Door might be ajar for Desjardins
Canucks’ struggles have put coach at top of league’s most-likely-to-be-fired list
It’s not easy to be Willie Desjardins these days.
The head coach of the underachieving Vancouver Canucks acknowledged he feels he is on the hot seat, with his team having lost eight straight games before visiting the New York Islanders on Monday night.
“When losses pile up, everyone is on the hot seat,” Desjardins said. “It’s not unfair. Especially when you’re not scoring. If we get some goals, we can get a bit of life and that can change things.”
Desjardins is in a no-win situation and the most likely candidate to be the first coach fired this season. He is saddled with an aging, slow team that doesn’t have a crop of youngsters ready to take over due to bad drafts.
Nonetheless, ownership and management believe the Canucks are a playoff-quality team.
“The good thing is, for the most part, we’ve been in every game,” said Desjardins. “Last four minutes, we’ve been within a goal. It’s a matter of staying with it. I believe in our players. I like their character. That gives you hope that things will turn around.”
Desjardins replaced John Tortorella in Vancouver in the summer of 2014. And if his time is coming, former Leaf Travis Green is a likely candidate to replace Desjardins. Green is the head coach of Vancouver’s top farm team in Utica, N.Y., and has interviewed at least three times for head coaching jobs, recently in Colorado.
Columbus and Pittsburgh replaced their coaches mid-season last year, to vastly different results.
Under Mike Sullivan, the Penguins had an awakening and won the Stanley Cup, opening eyes to the possibil- ities of the combination of skill and speed.
Tortorella, who took over in Columbus, is probably a losing streak away from joining Desjardins on the watch list. Tortorella was an odds-on favourite (13-4, according to Bodog) to be the first coach fired but, having passed the 82-game mark with the Blue Jackets, he seems relatively safe. In fact, the Jackets are believed to be looking at adding talent to make the playoffs.
Second on the watch list is Nashville’s Peter Laviolette. A Stanley Cup-winning coach with Carolina 10 years ago, Laviolette is overseeing a 3-5-3 team that has everything it ever wanted in terms of offence, added scoring defencemen P.K. Subban and has had historically strong goaltending (unless that’s attributable to Shea Weber). And still, it’s not working. They just lost to Carolina, a candidate for worst team in the league.
“There are expectations in Nashville, and the Subban-for-Weber trade looks horrible for Nashville right now,” said a source within the coaching world. “There’s a lot of talent there, but something’s not working.”
Still on the hot seat — because he always sits there — is Boston’s Claude Julien. The Bruins are 6-5-0. Not bad, but better was expected. Like the Canucks whom the Bruins beat for the 2011 Stanley Cup, their window for winning is closing.
Dropping off the watch list is Cana- diens bench boss Michel Therrien, the latest evidence of the adage: Show me a good goalie, and I’ll show you a good coach. (Although, again, Weber’s presence might have something to do with it.) Over the summer, new coaches were installed in Anaheim (Randy Carlyle), Calgary (Glen Gulutzan), Colorado (Jared Bednar), Minnesota (Bruce Boudreau) and Ottawa (Guy Boucher). Of the group, only Bednar had no NHL head coaching experience.
That leaves the likes of Bob Hartley, Todd Richards, Dallas Eakins, John Torchetti, Dave Cameron — even Ron Wilson — as coaches with NHL experience who might get the tap should a job open up.
Vancouver head coach Willie Desjardins, left, with GM Jim Benning, understands losses could lead to a loss of job. “It’s not unfair,” he said.