When Trevor Linden took charge of the Vancouver Canucks three years ago, the rookie hockey executive hired a rookie general manager, Jim Benning, and a rookie NHL head coach, Willie Desjardins.
The Canucks made the playoffs in 2014-15, but the past two seasons were failures. The team has been mired at the bottom of the league and produced the two lowest-scoring seasons in franchise history. Desjardins, 60, paid the price on Monday morning: He was fired 12 hours after the team’s season ended with a loss in Edmonton.
“A change was necessary,” Linden said at an afternoon news conference at Rogers Arena.
The organization now enters a new era. The Canucks had talked about contending for the playoffs the past two years. The next few years will instead be defined by the development of the team’s young players, some of whom are not yet with the NHL team.
A leading contender for the coaching job is Travis Green, a well-regarded 46-year-old who coaches Vancouver’s AHL team in Utica, N.Y. Last summer, Green vied for head coaching jobs in Colorado and Anaheim.
In several different answers on Monday, Linden and Benning spoke about the qualities they want in a new coach – one who works well with young players and is ready to lead the growth of a team through several challenging seasons. Linden said NHL experience wasn’t a top priority.
The description closely fit Green.
“The next coach will have some challenges,” Linden said. “We’re going to be young. Young players make mistakes. There’s going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are.”
Three years ago, Desjardins finally reached the NHL as a head coach after a long and varied career behind the bench at different levels. He had been offered a short contract to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, but instead chose a longer deal with Vancouver. The first season, 2014-15, was a success: The team had 101 points and 48 wins. But the Canucks were upset in the first round of the playoffs by the Flames, in a series where Desjardins was outcoached by Calgary’s Bob Hartley.
The past two seasons began reasonably well, but January was twice a demarcation point. Last season, Vancouver was the worst team in the NHL from Jan. 20 onward, and finished third from the bottom. Almost the exact same thing happened this season: The Canucks were the worst team in the league from Jan. 21 and finished second last. Injuries were a factor. Desjardins often had to work with a tattered, subpar roster. That said, his player deployment was widely questioned, from the wingers he played with the Sedins to the composition of the weak power play.
Assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn were also fired on Monday. Assistant coach Doug Jarvis kept his job. Jarvis, 62, is seen as a mentor to a potential first-time NHL head coach such as Green.
Losing is taking its toll in Vancouver. Linden, in his playing days with the Canucks, was revered. As a hockey executive, some of his decisions have been criticized. Now, however, some critics are speaking out more vigorously. Last Friday, former Canuck Tiger Williams declared on local sports radio that Linden was “the worst guy you could have running the Vancouver Canucks,” citing his lack of front-office experience.
On Monday, Linden took some of the blame for Vancouver’s struggles. “This is on us – for sure,” he said. “Jim and I sit up here every bit as responsible.”Report Typo/Error