Brock Boeser didn’t have to answer the difficult question Sunday.
But he did. And it wasn’t surprising.
The Vancouver Canucks winger is open and honest in revealing what’s challenging him professionally and personally — even if it’s the tough stuff — and overcoming adversity and scrutiny with an upbeat attitude is one of his most remarkable traits.
But he buckled under the weight of family despair.
It wasn’t the initial query about summarizing his National Hockey League season that included a COVID-19 diagnosis, a prolonged first-half scoring slump, a second-half surge and intrigue as a restricted free agent.
It was the followup after Boeser struggled to address his difficult season away from the rink. It was about family. It was about his ailing father of him, Duke, and it unleashed emotion.
“There were some things away from the rink that were tough this year,” Boeser started. “It was definitely challenging. To say the least, it was really hard.”
When then asked about his dad’s courageous battle with a number of serious health issues, Boeser took an understandable long pause and then said: “I can answer it. He’s not doing well. He has pretty bad dementia right now… it got pretty bad this year.
“It has really hit me hard.”
With that, Boeser understandably left the media session and his teammates provided some needed perspective. How the winger remained determined to be a difference-maker with a spurt of four goals in his final seven games — after missing five with a hyperextended right elbow — was an indication of a team commitment under incredibly trying circumstances.
Elias Pettersson got emotional about his friend’s family plight and Quinn Hughes took over.
“He’s a valued member of the team, obviously, and everyone likes Brock,” said Hughes. “We’re going to need Brock to be really good, if we want to be really good. We can’t comprehend what he’s going through and it’s tough for him.
“All we can do is try to be there for him and we need him next year. I do not want to speak too much about his situation, but hopefully we can be the best support system. He’s got really good friends here on the team and in Minnesota that have been helping him.
“It’s important for him to go home to Minnesota and spend good quality time with this family, enjoy the summer and be ready to go. I think he’ll do that. He’s a motivated kid and he’ll be fine. He’s going to come back and he’s going to have a great year next year.”
And for Boeser, next year was the storyline this year.
How does a new hockey operations department value the restricted free agent? Boeser is due US$7.5 million qualifying offer that could play out at less money and reasonable term because giving up on a 25-year-old could be risky.
Boeser tied JT Miller for team game-winning goals (6), was second in power-play goals (11), and third in shots (195) among forwards. But his shooting percentage of him slipped to 11.8 per cent this season after 16.3 per cent in 2020-21.
Then again, he looked rejuvenated under the guidance of Bruce Boudreau with 19 of his 23 goals under the new bench boss.
“I felt I could have been better for the team, but I still think getting 23 goals is pretty good and I feel like I can score a bit more,” added Boeser. “And when Bruce took over, I started finding my game and getting confident again.
“A 200-foot game is what I really took pride in last year to make sure I was good in the D-zone. I wasn’t as good this year with the little details like that and showing up on a consistent basis. There were times when I would get into games and not feel confident and I didn’t really make much of a difference,
“If I can fix that, we could get some more wins and be in the playoffs.”
Boeser had a five-game goal drought before returning from the elbow injury, but had 14 shots in that span. It wasn’t a lack of chances, it was about finishing for a guy who’s at his productive best when the release packs velocity and accuracy.
“We need him to get opportunities because when he gets them, he can put them in,” simply stated Boudreau.
As for the off-season, it won’t be dull.
How management addresses a career 99-point career season by Miller, who finished ninth in league scoring and has proven worthy of a multi-year extension that could command as much as US$8 million annually, will be interesting.
Miller has another year left on his deal at a bargain US$5.25 million salary cap hit and you don’t trade your best player and culture carrier. And you don’t let him even think of free agency.
Bo Horvat is also coming off a career season with 31 goals in 70 games. The captain is going to need an extension at some point with a year remaining on his contract at US$5.5 million cap hit and US$4.45 million in total salary.
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