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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:

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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.

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.



  • Don in Kits

    The problem starts at the top. Linden is no Shanahan. He leads like he plays – tries hard but no guts. He’s a puppet to ownership who desperately wanted some playoff revenue to offset the fan discontent and resulting empty seats during the season. You Linden lovers will be outraged at the criticism but he should stick to cycling and running Club 16 and leave hockey operations to someone with some backbone.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Just a quickie from me windowlickers, as I am busy getting ready for PLAYOFF HOCKEY supporting our ALBERTAN BROTHERS in Calgary and Edmonton – two teams who have ‘turned things around in a hurry’ with the RIGHT PLAYERS, GMS and COACHES and players in place.

    Guys, after a HUMILIATING season (as i TOLD YOU it would be) Real Sh*t Willie is THANKFULLY gone but WHY the HELL is Blagger Benning still in a job?

    Blowhards – this is the same IDIOT who DESTROYED this roster with PLUG upon PLUG and Overpay upon overpay (with NMCs) after being GIFTED Tanev and Horvat and a core of PLAYOFF perennials like Kesler, Bieksa, Hansen, Burrows from the most SUCCESSFUL years in FRANCHISE HISTORY, ALL of whom are still fighting for the CUP in the playoffs!… Here’s further evidence of the GROSS MISMANAGEMENT from our worst GM in DECADES..

    Round 1 2014, 6th overall pick: Jake Virtanen over Nylander, Ehlers, Larkin, Tuch, Fabbri
    Round 1 2014, 24th overall Jared McCann over David Pastamak
    Round 1 2016. 5th overall pick Joulevi over Matt Tkachuk

    Guys, ANY of the above would be taking us to PLAYOFF hockey and that’s ALL that matters!

    With BENNING and the SEDINS still in the fold I am TELLING you there will be NO playoff hockey in Vancouver. Period!

    Have a LOOK at what LA just did LOSERS and get back to me eh… WAKE UP!!!

  • Bud Poile

    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. “JD

    Yeah,I’m outraged with the 10 NTC saddle from the momenttKesler abandoned ship.
    I’m outraged with the near zero prospects Gillis left Benning with.
    I’m outraged thaat Gillis fumbled two NHL starting goaltenders.
    I’m totally miffed that after just two losing seasons-both being competitive campaigns right up to the trade deadline-that we continue to hear this Botchford-esque whine and blame game.
    This is the moment where I am fed up with negative troll journalism that adds nothing but destruction.
    Get it together,JD.

    • TheKennedyCurse

      Give me a break. If Benning had balls he would’ve got more out of the Kesler trade. Take a page from Yzerman’s book and get value or don’t give into the demand.

      Benning has wasted a bunch of prime draft picks so far on players Virtanen and McCann, our prospect pool could be a lot more impressive right now if he hadn’t traded a bunch of picks away and thought he knew better than the consensus. It’s not all on Gillis.

      Miller is a starting goaltender in the NHL, and a better one than Luongo at this point. I don’t understand your argument here.

      The Canucks have been nowhere near competitive the past two seasons. They barely hang in games and have been a house of cards that ultimately falls apart. If you think they’re a talented group, you’re delusional. This team should be destroyed. They spend to the cap and end up with a 69 point season, and can barely score a goal. We’re as pathetic as Calgary was a couple seasons ago, and the Oilers before them. The window is closed.

  • TimfromAnahim

    The person that seems the most outraged with the Canucks “rebuild”, or whatever name it is given, is none other than JD Burke. Perhaps because the Canucks refuse to follow his plan. As far as I know Mr. Burke has no hockey pedigree, but an overwhelming sense of self-entitlement. “Not always right, but never in doubt” might be a good description.

    The ’15-’16 team had little structure – Jarvis brought that and it showed. Miller has been invaluable or we would have been blown out much more frequently. Dorsett and Gudbranson bring toughness. Eriksson has many good qualities and will be better. This single-minded disparaging of anything except the CA-approved method (cobbled together by a bunch of guys in their basements) is a waste of journalistic space.

