The Willie Desjardins era has come to a close and as Vancouver fans watch hated rivals from Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto skate into the playoffs, hope is all they can muster right now.
Things may look rather bleak in the short-term, but the Canucks do have a pretty good stable of players on the rise, including Brock Boeser, Troy Stecher, Thatcher Demko and Olli Juolevi, just to name a few. Even with the Sedin twins back next season, this is a team in rebuild mode (whether it was the organization’s intention or not). The Canucks will get another high pick this summer, selecting no worse than fifth overall. This is not a great draft, but the Canucks could grab a pretty nice player even at No. 5 (for example, scoring right winger Owen Tippett or a puckmoving defenseman such as Cale Makar or Miro Heiskanen).
Which is a long way of saying that this team’s next coach needs to be someone who can provide structure and grow alongside the kids. The most obvious candidate is already in the organization: Travis Green.
The AHL Utica coach almost got the Anaheim Ducks job last summer, but The Flock went retro with Randy Carlyle instead. Green has paid his dues in Utica, wringing the most out of lineups that have been bereft of talent, compared to other farm squads. Keep in mind – most of Vancouver’s top prospects have come from the college ranks lately and some are still there (Adam Gaudette and Will Lockwood come to mind). Young NHLers such as Stecher and Bo Horvat only played a handful of AHL games before jumping up to the Canucks and sticking. So Green hasn’t been coaching the best; he’s been coaching the rest. And yet, the Comets still have an outside shot at the playoffs this season.
Now, there are a lot of recycled coaches available, from Lindy Ruff to Gerard Gallant, but I’d like to see Vancouver reward a loyal soldier and a good hockey mind. Green has been groomed by the Canucks and this seems to be his time.
If Vancouver was to go another way, I’d like to see Todd Reirden get a shot. The Canucks would have to wait on this one, as Reirden is currently an associate coach with the Washington Capitals, but he’s ready for a head coaching gig.
Reirden is in charge of the Caps’ defense, which has become an incredible strength for the Team That Ovie Built. Washington ranked first overall in team defense this season and while goalie Braden Holtby deserves a huge dollop of credit there, the unit itself has really come together under Reirden’s structure in the past couple seasons.
Now, if you’re Vancouver and you don’t tab Green for some reason, doesn’t Reirden and his structure sound like a positive way to go? Again, you have a coach that can grow with your core and hopefully, if all works out, the whole team comes together for something great in three or four seasons.
The Canucks are not devoid of talent right now. They have holes and they have disparate parts, but they are not building from scratch and many of the important elements are there. But the process must be organic and I believe that a young coach getting his first top NHL job is not a red flag, even if Desjardins didn’t work out as a first-time head honcho. This is the time for a savvy hire, not a retread.