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.

Report: Coyotes’ Rieder is considering KHL, among other options

New York Islanders v Arizona Coyotes
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Arizona Coyotes forward Tobias Rieder has a big decision to make. The 23-year-old restricted free agent has been embroiled in contentious contract negotiations for much of the offseason, and now he’s reportedly considering his options.

According to TSN’s Bob McKenzie, those options include taking the Coyotes offer, requesting a trade, signing in the KHL, or sitting out.

Rieder had 14 goals and 23 assists in 82 games last season for Arizona. Born in Germany, he’s currently representing Team Europe in the World Cup final against Canada.

Rieder’s agent, Darren Ferris, has said his client won’t attend Coyotes training camp after the World Cup is over — unless, of course, a deal is struck.

“We’ve made them a fair offer at two years at $2.5 million a year, and they’re unwilling to do it,” Ferris recently told the Arizona Republic.

The Coyotes have reportedly offered between $2 million and $2.3 million per season on a two-year deal, so it’s not exactly a huge gulf between the two sides.

Of course, it wasn’t a huge gulf between Vladimir Sobotka and the St. Louis Blues, and look what happened there.

Shaw (boarding) to have hearing after getting tossed in Habs debut

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 02:  Andrew Shaw #65 of the Chicago Blackhawks speaks during Media Day for the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 2, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Didn’t take long for Andrew Shaw to do Andrew Shaw things in Montreal.

The noted agitator, acquired from Chicago at the draft, will have the NHL’s first disciplinary hearing of the season on Thursday — today, the Department of Player Safety announced that Shaw will be called to the carpet after getting tossed for boarding Washington’s Connor Hobbs last night.

Shaw was quickly challenged by Caps forward Nathan Walker following the hit, and the two squared off. Shaw was then given a five-minute boarding major, a major for fighting, a misconduct and a game misconduct.

All told, 30 PIM.

This won’t be Shaw’s first visit with the DoPS. Far from it. He was suspended for making a homophobic slur during an opening-round playoff loss to St. Louis in the spring and, prior to that:

— Avoided suspension for a high hit on Francois Beauchemin.

— Allegedly bit Victor Hedman during the ’15 Stanley Cup Final.

— Was fined $2,000 for diving.

— Avoided suspension for charging Barret Jackman.

— Avoided suspension for headbutting Brock Nelson.

And those are just the infractions since 2015.

Report: Players still undecided on how to split World Cup profits

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Don Fehr, executive director of the National Hockey League Players Association meets with the media at the Marriott Marquis Times Square on September 13, 2012 in New York City. Joining him from left to right is Ruslan Fedotenko, Henrik Lundqvist, Zdeno Chara and Sidney Crosby.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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You’d think the NHLPA would’ve already decided how to split its share of World Cup profits among its membership.

But according to a report by TSN’s Rick Westhead, you’d be wrong:

While the accounting on the World Cup probably won’t be finished for several months – meaning the NHLPA doesn’t yet know exactly how much money there will be to split between its members – NHLPA staff and players discussed the concept of 50 per cent of the union’s share of profits being split between players in the World Cup, with the other 50 per cent being split by NHL players not in the event.

During a meeting with NHLPA divisional player representative Joe Reekie, some players on Team Russia said all World Cup profits should remain with players who are playing in the event, a source told TSN. Some players on Team Czech Republic suggested in a separate meeting that an 80/20 split (favoring players in the World Cup) should be considered, the source said.

Profits for the tournament have been pegged at around $65 million, split 50-50 between the league and the players’ association. So assuming those projections are correct, that’s around $32.5 million for the NHLPA to divvy up. Not a huge amount on a per-player basis, especially considering what the average player makes all by himself. But chances are, this is not going to be the only World Cup, so it could set a precedent for future events.

Kesler was ‘really disappointed’ with World Cup atmosphere

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Ryan Kesler #17 of Team USA skates with the puck during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Check it out — a Team USA player talking about disappointment at the World Cup, yet not referencing his team’s lackluster effort!

“It was weird,” American forward Ryan Kesler said of the tournament’s atmosphere, per the O.C. Register. “I thought there’d be more of a buzz in Toronto. There wasn’t … It just didn’t seem like there was a buzz.

“If you didn’t know what was going on, you wouldn’t even know teams were playing. That’s the only thing I was really disappointed with.”

The World Cup reboot was always going to have issues in this regard.

The timing of the tournament — early September, when the sports landscape is dominated by NCAA football and the NFL — almost guaranteed it would be buried. That early September start also meant even the most hardcore hockey fans still viewed the World Cup as something of an exhibition, or glorified training camp.

Creating Team North America and Team Europe initially added an extra element of hokiness. While both eventually proved worthy competitors, that didn’t happen until the tournament was underway.

And yeah, Team Europe has been a remarkable story.

But it hasn’t helped the buzz factor.

In Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to Canada in the first of the best-of-three final, Europe didn’t exactly bring in the fans. Several pundits tweeted out the alarming number of empty seats at the Air Canada Centre (see here and here), and Canadian forward Steve Stamkos addressed how the rivalry — or lack thereof — with Europe translated into a muted affair.

“It’s tough just because there’s not that natural rivalry here,” Stamkos explained, per Yahoo. “In some of the other games, we had away fans that were creating some noise.

“This was probably the team that had the least amount of support, just because of the makeup of the team in the tournament to start with.”

Attendance issues have been a theme throughout the event. Several group games started at 3 p.m. ET — on weekdays, no less — which resulted in subpar crowd numbers at the ACC. The highly-anticipated USA-Canada grudge match never came to fruition, with the Americans sputtering out as one of the tournament’s biggest disappointments.

North America’s elimination didn’t help the buzz factor, either.

In the end, all of this will probably be chalked up to a learning experience for the NHL and NHLPA, which is fair. This tournament was filled with several major unknowns coming in, and predicting how those would play out was a near impossible task.

Now, both sides know what worked and what didn’t. And they’ve got plenty of time to make some changes.