VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 21: Head coach Bruce Boudreau of the Vancouver Canucks looks on from the bench during their NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena January 21, 2023 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Much like life itself, hockey is a game of ebbs and flows. Some weeks you’re the butcher, some weeks you’re the slab of meat on the table. Every week, we’ll examine one NHL team that falls into each category. And because we live in a “What have you done for me lately?” kind of world, we’re really leaning into recency bias and doing our best to overreact to the recent trends.

As such, here are the best and worst teams in the world this week.

Best team in the world this week: Boston Bruins

Yup, here we are once again. Even as a Bruins fan, I’m running out of things to say about them and how dominant they have been all season long. Am I getting tired or bored watching this team? Definitely not. But it would certainly be easier to write about them if they weren’t so consistently great.

This past week, Boston won all four of its contests in regulation and outscored opponents 17-2. The Bruins swept a back-to-back against the Islanders and Rangers in New York, continuing a trend of Boston defying the concept of the ol’ “scheduled loss.” You’ll have to go all the way back to Oct. 18 to find the last time the Bruins lost on the tail end of a back-to-back — their first of the season. Since then, Boston has gone 6-0 and outscored opponents 26-8 while playing on a second straight day.

One of the main reasons has been the tandem work of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman in net. The Bruins have the NHL’s highest collective save percentage — .932, a mark that stands over a tenth of a percent higher than the next-best squad.

Ullmark, 29, is in the midst of a breakout, Vezina-caliber campaign, and he currently holds the league’s best marks for save percentage (.938), goals against average (1.82) and goals saved above average (28.30). He’s been a huge reason for Boston’s success and is rightfully getting plenty of love.

Swayman, 24, has also been a luxury for the Bruins. He’s been phenomenal of late, winning his last four starts and posting a .966 save percentage over that stretch. And while he’s had his tough moments and down stretches this season, the overall numbers are solid. Through 19 appearances, he has a .916 save percentage, 2.26 GAA and 4.8 GSAA. You’ll take those numbers from your backup goalie.

Ullmark and Swayman seem to like each other a whole lot too, so that helps.

The vibes are strong across the board for Boston, which has won five games in a row and nine of its last 10. The Bruins are establishing a comfortable distance between themselves and the rest of the league, and the goal differential continues to be outrageous, as their plus-81 mark is nearly twice as good as any other team’s.

Additionally, recent rumblings have them closing the gap on a potential long-term contract extension for David Pastrnak and exploring a trade for one of this year’s top deadline prizes in Bo Horvat. (That’s a match that would make plenty of sense for several reasons, as I mentioned in last week’s edition of The First Line.)


NHL trade deadline talks are heating up

So while you may be experiencing some fatigue with Boston claiming the throne, you’d have to execute some serious mental gymnastics to have anyone else in this spot right now.

Worst team in the world this week: Vancouver Canucks

Thanks to the rather unnecessary and cruel Bruce Boudreau debacle that carried on for far too long in Vancouver, I feel pretty comfortable saying that the Canucks would have ended up in this spot regardless of how they performed on the ice last week. They also happened to lose all three of their games, so it was an especially easy call.

In case you have no idea what I’m talking about, a brief summary: For the past several weeks, Vancouver management has more or less been openly contemplating the idea of firing Boudreau, one of the league’s most beloved and respected veteran head coaches, while in the midst of another disappointing season mired in sixth place in the Pacific Division with 39 points.

On Sunday, the Canucks finally fired Boudreau and hired Rick Tocchet to take his place. By that point, though, the organization had already ripped off its mask to once again reveal itself as one of the NHL’s most dysfunctional clubs.

And let’s be clear: The problem isn’t that Vancouver fired Boudreau. There’s plenty of blame to go around for the team’s struggles, and Boudreau can’t escape all of that blame. Regardless of whether you believe he should have had to fall on the sword, the simple fact is that it’s not uncommon for any coach, regardless of pedigree, to experience the hot seat. Sports are a “What have you done for me lately?” business, and very rarely does a coach maintain immunity when things are going poorly.

But the issue is how the Canucks went about firing Boudreau. That process was as distasteful as it was clumsily drawn out.

Over the past number of weeks, president of hockey operations Jim Rutherford continued to put himself behind a microphone and be rather unkind to Boudreau, from essentially bashing the team’s structure under the coach to openly admitting that the club was actively searching for his replacement. That much was awkwardly confirmed by Tocchet on national television last week.

There were several junctures where you could have come to the conclusion that it was VERY apparent that the end was near for Boudreau. It wasn’t a matter of if he would be fired, but when.

At any one of those points, the Canucks could have mercifully let Boudreau go with his dignity intact and allowed somebody else to take over as interim coach until Vancouver settled on its desired replacement. Instead, Boudreau’s key card kept working as the Canucks kept asking him to come to work and face the team/media despite his impending departure. It was an increasingly uncomfortable situation for everyone involved.

To his credit, Boudreau maintained an admirable level of grace and class throughout the whole ordeal, refusing to engage in verbal warfare or take shots at the organization for the way everything was playing out. That’s not to say it didn’t get to him, as he had a hard time disguising his emotions last week when asked about what it meant for him to coach in the league.

On Saturday, after coaching what would prove to be his final game behind the Canucks’ bench, the Vancouver crowd showed its genuine love and appreciation for Boudreau with a hearty “Bruce there it is!” chant at Rogers Arena following a 4-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers. The emotion that overcame the coach in that moment seemed to suggest he had a pretty good idea it was finally the end of the road.

On one hand, maybe it’s a silver lining Boudreau was able to soak up that moment and be showered in the clear appreciation that the city and fan base have for him. On the other hand, it’s hard to really view it as a feel-good moment when the team’s lack of appreciation and respect was what forced him to attend his own funeral.

In the end, Boudreau may be better off. If he wants to coach again, he likely won't be unemployed for too long, and he’ll probably get to work for bosses who will treat him more like a human being. But with 16 years of experience and a heaping of praise to his name, the 68-year-old absolutely deserved better in Vancouver, and we shouldn’t soon forget how intent the Canucks were in showing us their warts on his way out the door.

Featured Podcast

See all