Vancouver Canucks: Patience Is Key, But Firing Desjardins Was Right

Apr 8, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins speaks to the media after the third period at Rogers Arena. The Edmonton Oilers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 8, 2017; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins speaks to the media after the third period at Rogers Arena. The Edmonton Oilers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports /

Should the Vancouver Canucks have been more patient with their former head coach, Willie Desjardins? The answer is yes. And no.

Willie Desjardins came to the Vancouver Canucks in 2014 and promptly led the team to a 101-point finish and a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He did that as a rookie coach, having previously coached only teams in the WHL and AHL. He is also a two-time WHL champion with the Medicine Hat Tigers and a Calder Cup champion with the Texas Stars.

So, say what you will, Willie Desjardins knows what he’s doing.

Because of that, I always defended him. Even when he followed up a 75-point season with a 69-point campaign. When rumors of his potential firing first emerged, I argued he should stay. I even called Desjardins the Canucks’ “coach of the future” and made sure to share my views on why his decision making wasn’t Vancouver’s issue.

You see ex-Canucks coach John Tortorella having massive success with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But at the same time you know Tortorella is not the right type for Vancouver. Neither is someone like Darryl Sutter. Tortorella and Sutter are winners. But they aren’t right for Vancouver — at least not now.

The Canucks want to bring in young guys, let them develop and form them into great players. This is my own opinion more than a scientifically proven argument, but Desjardins is a much better coach to do those things. He’s a people person, he genuinely cares about his players, the city, the fans.

When he tells you that, knowing what he knew in 2014, he would pick Vancouver and the Canucks over the Pittsburgh Penguins again — you believe him. He sincerely means it.

Plus, he is not only a likeable person, but he knows hockey as well. There’s no doubt about it.

The Roster

Desjardins’ biggest issue in the past two seasons was not his lack of knowledge or his bad decision making. He probably didn’t make all of the right calls, but that’s not what made the Canucks a bad team. Desjardins was given very little to work with, and a lot of what he got was taken away by injuries.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t happy about his love for Jayson Megna. Or about the fact that he neither tried Loui Eriksson nor Jannik Hansen on the twins’ wing for an extended time period. Or that Brandon Sutter was an integral part of his power play.

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Speaking of the power play, I wrote a long article on what’s wrong with Vancouver on the man advantage. The lack of special-teams success this year wasn’t just due to a lack of roster quality, but most certainly coaching as well. You can’t just blame everything on a bad roster.

But, yeah, the roster is definitely a mighty reason.

As Desjardins said himself in his press conference on Thursday, he “coached different than (he) did (his) first year or (has) coached in other places.” He continued to argue, “as a coach, you have to adjust to the players you have. You can’t just say: ‘We’re going to play this way regardless of who we’ve got.”

And he’s totally right.

For example, you can’t have Hansen playing on the top line, as well as major minutes on both special teams. Eriksson can’t do that either. Neither can Bo Horvat.

So when you commit to Hansen killing penalties, you put someone else on the power-play unit. Not having the right players for every situation — plus not having any elite players in their primes — can cause some odd decisions.

You have to deal with what you’ve got. In the Canucks’ case, it might be a few years before the coach gets a winning roster to deal with again, though, so patience is key.

The Decision

But let’s get back to the decision. I have done everything possible to argue in Desjardins’ favor now. Yet, the title reads “firing Desjardins was right,” and I do believe that to be the case.

There are times when the coach isn’t the only one to blame. Yet, he is the one being evaluated and blamed game after game after game. Perhaps it’s a sense of justice that triggers this in me, but I tend to get defensive for people like Desjardins in decisions like this.

Nevertheless, sometimes clubs need a coaching change, no matter who that coach is or what kind of work he has been doing.

With Desjardins behind the bench, the Canucks went from second in the Pacific Division to sixth and ultimately last. They realized the ‘rebuild on the fly’ is a failed project, and admitted to entering a “transition phase.”

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During that phase, accumulating draft picks and prospects, as well as young, NHL-ready players will be the No. 1 priority. That will take a lot of time, and patience. But to really execute a ‘full-on fresh start,’ a new coach doesn’t hurt.

Even if firing Desjardins wasn’t quite fair after giving him a roster that was extremely difficult to work with.