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.