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Photo Credit: Canadian Press - Jonathan Hayward

Trevor Linden Speaks on Desjardins, Direction and Proving it

Yesterday was a busy day for the Vancouver Canucks. They wasted no time in announcing that they’d decided to relieve former head coach Willie Desjardins of his job, along with assistants Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn.

Shortly after that announcement, Canucks President of Hockey Operations Trevor Linden and General Manager Jim Benning hosted a press conference to discuss the decision and countless other topics related to the franchise. Not long after, Linden took to the airwaves and joined the Afternoon Show on TSN 1040 to elaborate on the themes of the day.

I haven’t yet had the opportunity to transcribe the former of those two media sessions, but I’ve got the second one down. Let’s dive in.

The Afternoon Show hosts start with the topic of the day, starting with the Canucks’ rationale for parting ways with Desjardins. To which, Linden said:

“At the end of the day, we felt we needed a change. We’re a much different group today than we were two years ago. There’s things I think we can do better as a staff and that’s what we’re going to try and do. I don’t want to get into specifics out of respect for Willie. The bottom line is Willie worked this tale off and cared and the guys played hard for them.”

Honestly, I think that’s fair to Desjardins. The roster is significantly different from the one Desjardins inherited in his first season, and not for the better. In fact, one could argue it’s significantly worse, and it’s not like Desjardins has much if any control over that.

Secondly, the team rallied around Desjardins at every opportunity. That seems at odds with their 29th overall finish, but this team always put in their best efforts when the seat was hottest underneath Desjardins. That he lasted the entire season is testament to that.

The next question was about Desjardins’ usage of the lineup available to him. More specifically, how he deployed his players. Linden had this to say:

Jim was saying that whether he worked with Claude Julien in Boston or Lindy Ruff in Buffalo, everyone has an opinion on who should be where and how much. At the end of the day, you let the coaches coach and that’s consistent throughout the league. You can certainly agree or not but Willie went in every night wanting to win and that’s how he addressed his lineup.

That is, again, fair. That’s how an organization should operate. There are ways that management can alter a coach’s behaviour, like waiving or trading a player that the coach uses far more than they should, but overall, you want to let the coach do his job. If you don’t trust in the coach’s deployment to a large enough extent that it’s an issue detrimental to your team’s success, then you cut bait.

Now, you had to know a conversation about the youth movement the Canucks’ roster is undergoing would arise from a discussion about deployment, and they didn’t disappoint. The Afternoon Show hosts pressed Linden on Desjardins’ reticence to play young players and what he thought of it, to which Linden responded:

The player has to earn his way into the lineup. I think we walked the fine line between developing and winning. The player has to earn the coach’s trust.

Alright, this is starting to fall off the rails. On the topic of “earning it”, Luca Sbisa played the third most minutes in all situations among all Canucks. He is, on a good day, a semi-competent sixth-defenceman. Brandon Sutter just recorded a historically bad season for players who play as often as he does, and played the fourth-most of any Canuck. This team has a warped concept of how a player “earns” ice-time.

In a year where Desjardins benched Nikolay Goldobin twice in meaningless games down the stretch in the shift immediately following a goal, I don’t know if accountability means what the Canucks think it means. Not when it’s Michael Chaput and Drew Shore skating in his stead, for whatever ungodly reason.

And no, the Canucks did not walk the fine line between developing and winning. I don’t think that’s on Desjardins either. The mandate was to make the playoffs and I don’t blame him for being singular minded in his approach towards that end. Just because management shifts the goal posts weekly doesn’t he has to accommodate their vision, or lack of vision, rather.

After picking all the meat off that bone, the discussion shifted to who should replace Desjardins next season and hopefully a few thereafter. First, Linden discussed how he wants the team to play:

We came into the year knowing that scoring was going to be a challenge and the injury bug didn’t help. Being and having good defensive structure – I don’t think – takes away from playing offense. When we got injured, we just weren’t good enough.

Teams that struggle scoring don’t usually compete for a playoff spot, so I don’t know how seriously I should take that first comment. The Canucks brought back the same core group of players to lead this club offensively, replaced Radim Vrbata with Loui Eriksson and considered Brandon Sutter part of that addition. Whether I think they genuinely expected scoring would be difficult or not, they certainly should have.

And let’s not play the injury card. This team had a nine-game losing streak start in their fifth game of the season and they didn’t lead for more than a half-hour in the first four games combined. The team was bad because the front office fielded a bad team.

We’re going to look for a coach who understands where we are as an organization, looks to develop young players, and plays a responsible, high-tempo game. We’re going to take a couple days at least and figure out which way we want to go. We need a coach that’s detailed and structured and keeps players accountable. He’s able to work with young players and develop them, and make the players who are ready to take the next step good pros.

