At the end of this year, Willie Desjardins’ contract is up. After the first year of his tenure here, in which he made the playoffs, a fair number of Canucks fans would have welcomed him back for a couple more years. Then most fans went over the numbers for those games, and realized one thing: Willie’s player deployment is illogical. That playoff series against Calgary gave false hope, and also created what turned out to be a false narrative. Desjardins was badly out-coached, but the consensus among the fan base was that it was his first year in the NHL and he would learn. Fast forward two years later and there are some glaring issues persisting. This season (2016-2017) Bo Horvat has been the Canucks best skater hands down. There are no arguments, that is a fact. However, he continues to see time on the second powerplay unit and continues to see an average ice time of 17:48 per game. Granted that is average for a third year NHLer, but here’s some context; Brandon Sutter, who the Canucks coach just recently admitted was the team’s third line centre, plays 18:58 a game. Daniel and Henrik Sedin both also play more than Horvat (18:32, 19:15 respectively) and Loui Eriksson plays 18:57 a game. That means that the Vancouver Canucks BEST player, their most consistent player, their most exciting player, is on the ice for the fifth most minutes per game among forwards. That just is not good enough.
However it goes deeper than that. Jason Megna plays 12:20 a game. Not to pile on Megna here, because the issue is the coach not the player, but Reid Boucher scored his first as a Canuck and was one of the three stars of the last game and was scratched in place of Megna. A career AHLer who lacks skill, boasts maybe average speed and isn’t young in hockey terms takes shifts away from guys like Boucher, Baertschi and most recently and maybe most egregiously, Nikolay Goldobin. In Goldobin’s first game tonight, he played 5:51. Less than six minutes! That’s not enough time for a skilled player to even get into the game, never mind for management or the coaching staff to evaluate his talent. In this same game Jason Megna played 9:37, Michael Chaput played 9:19 and Joseph Cramarossa played 7:35. In Goldobin’s 5:51 on ice, he scored a pretty breakaway goal and provided decent up ice pressure on at least one forecheck. Beyond that, how could he impact a game playing 10 shifts? Now normally Willie has his reasons for his deployment, and while some of you may agree or disagree, generally they’re rooted somewhat in reality. However, today his reasoning for playing Goldobin as little as he did was “I shortened up in the second (period), how you come out of the second is huge. He still doesn’t know our systems.” Now, generally that’s a fine and logical argument, however let’s take situation into account. The Canucks were in Los Angeles playing the Kings, they were leading 4-0, Goldobin had just scored a breakaway goal showing good speed, and THEY’RE NOT TRYING TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS. At this point, it shouldn’t be about “Giving ourselves the best chance to win” it should be about playing your young guys, evaluating them in different situations and developing and COACHING them if they make mistakes. Players learn from making mistakes, and if you don’t give them the opportunity to make them, they’re not going to learn.
The final 20 games of this Canucks season post-deadline should be about evaluating what you have organizationally. That means call-ups, playing the young guys you have up and sitting older players or players not considered part of your team’s future. And now, given Desjardins unwillingness to accommodate this mandate, you can add evaluating the coaching staff to this list for Canucks management. Good luck Trevor Linden and Jim Benning, just make sure you give Willie more than six minutes a night to make his case.