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
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
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 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.