Do the Canucks understand where they are as an organization? Their fans sure as hell don’t. I don’t know what to take away from most of this statement, though. Linden says so much, with so many buzzwords, without really saying anything at all.

After this, the conversation took a sharp turn back to the sole survivor of today’s round of dismissals, Doug Jarvis. Linden explained why the Canucks left him in place:

Jim worked with him in Boston. Make no mistake, this isn’t about the failure of the three we let go. We bare the responsibility for this. Doug is an excellent mentor for the next coach and a lot of players in the locker room.

This is one of the more interesting storylines of the day. It doesn’t bode well for next season from an entertainment standpoint, as far as I’m concerned. Think about it for a second. Jarvis was hailed as the man who brought structure to the Canucks’ coaching staff. Specifically, he slowed the team down in the neutral zone and brought a defence-first mindset.

Hopefully, I’m looking too far into this, but Jarvis staying indicates they’re happy with how he changed the Canucks’ approach to the neutral zone. Frankly, I hate that part of how the team played this season.

Before TSN let Linden depart for the day, they discussed his outright refusal to say ‘rebuild’ when discussing the team’s direction. It doesn’t sound like Linde plans on using it any time soon, either:

I think so much has been made out of that. It’s pretty clear to see where we are. I think our actions have supported our message of getting younger, introducing young players into the lineup, and building a prospect pool. We’ve stuck to that and we’re going to continue to stick to that. I know it’s hard for fans because a lot of these guys we talk about – whether it be Lockwood, Gaudette, or Dahlen – they’ve never seen play before. I’m really encouraged.

Continued…

I do believe we’re in a better spot today than we were two days ago or at any time. Unlike the NFL where you draft players and plug them in, it takes time. I’m encouraged with our prospect pool and the players we’ve integrated into the lineup this year.

Alright, this is where Canucks fans should be outraged. This is the moment. No, nothing about the Canucks’ actions the past three seasons has been indicative of a rebuild or any similar approach. A rebuilding (or sensible, even) team doesn’t trade a handful of futures for Erik Gudbranson; or make the Sutter trade; or entering every draft with an uninspiring amount of draft picks; or signing Loui Eriksson, and Ryan Miller and Radim Vrbata before him. I can go on.

The Canucks have, in no way, stuck to a three-year plan and it’s insulting to the intelligence of their fans to try and convince them otherwise.

I’m excited about William Lockwood, Adam Gaudette and Jonathan Dahlen, too. I really am. And every other prospect of significance in the Canucks’ system. The fact of the matter is, not one of them projects as a franchise building block, and that’s what the Canucks have needed from the moment Linden and Benning took the job.

Some of these prospects are going to inevitably not work out either. That’s why we continue to preach a volume approach in this space.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see if they can buck the odds. Hopefully, that’s the case. If not, new coach or otherwise, it’s going to be a painful couple of years ahead. They can decide how long a stretch that is though.

  • Bud Poile

    It takes a very special group of fans that have little to no idea how this organisation was gutted:
    ….by and large, the Canucks were one of, if not the worst drafting NHL franchise between 2008 and 2013.
    Tell Jeremy “ffs,get a life”. Where is your clown leader theses days,PQ Way?
    Jeremy Davis
    Canucks Army

  • truthseeker

    Oh my god why are all the writers covering the canucks so useless? What is this stupid obsession with having the management say the word “rebuild”? Geeeezus…..shut up already.

    They’ve BEEN rebuilding for 3 years. If you can’t figure that out…..well I don’t know what the hell to tell you. You can debate the moves…but they’ve GUTTED the team and added the younger players.

    You whine and complain about all these trades, but what have they lost? You mention the Gudbranson trade…OK….he’s not been great….but do you know how valuable D men are in the NHL? Did you not pay attention to the Hall trade. THAT is what D costs. Wingers have NO value. And a guy like McCann isn’t much better. Where is he now? Yeah. And the draft picks…..how often does a second rounder become an NHL regular? How about that 4th rounder? Yeah…..not often. So to get a proven huge D man ( you all keep whining about canuck size too) for that package is a GOOD deal. Plus Gudbranson is young.

    What else? The Vey trade. OK…he gambled and lost on that one. Again… a second rounder……big deal.

    Traded a 3rd for Dorsett…how’s that bad? How often do 3rd round picks work out?

    2nd rounder for Sutter but got back a third rounder. OK….minor loss on that one….

    then there was a 7th…..OH NO….we lost a 7th for Etem……what will we do!

    And a 5th for larsen…..gasp! The HORROR!

    They haven’t ‘lost’ that many draft picks and they haven’t lost any first rounders where it really matters.

