WillieDesjardins

For Desjardins, responsibilities include both winning and entertaining

It wasn’t just that the John Tortorella-coached Canucks lost. It was also that they lost ugly.

Really ugly.

In 2013-14, Vancouver finished with the 28th-ranked offense in the NHL and, for the first time since 2008, missed the playoffs. This just three seasons after the club finished with the top-ranked offense and won the Presidents’ Trophy, with much of the same personnel.

To be sure, not all of the team’s descent can be pinned on Tortorella. That would be wholly unfair. The Canucks actually began to deteriorate offensively when Alain Vigneault was still behind the bench — a fact former general manager Mike Gillis somewhat took ownership for in one of his last interviews on the job.

“I really feel that over the last couple of seasons, we’ve chased goalposts that have been moving and got away from our core principles of how I want this team to play, and how we want to perform, and the tempo that we want to play with,” Gillis said in April.

“People love to pick someone to blame, but the reality is, as an organization, we’ve deviated from some of the things that made us successful, and some of the things that I know will be successful.”

Gillis didn’t save his job with that quasi-mea culpa, but Willie Desjardins, the head coach that new president of hockey ops Trevor Linden and new GM Jim Benning hired to replace Tortorella, fits the description that Gillis would surely have laid out.

“I’ve watched Willie’s teams play a lot in the last 12 years, including recently in Texas,” said Benning. “His teams play fast (i.e. not “slow”) and work extremely hard. They play an up-tempo, hard-skating type of game.”

In the last couple of decades, there have been three eras of Canucks hockey that fans in Vancouver have really connected with. First was the one in the 1990s with Pavel Bure and Linden leading the offensive charge; the next was the West Coast Express years from 2002 to 2006, led by Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi; and the third was propelled by twins Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, with each winning an Art Ross Trophy in 2009-10 and 2010-11, respectively.

All three of those eras scored a lot of goals, and looked good doing it. Bure was arguably the most exciting player in franchise history. The West Coast Express helped fans forget about the ill-fated Mike Keenan and Mark Messier era. As for the Sedin era, Canucks ownership and management are hoping that Desjardins, a first-time NHL coach at age 57, can breathe new life into that one.

And Desjardins, who passed up the opportunity to coach Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh, believes it’s possible.

“I like what I have to work with, I like it a lot,” he said after he was hired.

“We want to be an entertaining, high-paced, fast team.”

Questions, of course, remain. Like:

— Are the Sedins just too old? Couldn’t that be why they’ve been tailing off? The NHL is a young man’s game, and the twins are 33.

— Is the whole team just too old? On the back end, Kevin Bieksa is 33 and Dan Hamhuis is 31. Alex Edler isn’t exactly old at 28, but he’s not young either. Up front, Alex Burrows is 33 and Chris Higgins is 31, while new addition Radim Vrbata is 33. Heck, Jannik Hansen used to be the kid with the young, energetic legs. He’s 28 now.

Tortorella, for all the criticism he’s received and continues to receive (the word “scapegoat” occasionally comes to mind), wasn’t wrong when he called the Canucks “stale.” They do very much need an injection of youth.

And so in addition to reviving the Sedins and all the other Canuck veterans who underperformed last season, Desjardins will also be responsible for bringing along the club’s youngsters, like Zack Kassian, Linden Vey, Nicklas Jensen, Bo Horvat, Luca Sbisa, Chris Tanev, and Frank Corrado.

Add it all up, then throw in the fact the Canucks play in the very tough Western Conference, and you’ve got a pretty tall task.

“We want to be a good team and make the playoffs and that’s our focus,” said Desjardins.

But don’t forget to be exciting and entertaining, too.

Ruff ‘not telling’ who will start tonight for Stars

Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) subs in for goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Dallas. The Stars won 6-5. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP
Leave a comment

 

Some intrigue in St. Louis, where Antti Niemi was the first Stars netminder off the ice this morning, only for Lindy Ruff to tell the media that tonight’s starter would be Kari Lehtonen.

Then, just to muddy the waters further, Ruff told reporters, “I’m not telling you who’s starting, so don’t ask.”

Typically, whichever goalie leaves the morning skate first is the starter.

But then, typically, a team doesn’t have a two-goalie system in the playoffs, so perhaps we should’t assume anything at this point. 

All we know for sure is that Lehtonen started the first two games of this series. He played well in Game 1, a 2-1 Stars victory, but got pulled in Game 2 after surrendering three goals on just five shots.

Niemi, meanwhile, was solid in relief in Game 2, allowing just one goal — David Backeswinner in overtime — on 20 shots. For that reason, many figured Ruff would turn to Niemi for Game 3, just like he turned to Niemi for Games 4 and 5 in the first round against Minnesota.

 

But, apparently, we’ll have to wait and see for sure.

 

Krug out six months, Krejci out five months after undergoing surgery

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 19: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins talks with Torey Krug #47 during the second period against the Minnesota Wild at TD Garden on November 19, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Some pretty significant health updates out of Boston on Tuesday:

— Defenseman Torey Krug will miss the next six months following right shoulder surgery.

— Center David Krejci will miss the next five months following left hip surgery.

— Winger Matt Beleskey will miss the next six weeks following left hand surgery.

Got all that?

