Assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn were also let go.
“We made a very difficult decision to relieve Willie Desjardins of his duties as head coach today,” Canucks general manager Jim Benning said. “It’s been a challenging season and we all share responsibility for the results; however, we felt this change was necessary as we continue to develop a young team and look ahead to the future. We’re grateful to Willie, Doug, Perry and each of their families for their dedication and hard work and wish them every success.”
Desjardins was 109-110-27 across three seasons with Vancouver. They missed the playoffs in two of his three seasons and finished the 2016-2017 season on an eight-game losing streak. They finished 30-43-9, good for second last in the NHL.
There is a lot to unpack about what went wrong and what’s been going wrong with the Canucks and it’s hardly surprising that the head coach would be blamed for it.
But Vancouver is in the midst of what’s appearing to be a long and painful rebuild, a rebuild without much of a current roadmap, and it’s hard to put someone in charge to right the ship when the ship can’t be righted in a hurry.
The Canucks look more like a development team than an NHL team at this juncture and that requires a development guy behind the bench, someone who can respond to the urgings of upper management to nurture and make that kind of thing happen on the ice.
After three seasons, Desjardins wasn’t that guy anymore.
“The next coach will have some challenges because we’re going to be young and players are going to make mistakes,” said president of hockey operations Trevor Linden. “There are going to be growing pains and we need a coach who understands exactly where we are in that development curve.”
That search could lead to some interesting places, with a likely option sitting in Utica right now. Travis Green has a history developing AHL players and Vancouver’s been kind of eyeballing him for the sport for the last four years, so it might be time to make it happen.
The issue is who’s in it for the long haul, however, and that shortens the list. The process is going to be methodical and arduous and may or may not pay off long-term dividends. And in the end, the process is its own reward. Or something.