The Vancouver Canucks are Patrik Allvin’s team now.
Whether it was his team or president Jim Rutherford’s team before Rick Tocchet replaced Bruce Boudreau as coach on Jan. 22, it certainly feels like the general manager is calling the shots now – and speaking about them since Rutherford revealed in the wake of the messy coaching change that he was going to “zip it.”
There have been only a dozen trades this season in the National Hockey League and Allvin has made four of them. But the biggest one, the All-Star break blockbuster that sent Canucks captain Bo Horvat to the New York Islanders for Anthony Beauvillier, top prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round draft pick, feels like a launch point for the new general manager.
We sat down with Allvin, who became the NHL’s first Swedish GM just over a year ago, during the Canucks’ road trip last week in New York to discuss, Horvat, Tocchet, Brock Boeser, player development and that elusive quest for culture and identity.
(The interview has been slightly edited for clarity and brevity).
Sportsnet: You’ve made seven trades since you were hired and more than any other GM this season, but did the Horvat trade feel different?
Allvin: Obviously, there was a process leading up to the decision to part ways with Bo. We were still hopeful that we would be able to continue to work with Bo here in Vancouver. But when that became clear for us, I think it was more about going through that process and looking at teams that had potential interest and seeing if there was a potential deal to be made.
Sportsnet: Did you hear from other GMs after the trade – possibly from some who wished they’d been in on the bidding?
Allvin: I did have a lot of feedback.
Allvin: It was positive. I think positive (because) there was a fairly good hockey deal. And part of it is was the salary cap (navigation), too. I think we are probably the team that has made the most trades up to this point.
Sportsnet: It took the Islanders only six days to agree on an eight-year, $68-million extension for Horvat. Are you happy for Bo?
Allvin: I’m really happy for him, really happy that it worked out for all parties. I reached out to his agent, and Pat (Morris) and I talked after. So, I’m happy for Bo and his family and the Islanders and for us. I think it worked out for everyone.
Sportsnet: Anthony Beauvillier is playing on your first line, but Aatu Raty was sent to the American Hockey League even though he had been in the NHL for five weeks before the trade. Why isn’t he with the Canucks?
Allvin: That’s where I feel we need to be better and help the younger players to be put in a situation so when they actually step into the National Hockey League, they’re going to feel extremely confident and comfortable and they’re going to know their role and how we want to play. Raty, this is his first year over (from Finland), and for a lot of those kids, especially from Europe, my experience is that when you get traded they start questioning themselves: ‘Am I bad? Am I bad, is that why I got traded?’ In this case, it was definitely not. It was a deal-breaker for us (if we didn’t) get him. I think that he needs to learn how we want to play, how we want to practise, get to know our system, get to know our people in the organization. There is no rush for us to get him back up here. He will get his opportunity eventually.
Sportsnet: His assignment to the AHL is part of a trend, as you removed your top prospects from the NHL team last fall and pooled them in Abbotsford to develop there under coach Jeremy Colliton. We’ve just seen the return of Vasily Podkolzin, who looks like a different player. What is your strategy?
Allvin: Part of it is that you want (prospects) to be hungry to come back up to the National Hockey League. And part of it is you’ve got to earn it. I think a lot of guys can play a couple of NHL games and they think that it’s easy, but this league is extremely hard. And if we’re going to get better, we need to have that internal competition and we need to have guys that are ready to play every single night. I do think Podkolzin has definitely benefitted from going down there. . . (to) just reset and play to his strengths.
Sportsnet: Do you think it’s detrimental having players learn and develop at the NHL level?
Allvin: We all know that (NHL) coaches get frustrated and managers get frustrated and your career can be over at age 22 That’s not the player’s fault; it’s the club that put them in a position to fail. There’s very few players that have stepped right into the National Hockey League and been ready to play. That’s the conversation I had with Nils Hoglander (sent to the minors on Dec. 20). I like him as a player. He’s going to be a good player. But when I talked to him, I brought up Filip Forsberg in Nashville and Willy Nylander in Toronto. Those guys played a significant amount of American League games before they were ready (for the NHL). And unfortunately, Nils hadn’t played one. Yeah, it’s tough to get demoted, absolutely. But it’s for the right reasons.
Sportsnet: How much more roster work do you want to get done by March 3?
