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.
— TSN Radio Vancouver (@TSN1040) April 11, 2017
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.
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.