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:

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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.

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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.

  • TD

    JD, go read Spector’s column on Sportsnet. He talks about the Canucks following the Oilers down the dark hole by looking at the kids as the saviours. He points out the real problem is a complete lack of players in the mid to late 20’s. Those are the players that have learned the pro game but are still in their prime.

    Benning has commented on that missing age group and their importance and that is not Benning’s fault. You may not like the players he has obtained, but Gudbranson was acquired at 24 and I believe Sutter was 26. Other than Tanev, there is no one else in that range other than career AHL players.

    You have repeatedly commented on the owner interfering in the team’s direction, but then blame Benning for changing direction. Your message has been very inconsistent over the past couple of years regarding ownership and management and seems to depend on your mood. Either ownership interfered and gave Benning marching orders to compete for the playoffs or he didn’t. Please pick and remain consistent.

    There is a huge difference between Spisa and Goldobin or Boucher. Spisa is what he is and is no longer in the development phase of his career. He will not improve in any part of his game. Goldobin and Boucher are new and developing. Sitting them, like Baertschi earlier in the year, appeared to be done to teach them how they need to play to be an effective NHL player. They will not benefit the team long term if they never learn to play a complete game. There is a huge difference between mistakes made because of a lack of talent and hockey sense (Spisa) and mistakes made by lack of attention to detail needed in the NHL (Goldobin and Boucher). You can’t teach Spisa to have better skills or to read the play better at his age, but you can make the kids play the proper way.

    I’m worried about allowing all the kids to play in the NHL too soon. The AHL has lots of practice time where players develop while the NHL has very little practice time. While it pains me to compliment the leafs, they let their kids develop on the best AHL team while they lost horribly in the NHL and then brought them all up together. Matthews certainly helped, but Brown, Marner, Carrick. Nylander all stayed in the AHL despite being more talented than players on the Leafs.

    • Freud

      I see a large number of Canuck fans following the same dark hole that Oilers fans did after 2006. Blindly accept everything management says, despite valid questions that should and need to be asked. Shrug off criticism because you don’t want to believe your favourite team is as bad as they might actually be. Create lazy narratives to deflect any clearly presented questions around decision making processes. Lowe and Tambellini got an easy ride from the awe-shucks Oiler crowd and they ran the team into the ground with impunity because they faced no heat.

      • Whatthe...

        To me the Oiler and Canuck situations are completely different. Young guys have been added each year and were balanced out with some vets. With the draft picks/prospects on the way, and the core 20 to 24-year-olds currently on the roster, no reason they can’t challenge for a playoff spot in two years.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      Yes, players in their prime years usually carry a team. But you need STAR players in that age range, in other words, guys that you most likely drafted. You can’t plug 25 year old ground beef in and call it filet mignon.

      If you don’t have the star players in that range, you need to draft them and be patient with them. You don’t draft them and then move them for older, lower ceiling guys (or deal away the picks directly).

    • tantalum

      Let’s take a moment and say I agree with what you say, that age gap matters that much. Is it smarter to accept that you have it, address it ways that minimize asset bleed, fight through it and wait for the next wave or to spend future assets to try to fill that gap? I think you do the first because without volume of picks all you do is risk creating the next age gap so you never get out of the hole. That ignores what happens if you do a really poor job of addressing the age gap as this management group did.

      • TD

        I agree that Benning may put more value than Sutter and Gudbranson then they are worth, and JD is likely completely justified in criticizing Benning for valuing those players as he does, but I believe they are part of the rebuild. They are not old players who are past their PRIME. JD may not like their PRIME, but they are in their PRIME with years of hockey to come. Lots of the hockey panels believed the Canucks won the Gudbranson trade. Hopefully he will have a better year next year, but he was brought in to fill a perceived gap in that position and age range as part of the rebuild. Neither Stecher or Tryamkin were considered NHL players at the time of the trade and the Canucks had a positional need.

      • DJ_44

        This is a excellent comment. I do not agree that you need a massive volume of picks, although more is surely better. Had they drafted and developed Granlund, as opposed to trading a former late first, (and in development and ceiling a second rounder), we would be happy with a solid, two way 20 goal scorer. Instead GMJB used a current draft pick/prospect to move back time and make a better choice in 2012/13.

        In other words, overall, GMJB has minimized “asset bleed” as you called it; although mistakes have been made, and some seemingly sound decisions (at the time) have not turned out.

        Looking at the prospect pool, think the risk of creating the “next age gap” is very low, which suggests they are not bleeding assets while filling the existing age gap.

  • Killer Marmot

    No, nothing about the Canucks’ actions the past three seasons has been indicative of a rebuild or any similar approach.

    Except for the introduction of Horvat, Baertschi, Granlund, Gaunce, Boeser, Boucher, Goldobin, Molino, Chaput, Virtanen, Hutton, Tryamkin, and Stecher into the lineup.

    That truly is a bizarre statement by Burke.

    • Spiel

      Agree. Canucks ended the season with a grand total of 6 players over 30. Sedins, Edler, Eriksson, Miller, and Dorsett. Miller is a UFA. Majority of the roster is 25 and under. Looks like a team in rebuild mode. Does JD want a roster of strictly under 23s? That is not the way to go either. Based on the comments we’ve heard over the past few years the Canucks basically will end up with the 3rd most productive season in the NHL this year. I mean if we don’t win the cup, the next best thing is apparently getting the first overall pick. We put ourselves with the second best odds to do that. So best season will be the stanley cup winner, and then the next most productive seasons will be the teams that pick 1st, 2nd, 3rd. Canucks in line for a very productive season in the bigger picture of things.

