Desjardins on free agency: ‘There are good possibilities here’

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BUFFALO, NY – By his own admission, Willie Desjardins didn’t
have much to do during draft weekend. 

The head coach of the Vancouver
Canucks spent much of Saturday’s second day of the proceedings in the team’s
suite, high above the draft floor at the First Niagara Center. Really, there isn’t
much for a head coach to contribute to the scouting side of things during draft
weekend and the only reason for being on site is to offer input into trades
that directly affect the roster he deals with.

Despite the speculation leadiing into the draft, the Canucks were quiet on the trade front and added just six prospects to their stable. But it wasn’t a lost weekend for Desjardins. Not by a long
shot. 

With assistant coach Glen Gulutzan taking over his own bench in Calgary the Canucks’ head coach and general manager Jim Benning interviewed four candidates for the vacancy. And Desjardins did nothing to pour cold water on
the notion that former Ottawa Senators head coach Dave Cameron is among those in the running for the job. Cameron was spotted in the lobby of the Canucks
hotel on Friday morning.

“He’s a quality person and a good hockey man,” Desjardins
says of his assistant coach at the 2010 World Juniors. “I think if you could
get Dave Cameron you’d be lucky. He brings a lot. I know what he can do. He’s a
guy certainly that brings a lot to the table.”

Cameron wasn’t the only member of the coaching fraternity
milling about at the hotel shared by the Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton
Oilers and Winnipeg Jets on Friday. Victoria Royals head coach Dave Lowry was
also there along with Utica assistant coach and former Canuck defenseman Nolan
Baumgartner.

Desjardins wouldn’t confirm which candidates he had spoken
to and claims it’s too early in the process still to consider anyone the
favourite for the job.

“It’s been a fairly wide search,” he says. “We’ve
interviewed a number of candidates from different backgrounds – lots of
experience to not so much experience. What we’re looking for is to make our
staff the best it can be and give us the best chance to make sure we keep
developing. It doesn’t have to be a guy I know totally well. When you first
come in, you want to make sure you bring your guys. But once you get in, you develop
a trust for the guys you’re working with. If Jim or Trevor has a guy they
really feel strongly about, we’ll certainly look at that candidate and see
where they fit.”

Regardless the decision the Canucks make on an assistant,
the newcomer will join a staff knee-deep in issues most of which surround
scoring. Coming off a season in which the team finished 28th in the
standings and 29th in offense, Desjardins bristled at the notion
injuries were the main reason for the club’s struggles.

He acknowledged the number of bodies out of the line-up that
certainly made life difficult for the hockey club in the second half of the
season, but didn’t want to use that as any kind of a crutch. He says he’s spent
much of his off-season reflecting on what went wrong for the Canucks and he’s
well-aware it’s his job to fix things.

“We can’t say that health is going to change things and just
go ‘we’re not going to do anything and once we’re healthy, we’re there’,” he explains.
“You always look back. Whenever you don’t win, you always look back and say ‘I
should have tried this because whatever you did didn’t work so obviously you should
have tried something else.’ 

“At the same time, I (felt) we knew we needed to
develop players and we didn’t give up on that when things got tough and I think
that was important. It was the road we had to take and we stayed with it. It
was painful doing it, but it was the right move and now it’s a different year.
Our guys are older and I believe the difference is those guys who were younger
can contribute to us winning. And that’s what everybody has to do and I think
they’re in position to do that this year. So it’s different to me.”

One of the biggest differences for the Canucks could be the
addition of a high-priced free agent to help shoulder some of the scoring load.
Like almost everyone in the hockey world, Desjardins is eagerly awaiting the
start of free agency on Friday to see if the Canucks will be successful in
their attempt to lure a goal-scorer.

Desjardins is bound to be a central figure in the
organization’s pitch to prospective players — some of whom will be visiting
the city in the days ahead. However, the coach isn’t allowing his mind to
wander just yet to a place where he has a few more weapons to work with.

“I won’t get ahead of myself,” he says. “As a coach, you want
to get the best players you can. If there are some guys out there that can make
us better, then I’d be excited to get them. But at the same time, we still have
to keep building our culture and our team. We have to believe we can win
because then they play like they can win. If you lose that belief, then you
just don’t play that way and that’s not good. So we want to make sure we have a
group that believes it can win and is challenging for a playoff spot and I
think that’s certainly possible.”

A return to the playoffs is a lofty goal for a team that
finished 12 points back of Minnesota for the final wild card spot in the west
and 21 points behind Nashville for the first wild card position last season. So
the Canucks may show improvement in Desjardins’ third year behind the bench,
but there is still a strong possibility that it won’t be enough to squeeze into
the post-season.

The coach knows he’s got a battle on his hands, but sounds
like he wishes training camp started tomorrow.

“We have to be quite a bit better, but I’m excited about it
though,” he says. “There are good possibilities here. If you add the right
pieces, we have a different look and I want to see that look. I’m excited about
it. Last year, we didn’t do it for a lot of guys and it wasn’t something we
felt very good about so we have a lot to prove coming into this year again.”

Desjardins has no way of knowing how things will play out
next season, but next week at the very least he’ll have a better sense of the type of team he’ll
have to work with.

  • Vanoxy

    Bad move leaving Willie sitting on his hands at the draft…

    Columbus clearly let Torts over-ride their Finnish GM and Finnish head scout.

    They won’t regret that at all in 2 years when Torts is working for TSN and they are picking 3rd again… and McDavid and Puljarvi are dominating the West.

    By the way. Can anyone recommend a good surgeon for Chiarelli? He needs a rectal horseshoectomi badly.