      • Ronning4ever

        He outlined it in a Monday Mailbag a few weeks back. It’s actually a fairly sensible plan in theory, but I’m not exactly sure how it would pan out in reality. Like I think he would have said no to Sbisa, Gudbranson and Larsen for sure, but I’m not sure then who else would have played on D this year. Keep Bonino. Don’t sign Eriksson or Miller. Try to flip any NTC vets for picks. Play the young’ins and fill the roster with vets on 1 – 2 year deals and try to flip them at the deadline to stockpile draft picks.

        The irony is that I think the team would have finished higher! But they would likely have a lot more picks and the data is pretty clear: more picks = more talent.

        • Kanucked

          My perspective was similar to JD’s in that they should have started the rebuild 3 years ago.

          However, that doesn’t matter now. I’m not clear on what the CA plan is now?

          • Ronning4ever

            I think management has also been pretty clear that they didn’t think it was possible 3 years ago – and I tend to believe them. 10 NTC’s – not sure how to get out from under that quickly…and I think the rebuild plan hasn’t been so bad…everyone has been playing competitive hockey (whether in the NHL or AHL) until at least February 2 years in a row…that’s important for players.

            As for now and today, I think there’s obvs divergent CA opinions depending on the author. However, if I had to guess, I think this author would suggest the following today: exposing Sutter in the expansion draft, leaving Malino, Megna, Dorsett and Chaput in the AHL, signing Boucher, letting Cramarossa and Shore walk, qualifying and then trading Gudbranson, trading Edler, sending Sbisa down or using him as a #6/7 D, signing a cheap goalie to a one-year deal as a goalie tandem, giving Pedan, Subban, Goldobin, McEneny extended looks to see where they are at throughout the season and then filling the rest of the roster with vets on 1 – 2 year deals and try to flip them at the deadline to stockpile draft picks.

  • Ronning4ever

    “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.”

    I totally disagree. Benning has been repeatedly clear about his vision and approach IMHO. He wants a stepping stone group with key age brackets filled in: teens, 24yo’s 27yo’s, 30yo’s, vets. He’s filled the roster on this basis flipping a couple assets for players now, and stocking through the draft for the future…he’s said he feels that those holes are now filled moving forward, so I’d expect nothing but draft picks from here on in unless he’s trading for prospects.

    I think he’s basically building the 2011 Bruins: large scrappy D-men and 2-way forwards, behind a late-30s goalie that can win 3-2 games. No art-ross winners, no flash.

    He’s obsessed with trying to get defence. Look at the Gudbranson and Larsen deal’s and the Sbisa contract. Look at how he tried to pry a d-prospect for Shinkaruk and had to “settle” for Granlund. Look how many of the 50 contracts are tied up with Dmen.

    I totally agree that some of his moves are bad and that maybe the 2011 Bruins aren’t a model that fits today or is even achievable for this group. But I think he’s been consistent.

    • Adamemnon

      Management’s stated goal was to make the playoffs (or at least challenge for them) while getting younger. These past two years were unmitigated disasters from that standpoint, by the metric management created, and as JD rightly points out, it wasn’t because of injuries, it’s because the team management fielded was terrible. USA Today knew it going into this year, hell, any hockey person worth their salt knew it. But Lindenning didn’t. That’s why JD speaks for me, very articulately and with well-researched points, an outraged fan. I don’t care that they sucked. I’m happy we’re getting a good pick. I’m just terrified that this sucking will go on for far longer than it needs to thanks to incompetent management.

      • Bud Poile

        Two years without playoffs.
        You want the pick but it’s a disaster.
        Most injured team in the NHL,but your leader says it means nothing.
        CA Twilight Zone.

      • Ronning4ever

        But they did challenge for the playoffs. They were a bubble team around February, hit a bunch of good teams and then then tanked. Same thing happened the year before. NJ, Arizona, Colorado were pretty much out of the hunt by December – but this team basically gave it it’s all until the TDL. As a morale manager, this is IMHO the best you can hope for, but more to the point, this is what the team preached.

        In terms of the team sucking, I think you’re right, but I don’t put that on the current group, that’s all Gillis.

        All that aside, I honestly don’t think it matters what they say about making the playoffs, it matters more what they do. While the author is adamant that some of the moves made are just not rebuilding maneuvers and set the group back, I’m not so sure myself. I trust the GM’s drafting and development record…though Gillis was far better at signings IMHO.