Report: Canucks won't hire head coach until after the NHL Draft

Jun 18, 5:41 PM

The Vancouver Canucks have been without a head coach since the club fired John Tortorella in early May. While the Canucks' search for a new head coach has reportedly included at least four candidates already, with two more set to interview this week, it's unlikely that the team will have a coach in place before the 2014 NHL Entry Draft on June 27 reports Sportsnet's Dan Murphy.

Murphy also reports that Portland Winterhakws head coach Mike Johnston, TSN analyst Marc Crawford, former Panthers head coach Peter Horachek, and recently fired Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma have already interviewed for the job. 

It was reported Tuesday that the Canucks requested permission to interview two-time Canucks minor league coach and current New York Rangers assistant Scott Arniel. The Rangers have apparently given Vancouver their blessing, as Murphy reports that the Canucks will interview Arniel at some point this week. 

Vancouver is also reportedly set to interview Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins, although whether they'll get a shot at talking to him before the Pittsburgh Penguins do is an open question.

Finally, it appears that Vancouver requested permission from the Detroit Red Wings to speak with Grand Rapids Griffins head coach Jeff Blashill, but were rebuffed. They also reportedly attempted to speak with the Los Angeles Kings about assistant coach John Stevens, a front runner for the club's head coaching position last summer, but Stevens has been promoted internally and is off the market. 

Jun 17, 9:59 PM

Report: Canucks ask Rangers for permission to interview assistant coach Scott Arniel

Jun 17, 9:59 PM

There is a growing list of names associated with the Vancouver Canucks' head coaching vacancy. In addition to Dan Bylsma, Willie Desjardins (who just became available), Marc Crawford, Mike Johnston, and maybe John Stevens; the Vancouver Canucks have reportedly asked the New York Rangers for permission to interview assistant coach Scott Arniel, according to Sportsnet's John Shannon.

If the Canucks were to hire Arniel, it would be his third tour of duty with the club. Arniel has previously served as the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks' American Hockey League affiliate on two occasions, with the Manitoba Moose from 2006-07 to 2009-10, and with the Chicago Wolves in 2012-13. 

Arniel has some NHL head coaching experience, although his tenure at the helm of the Columbus Blue Jackets was a bit of a disaster. In a season and a half with a woeful Blue Jackets side, Arniel amassed a 45-60-18 record and was fired mid-way through his second season on the job. 

Feature photo courtesy of Jason O. Watson / US PRESSWIRE

Jun 17, 8:01 PM

McKenzie: Canucks to meet and discuss coaching vacancy with Dan Bylsma

Jun 17, 8:01 PM

The Vancouver Canucks are still without a replacement head coach for John Tortorella, who was relieved of his duties in early May. That the Canucks' coaching search is proceeding slowly isn't a huge surprise. Willie Desjardins of the Texas Stars - the presumptive "leading candidate" - is still coaching in the Calder Cup Final. 

While they wait around to speak with Desjardins, the Canucks are reportedly kicking the tires on another, higher profile, head coach. "We hear that Dan Bylsma, if he's not in Vancouver now, he may be there very soon just to talk to them about that possibility," said Bob McKenzie during a segment with the NHL Network on Thursday

Bylsma, who was fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this month after being left to twist in the wind for three weeks while the majority of head coaching jobs were filled, was described by Canucks general manager Jim Benning as "interesting" following his dismissal in Pittsburgh. 

Despite Benning's statement of apparent interest, it has been suggested that Bylsma doesn't dramatically "upset the apple cart" for the Canucks' coaching search. That McKenzie's report, for example, didn't describe a possible meeting between Bylsma and the Canucks as "an interview" would suggest that talks between the two sides remain somewhat informal at this stage. 

Jun 14, 1:47 PM

Canucks GM Benning on Winterhawks coach Johnston: 'The interview went well'

Jun 14, 1:47 PM

Vancouver Canucks general manger Jim Benning shed some light on the team's search for a new head coach on Friday and revealed that he met with Portland Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston about the position.