    What’s insulting is not management…it’s the average intelligence level of canuck fans who don’t seem to realize that a general manager is a manager of employees. He’s got to MOTIVATE them. You don’t do that by saying…”hey…we’re rebuilding so…..I don’t give a …….what you do on the ice.”

    Grow up.

  • El Kabong

    Why is it pissing me off so much that Trevor or Jim won’t say rebuild?
    Maybe its because they keep saying they have a clear direction and plan yet won’t actually say it.
    The re-tool has failed yet the rebuild is under way.
    We need to trade Tanev, see if we can convince Edler to waive his NTC at the deadline, play out next season and get past the Sedins, Dorsett and Sbisa.
    Next year is already a bust, which is alright as long as we keep stocking the prospect pipeline. This year hopefully we draft 1or 2 and take our future centre, then next year another impact player probably on Defense.
    With the next two drafts and the number of young core and prospects we might just be alright.

    • DJ_44

      This really pisses you off? Why should they use the term rebuild?

      They are transitioning to a younger group, which is appropriate given the situation they were in (with veterans that had NMCs/NTCs). They have been consistent in their approach, and their statements have been consistent, at least from the 2016 TDL on, and the data proves it.

      To pull quotes from 2015 is not really appropriate. Situations change. Responsible management responds to change (as opposed to stubbornly sticking with the summer 2014 approach given that situation. (general statement, not is response to parent comment).

      The re-tool failed? They were unable to maintain playoff contention, sure. But that is only part of the equation that was described. The more important part of the equation (eye on the prize), is developing a prospect pool and younger nhl players that will be around for the future. Are they, and have they for the last there years, been doing that? For sure and the data supports it. Were they competitive this year? Yes, up until the TDL, and then they tanked in glorious fashion. Had they not the injuries and were closer to the playoff bar would they have adopted the same approach? I don’t know. But they evaluated the situation and acted. This was the same approach taken during the 2016 TDL. The difference was they could not make a reasonable trade for Hamhuis and Vrbata(ask Chayka what it is like to trade a most-prized asset like Radim). But the approach was the same.

      I want the Canucks to be competitive on a nightly basis. I want them to develop their prospect pool. When they fail to achieve the playoffs, I will not scream at them because their goal was to make it. I look at the situation, and I am glad they did not call up players from Utica. We got better lottery odds.

      Deep breath people; they are committed to transitioning the team to a young core. Rebuild or re-tool or transition is irrelevant: the actions are the same.

      • El Kabong

        The part that pisses me off about them not using the term is either ownership has sent down word it is not to be used under any circumstances or it just plain ego at this point. If its ownership then they (TL/JB) should have to balls to call it what it is. If its simple fragile ego then at this point then I’ve learned something about management I didn’t expect. The fans want a re-build, they can see it happening yet due to foolish pride management won’t budge. Not impressed.

        I really do like the work that JB has done in developing our prospect pool, swell as adding the young players in trades that didn’t fit on other teams yet seem to be developing very nicely on ours.

        I’m excited for what we can add this draft, we have the chance at a #1 centre, great news. I also believe we’ll be in same position next year so the cupboards should be full, and our young guns will have had a whole year of what should be important progression and development. I really am excited about the future of this team and glad JB is here to draft us through it.

  • Whackanuck

    How many more times are we going to hear that JD Burke and his friends don’t like the route the Canucks took? Okay, two bottom 3 finishes say, in the short term it has been painful. Had the Canucks had a “volume” of picks, those players would not appreciably be helping the actual NHL roster yet. Thus just as painful. It seems to me that without players like Miller, the result would have been even more painful.

    So enough already. Let’s talk about potential prospects and the route from here on. If I hear more debate about the semantics of a rebuild versus a retool I may puke. Get some new material. None of the teams that rebuilt to be contenders did it solely through the draft. Chicago regularly sheds prospects to stay under the cap. LA and Boston both run into inevitable cap problems by keeping their core and are forced to “retool”. Let’s compare the early stages of these teams retool to Benning’s and see if the Canucks look so bad. Time adjusted of course.
    Did I mention, get some new material. Perhaps your buddies with the Panthers will help when Tallon ramps back analytics.

  • BBoone

    For the record , Gudbranson was injured for his entire season until they shut him down for surgery , so to be fair , it is best to wait until he has had a full year with the new coach. Therefore I would be shocked if they don’t qualify him and wait for one year for a final decision. Regardless , using exaggeration to bolster an argument simply weakens your argument and is not good journalism. The Canucks did not give up a handful of futures, they gave up two ( they also got a mid round pick back from FlA. ) . Your argument is clear enough even at McCann and a second. That was a significant price in a trade with a number of non on ice factors such as Cap issues and making room for a developing player for FLA and trying to establish some mid twenties defensemen for the Canucks.