The visual evidence of what’s really going on in Vancouver finally landed on Monday, as three strange men sat at the press conference table, none of whom were in their current roles even as recently as April 1.
This is a complete rebuild, and the front office portion is now complete. A new president in Trevor Linden — OK, not so strange to Canucks fans — and two new hockey men brought in from outside a waning organization: general manager Jim Benning, and now head coach Willie Desjardins.
You couldn’t change the front office more than the Canucks have in the last six weeks. And you couldn’t make a more public admission that the old ways weren’t working, and that new ideas are needed.
Now, you have to believe the on-ice portion will undergo a similar level of re-organization. David Booth was bought out; Ryan Kesler will be traded, likely before Friday’s draft; and we would be surprised if at least one more core player does not move as well.
"When I looked at what was here, when I looked to the two guys who are leading this, the quality of the players, Canadian market, Vancouver fans…," Desjardins said at his unveiling Monday. "It was the right choice to come here."
That, of course, was in reference to having turned down the job in Pittsburgh, where it is said the contract terms more reflected his status as a rookie NHL head coach than they do in Vancouver.
Linden has made two signature hires here: A first-time GM who is humble, quiet and doesn’t show many cards; a man who emits a sense that he will under-promise and over-deliver. And now, the veteran head coach who just hasn’t happened to have worked as one in the NHL, who showed Monday that he is no more likely than Benning to come off as a man who knows any more than anyone else, or has somehow invented the game of hockey.
Years ago Desjardins informed his wife Rhonda that she’d be marrying an NHL coach if she hooked up with him. "I just didn’t tell her it was going to take 25 years," he laughed.
Like Benning, the hockey road has been long and winding for Desjardins, a man I first met back in 1985 when he was George Kingston’s assistant coach with the University of Calgary Dinosaurs. He went to Japan, spent 2002-10 with the Medicine Hat Tigers, spent a few years behind the Stars’ bench and then stepped back to guide their AHL club last season.
And guide them he did — all the way to the Calder Cup.
Nearly 30 years removed from that little coach’s office at the U of C, he sat behind a table with Linden and Benning, three hockey lifers all breaking their management maidens at the same time, so to speak.
"The greenest one (of the three) is the one talking right now," Linden said. "When I think about Jim and his 23 years in the game, eight in Boston … he’s got a tremendous amount of experience. I think about Willie, he’s coached at every level and been successful. He loves his players and has the ability to connect with (them). Whether it’s at the AHL, WHL or NHL level, players are players and they want to win. Willie has the ability to connect with players and that’s the big part."
Desjardins is the anti-Torts, coming in like a lamb to Tortorella’s lion. There isn’t a hint of "I" and "me" in Desjardins, rather a flourish of "us" and "the players." Truly, it is all about his players for this 57-year-old, a trait that has served him well in the minors and as an NHL assistant in Dallas.
We’ll assume there is an edge in there somewhere, because you don’t coach as long as Desjardins has without one. For now though, he’ll slide into the job as a personality clone to Benning, whose placid outer shell hides a personnel man that can’t wait to begin to reshape a stagnant Vancouver talent pool.
"It’s an exciting week for us," Benning said. "We’re prepared for the draft, we have a high pick so we’re excited about that. The Ryan Kesler thing ... we’re trying to make things work for him and our organization."
It’s started, Vancouver. This is no retool, or re-jig. It’s a rebuild — one with plenty of veteran assets with which to work, but a rebuild nonetheless.
Welcome to Western Canada.