“He has done an excellent job the last five years with Portland,” Benning said during an interview on Team 1040. 

“They play an up-tempo, skilled game and he has a history with the Canucks and the organization, so he understands the market," Benning added. "He is going to be a candidate...He coaches the style we want our team to play. The interview went well.”

Johnston led the Winterhawks to Game 7 of the WHL Final this season, which they lost to the eventual Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings. He led Portland to a Memorial Cup appearance in 2013, after the Winterhawks defeated the Oil Kings in six games in that season's WHL Final.

Johnson served as an assistant and associate coach under Marc Crawford with the Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings from 1999 to 2008.

Crawford is also said to be a candidate for the Canucks job, as are Kings assistant John Stevens and Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Benning told the publication he expects to interview between six and eight candidates.

Feature photo courtesy of Jeff Vinnick / Getty

Jun 10, 2:59 PM

Willie Desjardins looks like a strong fit to coach the Vancouver Canucks

Jun 10, 2:59 PM

Jim Nill won't be surprised if his phone starts ringing after Calder Cup final.

The Dallas Stars general manager has heard all the talk about his minor league coach Willie Desjardins, who has led the Texas Stars to the AHL championship, being a hot candidate for an NHL job. Nill says he'll even help make it happen.

"No teams have called yet, but that's out of respect for our team still being in the playoffs in Texas," Nill said in a recent phone interview. "He's definitely an up-and-coming NHL coach and he deserves the opportunity. That's a compliment to him and it's a compliment to our organization, so we would not hold him back."

For his part, Desjardins said he's not worried about an NHL job right now. His focus is on the Calder Cup, but the 57-year-old Climax, Sask., native is considered a top candidate for the Vancouver Canucks as a replacement for the fired John Tortorella.

Desjardins isn't the polar opposite of the fiery Tortorella. Nill and Shaun Clouston, Desjardins' assistant with the Medicine Hat Tigers and now their head coach, use the word "intense" to describe him.

But what Clouston recalls about Desjardins, who won two WHL championships in Medicine Hat, is the amount of time and energy he put into one-on-one chats with players on bus rides from city to city.

"The game is over or maybe it's an off day and we're travelling to the next city and he calls a guy up from the back of the bus to the front of the bus and they're just sitting side-by-side in their seats, and then a half an hour might go by, two hours — literally two hours might go by and they're still talking."

"I think that he does a great job of individually getting the best out of each player. So it's not just x's and o's with Willie. It's building relationships with each of his players."

But the Canucks aren't considering Desjardins for his communication skills alone. What he has shown in Texas is an ability to quickly mould a team into a contender while mixing and matching veterans and young players.

Half the battle at the junior and AHL level is developing players to get to the NHL. If Vancouver goes through a youth movement, Desjardins' philosophy seems a good fit.

"I think you develop by playing to win," Desjardins said in a phone interview. "You never just play to play, you play to win, and I think when young players realize that, their only choice is to learn to play that way as well. I think that's how you develop. You set high standards and if players want to play, they have to meet those standards."

Desjardins' personal standards are high. In 10 seasons as a head coach he has just one season with a points percentage under .500 and has never missed the playoffs. His winning resume mirrors that of Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper and Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau, whose titles at multiple levels punched their tickets to the NHL.

Unlike Cooper and Boudreau, though, Desjardins has NHL coaching experience from working as an assistant to Marc Crawford and Glen Gulutzan — who's still on staff in Vancouver — for the Stars. If he's running a bench next season, it'll be with eyes wide open.

"I think the big thing in the NHL was just to get a chance to work with the players and see how they operate," Desjardins said. "It was a good experience for me to go up and see exactly how things work at that level."

Ultimately, Desjardins doesn't see a major difference between coaching in the WHL, AHL and NHL. Players are older and stronger, he said, but the principles remain the same.

Those developed over a lifetime in hockey that included stints on Canada's staff at two world junior tournaments and one world championship. Along the way, Dave King and Andy Murray were major influences as Desjardins developed his own style.

