Of the 18 men to serve as head coach
of the Vancouver Canucks in nearly 50-years of existence, Willie Desjardins now
trails just four of them on the franchise’s all-time regular season wins list.
With Wednesday’s 3-2 triumph over the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, Desjardins
joined Bob McCammon with 102 coaching victories moving him into a tie for fifth
in franchise history. Alain Vigneault leads the way with 313 followed by Marc
Crawford (246), Harry Neale (142) and Pat Quinn (141).
Desjardins won 48 games in his
first season on the job and followed that with a 31-win campaign. The victory
over the Avalanche gives Desjardins and the Canucks 23 wins this season.
All-time, now in his third season behind the bench, his coaching record stands
Despite questionable player
deployment, unwavering faith in a floundering power play and a reluctance to
tamper with a line-up that struggles to score most nights, Desjardins has
designed and implemented a system that works for his group. Perhaps his
greatest quality has been his ability to get complete buy-in from everyone on the
roster to commit to a defensive structure designed to limit opponents’ quality
While the Canucks languish near
the bottom of the National Hockey League in offense (25th), shots on
goal (28th), power play percentage (28th) and as a bottom
third team in the league in controlling 48.5% of shot attempts, they continue
to find ways to grind out points playing low-event hockey. It isn’t often art
on ice, but it has allowed Desjardins and the Canucks to claw their way back
from the depths of a nine-game losing streak in late October and early November
and has put them in position with a win in Arizona tonight to spend the All
Star break above the playoff bar in the Western Conference.
Considering Desjardins spent much
of the past two months on the hot seat and seemingly coaching for his continued
employment on a nightly basis, the fact he reached 100 career coaching wins
last week against Nashville and has continued adding to his total represents a
victory in and of itself. Like the team he coaches, Desjardins has proven to be
a survivor this season and he’s done so while overseeing the development of
young players like Bo Horvat, Markus Granlund, Brendan Gaunce, Troy Stecher and
Nikita Tryamkin – all of whom are under 23 years of age.
While he now has a share of fifth
spot in victories, in terms of winning percentage, Desjardins sits fourth in
franchise history at .533. His Canucks teams have amassed 228 of the 426 points
available to them. He reached his 102 wins in 82 fewer games than McCammon who
guided the team for parts of four seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
While Desjardins continues to
work his way up the regular season wins list, his playoff track record doesn’t
measure up. Vigneault, Quinn and Roger Nielson all guided the Canucks to
Stanley Cup Final berths however Desjardins has just two post-season victories
to his name leaving him eighth in franchise history in that regard. His Canucks
bowed out as the higher seed to the Calgary Flames in six games in 2015 leaving
Desjardins eighth in franchise playoff wins. It’s a long shot, but the
possibility exists he could add to his post-season win total this spring. First,
the Canucks have to find their way into a playoff spot at season’s end and then
as an underdog and lower-seed would have their work cut out for them against
one of the top teams in the conference.
Desjardins has taken heat
throughout his time at the helm of the Canucks, but he continues to plug away
making the most with the group he’s got – and it’s far from the most-talented
team in franchise history. The Canucks will certainly be challenged with an
arduous road schedule following the All-Star break. If Desjardins, who turns 60
on February 11th, is able to guide his team to a post-season berth
for the second time in his three years as coach, it seems likely he’ll continue
in that post into next season giving him a chance to continue working his way
up the organization’s wins list. With 33 games left on this year’s schedule and
another season left on his current contract, he’ll surely have Pat Quinn, Harry
Neale and third place in franchise history squarely in his sights.