The woes of the Vancouver Canucks have been getting worse in the last two seasons. While there are multiple reasons for this, one guy who seems to be getting a lot of blame is Head Coach Willie Desjardins. While any team’s issues are not solely on one person, you can only make so many excuses.
The topic if Willie is to blame, sometimes in any part, for the Canucks being bad seems to have divided Canucks Nation. Some seem to think he can do no wrong, and it’s all the fault of the Front Office, while others believe he is the devil incarnate. While I don’t believe anything is black and white, I definitely lean more towards the Beelzebub argument.
I decided to look at a few of the topics where fans defend Willie and see if he has any recourse. Again, I know everything isn’t Willie’s fault, but my issue with him arises with how he justifies his decision-making. As a lifelong Detroit Lions fan it rings all too similar to some of the worst coaches and executives I’ve ever seen. So, here we go.
While injuries are something every team deals with, the Canucks seem to have been bitten extra hard by the injury bug the last two seasons. Even if you remove the Mumps outbreak, and a small outbreak of the flu, the Canucks haven’t been lucky.
In the 2016-2017 season they’ve lost the most games to injury, at a whopping 358 games (as of March 25). That is 39 more games than the second most injured team, the Winnipeg Jets. Now unless Willie has been absolutely running them ragged in practice, which we have heard zero on, so we can assume this one isn’t on him.
However, we can look at who he has chosen to use as fill-ins. The likes of Michael Chaput, Joseph Labate, and Jayson Megna have been getting a majority of the extra time. These names were not known to most Canucks fans before this season, and were chosen over younger guys playing well. Even recently acquired, late 20s AHL castoffs have been given preferential ice time over those who’ve spent years in the system.
This one isn’t all on Willie, but some of it is. I’m not sure how Chaput, Labate, and Megna playing top minutes over increased time for Horvat, Baertschi, and Gaunce even, is better for the future of the team? Still, Good Cop wins this one.
Willie backers LOVE bringing up how great he is for developing young guys, and their first “fact’ is the development of Bo Horvat. I find this to be absurd, because for one you’re completely ignoring Bo’s talent, or his commitment to his career in the offseason. I didn’t see Willie hooking Bo up with a skating coach last summer, Bo did that on his own.
I would even argue he has done more to stunt developing players than help them. Nikolay Goldobin scores a goal in his first game as a Canuck, then is benched for the entire third period with a huge lead. In the postgame his coach then explains he needs more time to learn the system. Enter Drew Shore fresh out of the Swiss league, and gets more ice time then Goldobin, with one practice under his belt. Great message to send the young Russian.
How about him pulling Reid Boucher when he made a defensive lapse? Hey Reid you scored a goal, but made a bad defensive play leading to a goal against. What better way to have a guy learn then sit on the bench, and, be in time out? If a guy is not instructed on what he did wrong and how to improve it, then not given the opportunity to go out there and make up for it how is he supposed to learn?
My favorite though is ripping players in the media. Nikita Tryamkin has been improving steadily this year. Yes he will have screw-ups and make mistakes, its part of the learning process. So in a game where he wasn’t horrible, for his coach to suggest to the media it was his fault they lost is absurd, and I would love to hear a Willie fanboy/girl defend how this helps young guys. Didn’t we all hate Torts for being too tough on guys?
willie: “If tryamkin stepped up on marchand like he did benn, i think we win that boston game” – uh, wow
— Jason Botchford (@botchford) March 17, 2017
I’m not saying Willie has ruined any of the younger guys, but he has done far more to hurt their development than help it. He prefers unproven, even failed, borderline AHL players over giving the future time to develop, make mistakes, and learn from them. This is on Willie for sure.
His Decision Making
Willie’s coaching style is literally the definition of insanity. He keeps doing the same thing, which yields the same, failed results, and doesn’t change it. One of the themes with this team is their inability to hold third period leads, or even not give up goals in the third. Hasn’t changed in Willie’s tenure, and that’s because Willie doesn’t know how to change.
It took him almost two seasons to understand situational line changes. How many times have we seen a close game, late in the third period and the fourth line in is put out there for an offensive zone faceoff? Too many, yet even now it continues to happen.
My all-time favorite though was when Jeff Paterson asked him about Megna’s absurd amount of ice time, especially with the Sedins and on the first PP unit. Willie’s response?
asked WD about loyalty to #Canucks Megna. Said he knows there’s been no production, but likes how hard he competes & how he plays defense
— Jeff Paterson (@patersonjeff) March 8, 2017
So right points in 50+ games, while leading most in ice time and playing on the PP doesn’t matter. Willie wants effort and defense, which Megna’s defensive metrics suck. Again, “he tries hard and plays good defense, so lets give him topline minutes and PP time” is a strategy some fans defend.
If your boss came to you and said they were going to reward your coworker more because the boss likes him and likes the way he does one part of his job (not that he does it well, that he likes the way he does it) you’d be livid. This isn’t lost on the other guys the room. By Willie saying he likes Megna’s effort, he is saying others aren’t putting in enough for him, and don’t think some of those guys don’t realize this.
Willie’s had three seasons, and proven he can’t adjust his style to the NHL game. While I know not all of it is his fault, a lot of it is. He’s proven through his postgame comments he can’t manage to make adjustments or think outside the box with his methods and strategies, and will continue to go with what hasn’t worked until the end of time.
I don’t hate Willie or wish him ill, which a lot of Willie’s defenders seem to think about me. It’s just he doesn’t get it, and doesn’t seem to want to try anything new. It’s like the people trying to tell me Mike Gillis was a great GM. If he is so great why hasn’t any of the 29 other teams brought him on? There’s a reason. The same reason no one will be lining up to hire Willie as a head coach when he becomes available, which is hopefully soon.