"He's a very open-minded coach and he's grabbing bits and pieces that he learns from either other coaches or analyzing other situations or reading books. He's very open that way," Nill said. "Everybody's unique, everybody's got their own style. And everybody has to coach the team you have."

Nill and Clouston complimented Desjardins' ability to adapt to different teams and situations.

"He likes to play a certain style, but he also knows you have to fill in the right holes," Nill said. "You've got to be a square peg in a square hole type of thing, and he knows that. He makes players adapt and he gets the most out of players."

If he's tabbed to take part of the rebuilding or retooling effort in Vancouver, that will again be tested. Daniel and Henrik Sedin are beginning matching four-year contracts, and several players remain from the group that fell one victory short of the Stanley Cup in 2011.

One thing that helps Desjardins is a history of winning twice in the WHL and being three victories away from capturing the Calder Cup with different groups.

"Every team has different personnel and different strengths and weaknesses, but the underlying theme of all those teams is that they want to win and they have leaders that want to win," Desjardins said. "If you don't have the leaders that want to win, it's difficult to win. The underlying theme is the leadership and what they want and the desire they have."

Feature photo courtesy of Mathieu Belange / REUTERS

Jun 10, 1:57 PM

Report: Winterhawks coach Johnston a dark horse for Canucks coaching vacancy

Jun 10, 1:57 PM

Since being hired as the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks two weeks ago, Jim Benning hasn't made much of a splash. Benning has attended the NHL scouting combine, he's built a draft list with Canucks scouts, and reportedly he's been unsuccessful in his attempt to broker a peace deal with disgruntled center Ryan Kesler. 

In terms of his public profile he's been accessible to the media, but hasn't tipped his hand one way or the other about his summer plans. 

On the Kesler front, for example, it has been widely reported that the former 40-goal scorer still wants out of Vancouver. Odds are that Kesler, who has spent his entire career with the Canucks, will be moved at or before the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. 

You wouldn't know that anything dramatic had transpired from Benning's comments during a media availability on Monday though. "We had a good conversation and what was said in the meeting is going to remain between Ryan and myself," said Benning of his reported failed pitch to Kesler per Ben Kuzma of the Vancouver Province. "We’re going to continue to communicate and go from there."

Another major question facing the Vancouver Canucks is what coach will be hired to replace John Tortorella, whose first and only season behind the Canucks bench was an abject disaster. Benning described fired Penguins coach Dan Bylsma as "interesting" last week, but he doesn't appear to be a leading candidate in Vancouver. Former Canucks coach Marc Crawford has touched base with the club

Beyond that, it's mostly radio silence out of Vancouver on the head coaching front. Part of that may be that two of the leading contenders, Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins, and Los Angeles Kings coach John Stevens, are still finishing up their seasons in the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup Finals, respectively. Beyond Desjardins and Stevens, however, is an intriguing darkhorse from the juggernaut Portland Winterhawks of the WHL.

"The dark horse in this is [Winterhawks GM/head coach] Mike Johnston," Province beat writer Jason Botchford said in an appearance on The Team 1040 on Tuesday. "His teams are great, the way its been presented to me: if you don't do a blind pass in one of his games then you get fined!

"He's got a lot of interest from Vancouver, and we expect him to be getting interviewed."

It's interesting to note that Johnston, who cut his teeth as an assistant and associate coach with the Canucks a decade ago, is a long-time colleague of Crawford's. Patrick Roy, the coach of another uptempo CHL juggernaut before taking the Avalanche job last summer, had an excellent rookie season as an NHL head coach in 2013-14. Might Roy's success pave to way for similar coaches, like Johnston, to make the leap to the NHL?

If there's a knock on Johnston, it's his lack of experience as an NHL head coach. On the positive side of the ledger, Benning specifically said that he didn't value experience very highly in his coaching search during his introductory press conference in late May. "We want a coach who's won at all kinds of different levels," Benning said at the time. "We want someone that's had success at different levels."