What They’re Saying: Willie Desjardins’ Fate

Remember when the Canucks started the season 4-0-1? Vancouver was in high spirits and could not wait to show the media conglomerates how wrong they were about the Canucks.

Having been projected to finish 30th in the league in the pre-season, the team defied expectations and made their way to the upper echelon of NHL teams. Everybody was in good spirits, admiring the do-or-die, comeback attitude of the Canucks. Cautious optimism was an appropriate outlook that fans and the media shared. A first place finish at the end of the season was far-fetched, but the team appeared better than we all thought… until everything crumbled.

The Canucks lost nine straight, they were shut out in four of five games, struggled to score goals, and their power play was simply ineffective. Fairly or otherwise, Canucks Head Coach Willie Desjardins suffered

The Canucks have suffered a rough couple of weeks, to say the least. When the Canucks made the playoffs in Desjardins’ first season, that became the standard. The playoffs have and may always be the goal, regardless of what fans think. Many attributed last season’s playoff miss to injuries, which meant this was a year for redemption. The team started out well, but the coach has come under fire for the recent poor performance.

Trevor Linden: “We know this topic has been widely covered – it’s certainly not something that I, or we, plan to debate publicly. As a team, we feel we’ve underperformed and we’re not happy. That being said, we do feel that this group has more to give. We knew, coming into the year, parts of the team we liked and parts that we knew needed production from certain people. We feel there’s more in that group and we’re a better offensive team than we’ve showed. We’ve liked certain parts of our game, we’ve liked our structure.”

Trevor Linden isn’t exactly giving Desjardins a vote of confidence. The main point of emphasis is when Linden says, “As a team, we feel we’ve underperformed, and we’re not happy.” When he says “As a team,” he is likely talking about the organization as a whole – the Aquilinis down to the players.

Nobody is happy with the current status of the team, and that includes ownership. When the season started, Benning and Linden expressed belief and trust in Willie and his ability to get the team back to the playoffs. Last week, Jim Benning preached patience with the Canucks during their losing streak — perhaps a show of leniency towards Desjardins. At that time, Desjardins appeared safe. However, Linden’s thoughts as President of Hockey Operations says a lot about where Desjardins stands. His words have gone from essentially “We’re confident in our coaching staff” to “We’re not happy”. The message is completely different.

Despite Linden’s discontent with the team’s overall game, structure was pointed out as a positive part of their play. It’s an aspect that the players, management, and coaches have all expressed a need to improve. It’s also the only thing the coaches have complete control over. They have a role in how well the players play, but they cannot control them. Creating the team’s structure is a major part of a coach’s duty, and it seems to be the shining light in Desjardins’ performance.

The Canucks find themselves towards the bottom of team statistics and in the league standings. The National Post, The Canadian Press, Toronto Sun, Yahoo Sports, and Sportsnet have all put Desjardins on the hot seat. Nine straight losses are pretty incredible, and one may wonder how a team can endure that and not experience any organizational movement. Willie Desjardins, as far as the media can tell, appears to be safe… for now…

Bob McKenzie: “Right now, they don’t want to fire anybody. Jim Benning is solemnly behind Willie Dejardins, and Trevor Linden is solemnly behind Jim Benning. If the losses mount, you know there’s intense pressure from ownership to make something happen in a positive fashion. All bets are off if the Vancouver Canucks continue to lose in terms of the future of Willie Desjardins.”

Elliotte Friedman: “If you ask people in Hockey Operations – Trevor Linden and Jim Benning – they will tell you that they don’t think Willie Desjardins should take the beating over this. They don’t want to fire him, they don’t just want to make a coaching chance. They feel he’s been victimized by an offense that’s started really slow. So I think they look at it like, ‘Okay, now that we finally got these guys off the schneid, let’s see where we go.’ The one condition I will attach to this is that in Vancouver, the history sometimes is ownership forces the call; and if ownership forces the call, all bets are off. But I do think, if it’s up to Linden and Benning, Willie Desjardins has not reached the end of his leash yet.”

Ray Ferraro: “I don’t sense that Desjardins has lost the room, I just sense that they’re not good enough. If they’re deciding Willie’s future right now, nobody would be surprised. They’re stuck because they’re not good enough – Willie is trying to coach with no offense. They’re in a bad spot right now. If you’re not big enough to man-handle a game like Los Angeles can, or you’re not fast enough to scoot around the game like Toronto is, then you’re in the middle. When you’re in the middle, you’re nowhere. If you were to answer ‘what is the identity of the Canucks?’ I don’t think any of us can answer – that’s a pretty good indication that they don’t have one.”

Nick Kypreos: “I can tell you right now that his job is safe for now. Usually when you see coaches fired, particularly this earlier in a season, it’s because he’s lost the room. Trevor Linden doesn’t believe that’s the case. They’re close in a lot of games, they’re getting good milage from their goaltending, defensive-zone coverage, they just can’t score.”

Columbus Blue Jackets’ head coach Todd Richards was fired last season after losing eight games straight, prompting the idea that Desjardins can only have so many lifelines. If the Canucks’ struggles persist, firing rumours will only continue to increase. One could argue the Canucks have been competitive in their games, but it was their inability to score that has led to their atypical record. Although the scoring is dependent on the players, the coaches and the management group share some of the blame. It is the coaches’ jobs to deploy their players strategically, but they can also only do so much with what they have. In the end, it’s usually the coach who falls into the fire because it is the easiest change to make.

Hockey is, without a doubt, a result-oriented business. That is the reason why Alain Vigneault was let go, and it may be the same for Willie Desjardins.

