The writing appears to finally be on the wall for Vancouver Canucks coach Willie Desjardins. The Canucks were likely destined for a poor finish in 2016-17 no matter who was behind the bench, but the final month of the season has given the organization plenty of reason to move on. Desjardins appears to have a different philosophy than GM Jim Benning when it comes to the ice time of younger players, and Benning felt the need to assert himself on this front via the media. Perhaps more troubling, especially for some fans, is the apparent disconnect between Desjardins and some of his players, like Nikita Tryamkin, when it comes to physical play. Let’s not even mention Jayson Megna, but we all know you were thinking it.
That being said, despite Desjardins’ many flaws as a coach, he has done a lot of good for the Vancouver Canucks organization. Players like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Troy Stecher have blossomed under his tutelage, and his reported knack for developing youth seems to have been accurate. The Canucks will want to carefully select his replacement so that the accomplishments Desjardins has made with certain players isn’t interrupted. With that in mind, here are eight candidates to take his job.
Travis Green- The conventional choice. Green has been helming the Utica Comets for four seasons after a brief apprenticeship with the Portland Winterhawks. Green has made the playoffs in three of four seasons with the Comets, despite the Canucks not providing him with a ton of talent. His tenure includes a run to the Calder Cup Finals in 2015. At one point, he seemed like the de facto replacement for Desjardins, but a slow start this season changed that for some. Now, with a late season rebound for the Comets, he’s back on the radar. Green has a knack for bringing a team together, as evidenced by the performance of the Comets this season despite a roster that was constantly in flux. A player’s coach, Green allows players to play their games rather than trying to fit everyone into the same system, which is a sharp contrast from Desjardins. Expect a more physical team with Green at the helm, too. That being said, Green’s style of play isn’t entirely dissimilar to Desjardins’, and the Comets have never been an offensive powerhouse under him.
Marc Crawford- Crawford brings with him a lot of nostalgia, but there’s more to him than that. Crawford has greatly matured as a coach, and he spent four years in Switzerland refining his technique. He’s a lot calmer now than Canucks fans will remember. A few NHL teams pursued Crawford this past summer, but he elected to join Guy Boucher in Ottawa, where the two have the Senators playing far above expectations. It’s unknown how much impact Crawford’s coaching had on the development of Auston Matthews, but Matthews’ performance in the NHL this season certainly doesn’t speak ill of Crawford’s ability to develop young players. Crawford has always been an offensive coach, which could be exactly what the stagnant Canuck offense needs.
John Stevens- Stevens was a highly-sought after coach the last time the Canucks were looking, and he remains a top coaching prospect. He has head coaching experience, but lately has gained a reputation as an excellent assistant. He’s currently helping out in Los Angeles, which may actually make hiring him impossible. Darryl Sutter is nearing retirement, and the Kings have already announced Stevens as his heir apparent. There’s little reason for Stevens to leave an organization that is sure to give him a shot in a year or two. Stevens is big on professionalism, and has a great track record developing young players in Philadelphia and LA, so it’s too bad he’s likely not available.
Gerard Gallant- Gallant was the sacrificial lamb when the Florida Panthers struggled early this season, but it sure looks like he wasn’t the problem. The Panthers has since completely tanked right out of playoff contention, and their mishandling of Gallant’s firing was just one of many PR blunders they pulled this year. For his part, it seems like Gallant did an excellent job developing the many young and talented forwards in the Panthers stable, while still managing some major veteran egos like Jaromir Jagr’s. That might make him a perfect fit for a team still carrying the Sedin twins, but trying to integrate more and more youth. Perhaps Gallant could help make Olli Juolevi’s entry into the league as successful as Aaron Ekblad’s, who hasn’t looked the same without Gallant behind the bench.
Paul MacLean- MacLean was once described as a “bug-eyed walrus” by former Canuck Brandon Prust. His mustache alone is a good reason to hire him, but he brings an impressive resume, too. MacLean is an offensive coach, although his teams sometimes have defensive struggles. Several young players blossomed under his tutelage in Ottawa, including Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad. MacLean has been criticized for a lack of communication with his team, which is definitely a strike against him. He’s currently an assistant in Anaheim, a team that is finding success yet again this season.
Kevin Dineen- Dineen probably has the most colourful resume of any coach on this list. The longtime NHL veteran has been a head coach in Florida, as well as the head coach for the Canadian National Women’s Team. He’s currently an assistant in Chicago, where they just clinched yet another division title. Dineen has been praised for his intelligent decision making, and his experience as a player has made him an excellent motivator. Dineen was tough as nails when he played, so expect his teams to play that way, too, if he ever gets another head coaching shot.
Ken Hitchcock- Hitchcock likely wants nothing to do with the Canucks, and truthfully, the reverse should be true, as well. Hitchcock planned to retire after one more season with the St. Louis Blues, but they couldn’t wait and fired him mid-season. The legendary coach has always been big on stingy defense, and the Canucks don’t need someone who will come in and stifle the offense of young talents like Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi, and Brock Boeser. If Hitchcock signs anywhere else, he’ll be looking for a Cup, and the Canucks aren’t anywhere close to that yet.
Brad Berry- Berry is one of the least-known coaches on the market, but he’s got some intriguing connections to Vancouver and his name has been dropped by a few respected media types. Berry is currently the head coach for North Dakota in the NCAA, meaning he coached Brock Boeser this past season. He was an assistant there for a number of years prior, and thus was around for Boeser and Troy Stecher’s NCAA championship in 2016. Berry also worked as an assistant coach for the Manitoba Moose back when they were the Canucks’ affiliate. He’s a former NHL defenseman and has a rep for developing young d-men, including Alex Edler back in the Moose days. That might be perfect for a team adding Olli Juolevi to an already young defensive core.