VANCOUVER – While Vancouver Canucks fans demand change, new coach Willie Desjardins is preaching a status-quo approach—with himself.
After spending more than two decades attempting to become an NHL head coach, and with training camp in Whistler, B.C., two weeks away, he is vowing not to change his style behind the bench.
“One thing I learned is, you’ve gotta be who you are,” said Desjardins, 57, the new Canucks coach, after taking part in a Vancouver Board of Trade luncheon Tuesday. “You can’t be somebody you’re not. (Otherwise), it just falls apart on you.”
Desjardins reached the NHL this spring after helping the Texas Stars win the AHL title. He has also spent time in the Canadian university and junior ranks, winning championships at both levels, while also serving a two-season stint as a Dallas Stars assistant.
Fans want a significant improvement in the standings after the team missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 last season. Desjardins, who finds it “unbelievable” that his long-held dream of guiding an NHL club’s training camp is about to come true, suggested that chances of a Canucks turnaround are better than many people might think.
“You just get to see the quality of people,” Desjardins told reporters. “Sometimes, when you get into something, you go: Oh, what I have I gotten into? But that’s not the case here.”
During the luncheon with 400 members of the local business community—as well as Canucks president of hockey operations Trevor Linden and team GM Jim Benning—Desjardins shed some light on what fans can expect from the veteran-laden Canucks. In one notable change, contrary to the views of former Vancouver coach John Tortorella, who was fired after one season, Daniel and Henrik Sedin are likely to spend less time killing penalties.
“We have to share the workload,” said Desjardins. “I don’t think we’re going to make the playoffs with one line being shut down. They’re good at all aspects of the game. They’re good at killing penalties and they’re good five-on-five. They can play the power play. I think you’re lucky to have players like that. For us, we want to make sure that they’re able to go (and) at the end of the game, they’re still fresh and they’re playing hard. So that may mean managing their minutes a little bit. We want to play with four lines.”
Henrik and Daniel, both former NHL most valuable players, managed to produce only 50 and 47 points, respectively, last season. Daniel also endured a lengthy goal drought while both battled injuries after seeing their playing time increased.
Desjardins’s view on the Sedins reflects the desire of the new top brass to have the Canucks rely on their veterans. Key additions include centre Nick Bonino and defenceman Luca Sbisa, who were acquired via trade from Anaheim for Ryan Kesler. Vancouver also added veteran wingers Radim Vrbata and goaltender Ryan Miller, who were signed as free agents. Benning, who replaced former president and GM Mike Gillis, said he, Linden and Desjardins have focused this summer on finding support for the veteran core.
“There’ll be many challenges for throughout the season, but I think we’ve tried to do everything that we could at this point to make the team deeper and give them more enthusiasm so they play with more energy,” said Benning.
The Canucks’ lack of depth showed last season as the NHL veterans and minor-league callups could not make up sufficiently for declines in offence from the Sedins and others when injuries and poor play took their toll.
“We talked about maybe there wasn’t the depth that we needed to counter those injuries going into that last stretch of the year,” said Benning. “So we tried to add to our depth this summer. Now, we don’t have to rush young players, and we can let them develop properly and be ready to come up and play when we call them up to play.”
During the luncheon, questions focused more on hockey than the club’s business issues. But the Canucks, used to perennial sellouts, are also trying to bolster their bottom line with more on-ice success.
Linden told reporters that season ticket sales are “down a few percentage points.” But he expects them to pick up as training camp creates more excitement about the team.