Sources

Sportsnet – Nick Kypreos

TSN 1040 – Linden, Ferraro

TSN Insider Trading – Bob McKenzie

FanRag Sports – Elliotte Friedman

  • Charlie Allnut

    Trade Vertanen, as I have always maintained, before the rest of the NHL sees him as a dud. Then call up Labate. It’s a start. Then keep adding players with an edge. Make the Canucks harder to play against and consequently give the Sedins more room. Find some way to compensate for the travel handicap, a hard hitting team is one way.

  • Roy

    I still think this whole thing hinges on the power play. If you are a low scoring defensive team you need a 20%+ power play. This team hasn’t had a working PP unit for years. The question is, is it the special teams coach or is it the absence of a lynchpin player (like a d-man with an actually dangerous shot from the point). Either way, a 20%+ pp would probably have limited this long skid to maybe six losses and/or a couple of OT wins/losses. The lack of media focus on the awful, awful PP is bewildering to me.

    • Bud Poile

      1 goal each from Edler and Hutton and none from Larsen articulates where one huge problem lays.

      Maybe Tramkin or Stetcher can help create more offense but it is clear the team suffers from the complete lack of a PP QB.

      Until this essential need is addressed the Canucks are going nowhere.

    • Copperfinch

      Ya good call. Even an average PP would see them with 3 or 4 more points in the standings. Stecher seems to be the only player willing to do what’s needed on a good PP which is continuous movement to take advantage of your extra skater. But everyone has to be on the same page to make it work and that has never been how the Sedins do it. It’s painful watching Henrik trying to QB a PP from the half boards.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Although I’ve always felt that like oil and water, women and hockey don’t mix, credit to young Vanessa here for an excellent piece.

    Now down to business.. I can FIX this team in a few short sharp moves, here’s how…

    Willie must be FIRED and replaced asap. It’s a results business and he is an AHL coach out of his depth in the bigs, lacking in deployment, game management, charisma and most importantly RESULTS over the last ONE HUNDRED GAMES!

    Travis Green is NOT the solution either… he has less credentials than Willie D right now. We need an EXPERIENCED NHL coach on a short leash until seasons end… and beyond IF he wins enough games. BOB HARTLEY or MARC CRAWFORD are my top picks. BOTH are CUP and JACK ADAMS WINNERS with respect, passion and identity around the league.

    Then, in the off season (or before) I unload the Sedins or buy them out. I then want Miller, Burrows, Edler, Sbisa, Rodin, Dorsett and Skille all gone by hook or by crook. Then i take a run at BRENT BURNS and BEN BISHOP as UFAS, plus the best available FIRST LINE Centre and Left wing available to me. I also bring up Boeser, Joulevi and Virtanen (Demko is not ready) and guess what… REBUILD DONE and CONTENDER in the bag for next term.

    There… perfectly LOGICAL and do-able. That didn’t hurt… did it?

    • Dirty30

      What a back-handed compliment– Vanessa is out-writing 9/10 of the men on this site and deserves nothing but credit for dragging this site out of obscurity and irrelevance.

      I don’t think that Bob or Marc would walk into this mess without a major contract that includes a Patrick Roy ‘assistant-GM’ clause that allows significant input on how to rebuild. Not a coach out there dumb or desperate enough to take on this crew as is.

      After you dispose of all the players how do you intend to play with only three guys?

      Resign Miller for 3 and 3 or trade him to a contender.

      Buyout Burrows — its time.

      The rest are not the problem … it’s the top lines that need scoring help and even getting rid of the Sedins doesn’t cure your lack of scoring if there’s no one to take their place.

      There is no easy here … five years of pretending that it just needs tweaks and if this management group doesn’t act soon we could end up making the Oilers decade of futility look like a joyride in comparison.

      • detox

        yep, I agree for the most part.

        except Burr is done at the end of the year, no need to buy him out.

        HW should have a spotter taking him off the ice, obvious signs of concussion.

  • Bud Poile

    Yeah,I can just see Burns and Bishop lining up to come play out their careers in Vancouver.

    There is an expansion draft coming and every team has a strategy in place to deal with that.

    Sbisa,Miller,Skille and Burrows were never going to be here next year,for starters.

    The Canucks will honour the Sedins contract so they are not getting traded or bought out. Dorsett is not a UFA for three more years and Rodin has never played one game here to show his stuff and has a very realistic one-year deal,anyways.

    Back to the Hockey Warrior Bong & Gong show……

    • chinook

      Solid comments Bud. The hockey “warrior” shows he has no class. Canucks are a quality organization that will not reneg on the (class-act) Sedins’ contract. That is what those that call for a “total rebuild” are really talking about.

  • vertical

    I agree that the power play is where the team has failed they have lost a lot of games where they have had the chance to either come back or take the lead when they have had a timely power play…but they have not put the puck in the net. Time to change things up on the pp glad the Larsen experiment is almost over

  • Hack-smack-whack

    An informative article. I concur with the statements in the included media quotes, that WD has not lost the room, the team is competing (and I would argue entertaining; we all just want to see the red light a little more), and so his job should not be at stake yet.

    We’re an impatient fan base, and considering where this team’s life cycle is at, patience is going to be needed.

    The power play is still absent, but the improved 5 on 5 structural play is at least a step in the right direction. When AV came to the team years ago and began implementing his structure, I remember the team going through something very similar to this, where they played well but just couldn’t score. WD is implementing a more structured approach, and like we might expect, the scoring has not come naturally yet. Virtanen said as much, about the challenge to find his offensive game, while playing responsible structured hockey.

    When the system play begins to come naturally, and scoring has rebounded to whatever extent it can, then we should reassess. Assuming we’re not there yet.