress.”
Keogh's been following the Canucks for more than 50 years and said he's no longer overly bothered by the team's ebbs and flows. The hockey gods simply aren't fans of Vancouver, he said.
"There’s times when I go ‘Eh, it’s just the way it goes with being a Canucks fan,'" he said.
"It just doesn’t seem like we ever get to that point where we’re going to get ahead or be a dominant, legacy type franchise like the Montreal Canadiens. It’s just the way it is.”
Others, however, believe the team has further to fall this season.
Piercy wants to see the Canucks bottom out and get a high draft pick to kick-start a new era.
“I’m sort of on team tank now. I kind of want to see how bad it can get," he said. "It could always get worse.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press