  • Kanucked

    I’m not sure if the misguided re-tool was due to Linden and Benning’s sincere belief that the roster could turn around quickly or ownership mandated this objective.

    Either way, it seems both have come to the realization that this path has failed and they are re-building. Frankly, I don’t care if the say the words or not.

    I think the most important point is whether they can pull it off. The Hansen and Burrows trades make me hopeful.

  • Hockey thinking is really laughable at times. Perfect example is “earning it.” How do you expect a Top 6 goal scorer to “earn” a spot in the Top 6 when you give them fourth line minutes with fourth line grinders? Or worse, just keep yanking their chain and putting them in the pressbox (i.e. SUBBAN). How about “keeping it?” Start off players in positions where you expect them to play and succeed and see if they can keep that position. If they can’t, figure out what needs improvement and move them to a lesser, more sheltered position where they can improve, whether that be in Middle 6 secondary scoring lines or in Utica. After a while, put them back in the original positions and see if they have truly improved and can keep that position. If they can’t, then develop them into players based on their skills. If they can still fit the roster, keep them. If not, trade them. At least you have an NHL player that has use value (roster) or exchange value (trade).

    • Jamie E

      Subban has never been in the press box. He is playing 1D minutes in the AHL, one of the best developmental hockey leagues in the world. This obsession with having every Canucks prospect on the roster at the same time is laughable. There isn’t enough room on the Canucks roster for every prospect. Asking a defenseman at the professional level to learn to play defense is not an outrageous demand.

  • OMAR49

    I also wondered why Jarvis was kept on and then it occurred to me that the Canucks may decide to promote Greene to the Head Coaching job and Jarvis will be his replacement in Utica.

    As far as the re-build/re-tool (call it what you want) the team is better off than it was 2 years ago. The only prospect we had back then of any value was Jensen and Shinkaruk who are both still playing in the AHL, and Gaunce who is probably a 4th line player at best. Benning turned Shinkaruk into Granlund who almost scored 20 goals with a bum wrist and took another 2nd draft pick and turned him into Baertschi. Yes, we lost McCann in the Gudbranson trade but what has he done. He’s spent the majority of his time in the AHL putting up 18 points in 39 games. Not very impressive. There is no question that Benning has probably made some mistakes but there is no such thing as a perfect GM (some are just luckier than others). The point is I have more hope for this team than I did 2 years ago.

    • FlyingSkateLogo

      I don’t think they can just reassign a coach to Utica like that? Jarvis may be kept on in a mentorship role for Greene in a similar but less formal way St. Louis had Hitch mentor Yeo. Something which I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to though I’m sure we could find an upgrade over Jarvis to occupy that role.

      Other than that, yeah, I agree with everything else you said. Definitely more hope and lots of moves made in the direction of a rebuild. We are missing that future franchise piece(s) as JD critiqued but I’m not sure how he expects us to acquire one apart from having a really high draft position (which we will likely get).

  • TheRealPB

    I think some of your comments are fair — Gudbranson (injured or not) looked slow and lost, Sutter while I think more valuable than you give him credit for, is not nearly the “foundational player” he’s been cast as, and Sbisa moved from play of a 7th or 8th defenseman to that of a marginal 5th — I still think you are sticking too dogmatically to this illogical claim that the Canucks have not been rebuilding the past three seasons. They have, it’s just that you disagree with some of their moves during that process. There’s a big difference between what you have to say publicly and what you do (even the window dressing that has to cover what your underlying moves are). We aren’t in the Toronto market where the team can go out and ice total garbage to tank and accumulate picks or has the financial weight to absorb contracts to gain more prospects (which by the way turned out to have some consequences when a couple of vets turned down trades to the Leafs this TDL because of their stashing veterans in the minors). We have to have the appearance of trying to be competitive to gain even a half-empty stadium — going to a game now feels like the mid-80s or late 90s despite this. At the end of the day the team is radically different than four years ago, it has a significantly improved prospect pool, and most of the FA signings have not come back to be serious problems. Miller has provided excellent value, Vrbata did for the first year, and I still think it’s hard to give up on Eriksson so quickly (he had a terrible first year in Boston too). And at any rate unless they are actually causing you to delay the development of a player in whose way they stand or not be able to pay someone else who is better, what is the cost to us or the franchise? What center was going to supplant Sutter, who regardless of not being as good as management thinks, is still a good face-off man who can pot a few goals if not really carry a line? What D did we really have in the system to jump up the lineup? The Canucks would still have been crap and what I still think Sutter, Miller, Sbisa, Dorsett, etc actually gave the Canucks was at least some cover for the younger players so they wouldn’t regularly get their teeth knocked in (the Sedins, Tanev and Edler giving more as well). We saw how much Hutton, Horvat and some of the other younger players suffered when they were given less sheltered roles. Now if we actually go and sign Gudbranson to a ridiculous deal THEN I will agree with you that it’s a bad rebuild. But in any event I don’t think you can say they’re not rebuilding.

    • Whatthe...

      I still think Sutter, Miller, Sbisa, Dorsett, etc actually gave the Canucks was at least some cover for the younger players

      Exactly, totally agree. Do the above players hold significant value on a playoff contender? Not really, but on a team integrating young guys who need some space and time to develop, they are extremely valuable.