Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins has almost everyone he needs on his side these days. But it’s a big almost, because there are roughly 3,003 folks back in Vancouver who will have the final say on how long he remains behind the Canucks bench.
Let’s start with Desjardins’ allies.
His players are still going to the proverbial wall for him, willing to dive headlong into the kind of game played at the Air Canada Centre Saturday night and not back off by a single step. That is the true measure of a coach in need of replacement, and the Canucks roster shows zero signs that it requires new leadership — despite the eight-game losing streak the Canucks lug into a back-to-back road series versus the New York Islanders tonight, and the league-leading Rangers on Tuesday.
Desjardins’ team President, fellow Medicine Hat alum Trevor Linden, hand picked Desjardins as his coach under the endorsement of beleaguered General Manager Jim Benning. Neither of those two wants to pin the failings of the Canucks front office on Desjardins, who can only coach the players given to him by the men above.
Alas, it is the 3,003 people back home who will ultimately decide Desjardins’ fate. Who are they?
Three of those folks are the Canucks owners, the Bros. Aquilini: Francesco, Roberto and Paolo. The other 3,000 represent empty seats at Rogers Arena.
If the 3,000 stop buying tickets at Rogers Arena, then the three — we highly suspect — won’t ask Linden if he wishes to find a new coach. They will tell him, motivated by the bottom line.
That would be the most difficult day in the professional life of Linden, who signed on as a Canucks legend to spread the Orcan gospel among the Tinfoil Hats on the West Coast. Much like Kevin Lowe in Edmonton, however, Linden’s reputation has suffered more slings and arrows in his short time wearing the suit and tie than he ever did in 1,000 games as a Canucks player.
Vancouver, they say, is a unique market. A place where folks have so many other things to do than buck up for a non-contending hockey team. They ski, they hike, they run the seawall at Stanley Park.
Personally? I think it’s a load of crap.
You don’t think there are choices for your entertainment dollar in every other city? Do you hike at night, when the Canucks play? Do they charge admission on the seawall, so as to impact your entertainment dollar? Are the Canucks the only team with 82 games per season on TV?
The Vancouver fan base I have come to know over these many years is every bit as passionate as any across the country — and in some ways more so, rallying around their geographic displacement from the “Centre of the Universe” in Toronto, or the NHL’s traditional hockey headquarters in New York, Toronto and Montreal.
But give them this Canucks lineup, and tell them their Canucks are a playoff team, and they won’t be fooled. They’re not dumb. They can see that the Sedins, at age 36, are still their best forwards, 17 years after they were drafted.
Remember all those voices that used to say, “You can’t rebuild in Toronto. That fan base will never stand for it.” It was a foolish statement then and that is being proven today, as a hockey savvy fan base is all-in with Shanaplan, the stockpiling of draft picks and all the losing that has gone on in Toronto over the past two seasons.
The Canucks not only have a very pedestrian present, their future is unconvincing as well. Utica is not chock-full of prospects — in fact, it is quite the opposite — and Benning’s draft record in Vancouver is less than fabulous.
Monday night’s lineup, without injured regulars Chris Tanev and Jannik Hansen, exposes a systemic lack of depth, with names like Jack Skille, Jayson Megna and Michael Chaput among the replacement pool. Those are not the kinds of prospects you can sell seats around, and nor is the Canucks’ overall game sexy enough to intrigue fans to watch a non-playoff team — the way it has been in Toronto or even Edmonton.
Vancouver’s chronic lack of scoring — they are dead-last in the NHL with an average of 1.58 goals pre game and ranked 29th averaging 26.9 shots on goal per night — means two things: Fans are not entertained by the red light going on, nor do they leave the rink at worst satisfied with a 2-1 victory often enough.
Their defensive game is decent, but that wears down quickly if a team can’t execute a game plan that both defends and scores enough to win.
It’s time to rebuild in Vancouver. Because whatever is going on there now, it’s going to cost people their jobs.