Let’s go straight to the ramifications:

Krug

Assuming he had a shot at making the U.S. World Cup team — and given he was the fifth-highest scoring American d-man this year, you had to figure he did — that opportunity is now wiped out.

The six-month recovery window also means Krug will likely miss however many games the Bruins play in October (it was 10 this season.) That’ll prove difficult for head coach Claude Julien.

Krug’s a staple of the Boston power play and averaged 21:36 TOI per night this season. Finding someone to fill that role won’t be easy.

Krejci

Named to the Czech Republic’s initial 16-man roster for the World Cup, Krejci’s participation is now (presumably) in question. Even if he’s healthy in five months, that would bring him right up to the start of September — and the World Cup runs from Sept. 17 to Oct. 1.

Can’t imagine Boston would be too happy with Krejci, who just turned 30 last week, playing in this event fresh off major hip surgery.

This is also the second significant injury Krejci’s suffered in the last two years, having partially torn his MCL in 2015.

Beleskey

Figures to be back to full health in time for training camp, which has to be one of the few positives to come from today. Beleskey enjoyed a good first year in Boston during the ’15-16 campaign, finishing with 15 goals and 37 points.

It’s possible the hand injury affected him down the stretch, though. After scoring five goals and eight points in 14 games in February, Beleskey failed to produce much in March and April, and finished the year in a four-game pointless slump.

Report: Wild interested in MacLean, Carlyle for head coaching gig

OTTAWA, ON - APRIL 4: Head coach Paul MacLean of the Ottawa Senators yells at the on ice-officials following a disallowed goal against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Canadian Tire Centre on April 4, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the coaching carousel now in full spin — another gig opened up today, as Bob Hartley was fired in Calgary — GMs are actively seeking permission to speak with potential candidates.

Like in Minnesota, where Chuck Fletcher is working the phones.

Per the Star-Tribune, Fletcher — who has reportedly reached out to Ducks GM Bob Murray about Bruce Boudreau — is now also looking at Boudreau’s assistant in Anaheim, Paul MacLean, along with ex-Ducks and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle.

More, from Mike Russo:

It’s believed on that same phone call with Murray, Fletcher asked about the status of Ducks assistant coach Paul MacLean. I’ve been led to believe Fletcher has yet to receive permission to talk with MacLean. If that’s true, it likely means MacLean, the former Senators head coach, is a candidate to replace Boudreau in Anaheim. That would make sense since MacLean was Murray’s hire in the first place.

In addition, as I reported in my Boudreau piece in Saturday’s paper here, sources told me that Fletcher did plan to contact Randy Carlyle. I don’t know if that contact has been made yet with the former Ducks and Maple Leafs coach.

Per TSN’s Darren Dreger, Fletcher is currently in California. Logic suggests he’s getting two interviews done for the price of one, as both Boudreau and Carlyle live in southern California.

As for MacLean, he’s certainly going to be a figure worth monitoring. One has to think he’s in line to replace Boudreau in Anaheim — something predicted from the moment he was hired — but that’s assuming Murray doesn’t clean house behind the bench.

Treliving cites ‘style of play’ and poor special teams among reasons for firing Hartley

Calgary Flames v Florida Panthers
Getty
4 Comments

Brad Treliving started out with a lot of love for Bob Hartley.

“Bob did some very good things here,” the Flames’ general manager told reporters today in Calgary. “He built a foundation in this organization. Apart from all else, he put his heart and soul into this team every day. He bled for this team. Bob’s a good coach.”

Then came the brutal honesty:

“I just felt that at this particular time, for us to move forward, Bob has taken this team as far as I feel he can take it.”

Hence, today’s decision to fire Hartley — a decision that Treliving insisted had nothing to do with any other coach that may have recently become available. (Like, for example, Bruce Boudreau.) Nor was it just to “throw a body on the tarmac” after the Flames missed the playoffs.

The decision to fire Hartley was made for one simple reason — the Flames haven’t been playing good enough hockey.

“Our special teams for a good portion of the year were 30th in the league. There’s some style-of-play issues,” said Treliving.

“Our goaltending was not good this year. That falls on the general manager. I need to fix that. [But] the way we play in front of the goaltender needs to be fixed as well.”

The statistics support Treliving’s assessment. In 2015-16, the Flames had the highest goals-against average in the NHL, and the worst penalty killing.

At five on five, Calgary was also one of the league’s worst puck-possession teams. And while that was the case last season as well, when the Flames made the playoffs and even won a round, remember that Treliving had previously chalked up a good portion of last season’s success to luck.

“I don’t want to characterize this as I’m standing in one end of the corner and Bob’s at the other end, and one’s talking chess and the other’s talking checkers,” Treliving said Monday.

“But in today’s game, you need to have the puck. You’ve gotta work like hell to get it. And when you get it, you gotta hold on to it, you gotta play with it.

“I think how you defend in the league, too, is an area we look at. … You really break down the chances that we give up… you’ve gotta be able to defend in this league.”

And so the search for Hartley’s replacement begins.

“I’ll leave this podium and work will start on who the next coach will be,” said Treliving. “But up until this point, this is about making a decision, doing it in what I believe is the right manner, and then we’ll move on.”

To listen to Treliving’s entire press conference, click here

Related: What does ‘good defense’ mean to Barry Trotz?