VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — The Vancouver Canucks are trying to jumpstart their stalled rebuild with a new head coach.
Willie Desjardins was fired by Vancouver on Monday after missing the postseason for the second consecutive season. The team announced the move a day after ending the season with its eighth straight loss.
In three years with Vancouver, Desjardins went 109-110-27. The 60-year-old led the club to the playoffs as a rookie NHL head coach in 2014-15, but the Canucks took a big step backward last season and then finished 29th out of 30 teams in the NHL standings this season.
“He’s a great person who has great character,” president of hockey operations Trevor Linden said during a press conference at Rogers Arena. “Our decision was based on just needing to make a change.
“There was a feeling between (general manager Jim Benning) and I there was some areas we can improve.”
Assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn were also let go.
Vancouver started out fast, becoming the first NHL team ever to win its first three games of a season while never leading in regulation. They added a fourth straight win to start the season, but then collapsed with a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1). The Canucks fought back into the playoff race around midseason, but cratered again down the stretch, going 7-23-3 over their final 33 games.
Vancouver finished 30-43-9 overall.
“It was a hard conversation,” Linden said of how Desjardins took the news. “Willie’s such a good person and has a big heart and loves the game. He was obviously disappointed. It’s a challenging day for us.”
Linden, a former Canucks captain who returned to take over hockey operations in the spring of 2014, was asked how much responsibility he and Benning bear for the organization’s current plight.
“We’re all in this, for sure. This is on us,” he said. “At the same time, we think there are some things we can do better.”
Desjardins took heat for his deployment of superstar twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, along with other players. This season, some questioned his loyalty to certain members of Vancouver’s veteran core — he leaned heavily on Brandon Sutter, Luca Sbisa and Alexander Edler — as well as fringe NHLers like Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna.
The power play and penalty kill were also disasters, ranked 29th and tied for 28th, respectively.
Vancouver was already in the process of dismantling its aging core when Desjardins took over. That reconstruction continued in 2015-16, with younger players taking on bigger roles while the team tried to balance the present and future.
The plan didn’t come close to the desired results. The team stumbled to 31-38-13 last season, good for just 75 points and a 28th-place finish, and this season was even worse.
Desjardins replaced John Tortorella after his one tumultuous season in 2013-14, when Vancouver missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.