  • GY99

    Maybe if he was involved they wouldn’t have done such a stupid pick.
    Go get the hometown boy Lucic. Imagine him playing with the Sedins. Marchand wouldn’t be so brave anymore.
    Even with Lucic, they still need to seriously upgrade their 2nd line.

  • Foximus

    The Canucks have four solid top-six forwards (Hank, Dan, Hansen, and Sutter). That’s not enough to go into the season with and expect to do well.

    According to Cap Friendly, the Canucks have $9 million in cap space. That should be enough for two top-six forwards. If by some miracle then can dump the salaries of Burrows, Higgins, or Sbisa then they would be in an even better position.

  • Foximus

    As a team we should play better simply because our dgroup is bigger and more talented. also a healthy Sutter will help. But Desjardins was a main reason why we were at the bottom of the nhl in scoring and losing leads! His kitty bar the door,play to get to overtime, try not to lose attitude was just plain bad coaching! His deployment of Dorsett when we were behind needing a goal, incompetant. Hir stubborness to keep sending the twins out on the pp automatically even when it was clear the pp was too predictable/slow unproductive another example of his unwillingness to adapt. Getting Lucic wouldhelp us and make sense as to why we did not take Tkachuk but Willy is not a good nhl coach and by the time we return to respectability at least he should be long gone

  • wojohowitz

    Cameron is a good fit. When Ottawa got off to a slow start they promoted him and he turned around their season. Look for him to replace Willie before christmas.

  • wojohowitz

    And finally we are going to let a character guy named hamhuis leave because his skills are diminishing and Linden isn,t the soft cep he appears to be. He and Benning likely held a grudge towards hammy making it difficult for them to get some return in a trade with his obvious reluctance. At least Willy will not be able to throw him over the boards on the 2nd unit pp eventhough it was clear as day his offense was almost as bad as his defense.

  • Foximus

    No Lucic here! Not the right fit.

    Eriksson is the way to go. Hopefully the Sedins have reached out to him and explained how awesome Vancouver is.

    I don’t follow the coaches enough to have an opinion. I trust Desjardins to pick someone that fits.

    Too bad seeing Hammer go like this. I’d prefer to see him stay as a 3rd or 4th pairing guy.

  • Foximus

    I really hope the Canucks are smart about free agency and temper their expectations more than they’re letting on. Yes we all want to improve and yes we all want to make the playoffs…but at what cost?

    Adding Erikkson, Lucic, or Okposo would make us instantly better, without question. But with a stagnant salary cap and a young team this could be very dangerous; young players under ELCs are a great source of cheap labour, even when they make it to a bridge deal, but once they’re off that then you’d better have salary cap room or you’re going to be in a world of hurt.

    In 2017 we have several players off the books in Miller (6m) and, barring a buy out, also Burrows (4.5m) and Higgins (2.5m). Looks great on paper but we also have to sign Horvat, Gudbranson, Hutton, Tryamkin, Gaunce, and Markström. We can argue for bridge deals with most of them but Gudbranson is one year away from being a UFA and won’t be cheap, Markström already will be a UFA and we won’t want to lose him at all. Gaunce should be relatively inexpensive but the rest won’t be. The salary cap room is going to disappear in a real hurry, and I wouldn’t count on the ceiling being raised much higher than it is each year until you see the Canadian dollar start to pick up.

    In 2018 we have the Sedins needing new contracts and it’s safe to say that both sides want them to stay here, and they’ll be considerably cheaper than 7m/yr, each. Keep in mind that they’ll be second line players at that point and any savings at a reduced price will be spent on trying to sign first line players to replace them. The most likely place for this will be via free agency; I loved the pick of Juolevi at the draft but what this team also needs, quite desperately, is legit top line talent. We may be in a position to draft for that in the next two years if this “we must make the playoffs” mantra gets dropped for “we must rebuild into a strong, lasting team”. Look at the pieces being put into place by Buffalo, Toronto, or lately Florida. These are teams that will be extremely strong for years to come, and free agency has only been used to add to the young drafted core…not replace the need to acquire one. Toronto courted disaster with the Clarkson signing, Edmonton has done the same with the Sekara and Nikitin deals, and take a look at Columbus to see exactly what salary cap hell looks like…they’ve severely handicapped their ability to sign Seth Jones due to acquiring expensive, ineffective veteran players.

    Personally I would be happy seeing us sign Ladd, he’s a high character guy, can fit all over the lineup, and would be a great leader for our future generation. I’d like to see us retain Hamhuis for the same reason. What I don’t want to see is us spending as much as we can, for as many players as we can, and completely blow up either our salary cap room or potential to build a great team by drafting and developing top prospects. As nice as it would be to have Ladd or any other UFA on this team let’s think more long term and less short term and we should be in great shape.

  • Foximus

    Whoever they pick ad an assistant, I hope he can fix our power play. We are predictable in that we always cross the opposing team’s blue line on the left. Hughson and Smpson point that out every time they broadcast a game and every team waits for it.

    I sincerely hope that Jim Benning is learning about cap and asset management as we go into free agency. Both Vrbata and Hamhuis are leaving and we got zip for them. Trading Shink for a player who in my opinion is a fringe player that will have no impact on the future fortunes of the Canucks was rash in the timing and the return. Shink may have been part of the package to Florida which could have let us retain the 33rd pick.

  • Foximus

    While people have blasted Benning for deals with Dorsett, Sbisa and Miller…

    He knew the Canucks weren’t going to win a cup in his first few years, so he needed vets at certain positions, or for character. This year we have cap room, next year Millers 6 mil drops off, more cap room, then Dorsett and Sbisa drop off.

    Having cap room while the organization improves the foundation is very very important. Those deals were short term helps with a plan to have cap room as the Canucks move into a contender again.