Allvin: Well, again, just look around the league. It is hard to make deals in season, harder than ever I would say. So it really is hard to tell. Some of these deals, it might be more intriguing to look at in the summer when teams knows their cap flexibility.
Sportsnet: What about Brock Boeser? It has been widely reported that his agent, Ben Hankinson, has been involved for more than two months in helping identity potential trade partners.
Allvin: I don’t want to force anything. As I’ve said, we’re 27th in the league and I’m trying to find solutions where I can help the players get better. How can I push the players? How can I support them in a role where they can play to their strengths and be the best version of themselves? And in this particular case, I think Brock Boeser is still a young player. The team wasn’t good off the start from training camp, and Brock had his injury and never really got going. I will say that I think Brock has been playing his best hockey here over the last few games. More energy, better pace, more involved. He’s getting his points, and a lot of them are five on five, which is pretty impressive. I still believe that he’s a good player, and I don’t want to give up on him.
Sportsnet: So you’re not ruling out Brock remaining a Canuck long-term?
Allvin: If there is a deal that makes sense for us, we’ll definitely look at it. But. . . it’s our job to help him. I mean, that’s my conversation with the coaches: (How do we) get the best out of every single player? Brock has been very professional. With all the outside distraction, he’s been coming into the rink every day with a good attitude and trying to compete and be better.
Sportsnet: His salary this season and next two is $6.65 million and you’ve said how difficult it is to move money. Speaking generally, how willing are you to retain salary to make a trade?
Allvin: It all depends on what the actual deal is and what’s included. We all know that retaining money, you usually get an asset back for it. And there were several deals this past summer where you can actually compare how much money a draft pick is worth. Again, how do I make this team better? We’re sitting in 27th place.
Sportsnet: Before the season, you identified five core players: Horvat, J.T. Miller, Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and Thatcher Demko. With Bo gone, does that mean you have four untouchables?
Allvin: I do think that we have some untouchables. We’ve got some really key pieces and I believe we’re trending the right way here. Look at the history of this team — and you’ve covered it. I mean, the bubble year (in 2020, when the Canucks won two playoff rounds), I would take that year away because the good teams didn’t want to play. Yeah, some of the younger players that got a first taste of the playoffs and didn’t have families, everything was great. But it’s such a long time since this organization had success. What we’re trying to do here — and part of that was to bring in Rick Tocchet — is create this culture, the standard. Find the identity of this team again, which I think has been lost.
Sportsnet: The results haven’t really changed, but the team’s five-on-five play has improved dramatically since Tocchet took over. How do you assess your new coach?
Allvin: It’s still early. . . but what I do like is discussions, conversations, how he approaches the players, relates to the players. I think he’s demanding but it’s very, very fair, too. I like how the coaching staff integrate together and have a plan every day. There’s more people involved in the process, and Rick is not afraid to make the final decisions.
Sportsnet: Do you wish you’d handled the coaching change differently?
Allvin: Jim apologized for that in the press, that maybe that was not handled the right way. It’s never easy with mid-term coaching changes. It hardly (ever) turns out well. From my standpoint here, we are looking forward and want to talk about the future. But we always learn from the past.
Sportsnet: Tocchet has mentioned the need for more “wall guys” and players who excel in traffic. Do you take those comments as a challenge to go find them?
Allvin: I agree with that. But I also think that we, as an organization, need to focus more on those details. Emphasize on that in practice, emphasize that in Abbotsford with our development staff. If you’re going to have a chance to play up in Vancouver, there’s going to be specific things that you’ve got to be really good at. When I got in here last year, I thought that there was a lot of details missing in our game to be successful. Yeah, I guess you can win. . . because we were so talented and had a great goalie. But over time, how do we be become that really competitive team with an identity that we’re really hard to play against? Those are the details that separates the top teams in the league here.
Sportsnet: We imagine you’d be good a poker player because you don’t reveal much and, honestly, you didn’t have to speak to the media very often when Jim Rutherford was doing interviews. But with Jim retreating from the spotlight, does it feel like you’re stepping into it?
Allvin: I have no problem at all with that. And I do think that this probably would help us with more clarity in the communication part. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very, very fortunate to have Jim around me with his experience and handling trades and conversations with different people. But you might not get as many quotes from me as you got from Jim.