Just a few weeks ago Trevor Linden attempted to silence the coaching debate, saying Willie Desjardins and his coaching staff will all be back next season.
His efforts were successful. For about two days.
Since then Vancouver’s suffered through a nine-game losing streak, and the morning after a pathetic 6-2 loss to Edmonton, Jim Benning wasn’t sounding nearly as confident.
Asked on TSN radio Thursday if there’s any doubt Desjardins will be Vancouver’s head coach at training camp next season, Benning replied, “Well, as of today, no.”
That’s a far cry from “no question,” or any of the other definitive answers Benning could’ve provided.
Benning elaborated: “I think Willie and his staff have worked real hard. Our younger players have gotten better over the course of the year, and that’s what we asked of him. Having said that, there’s areas we need to get better at if we want to develop into the type of team that can compete and win every year.”
Asked what he believes is the biggest need in turning the franchise around, Benning referred to Daniel Sedin’s comments from a week ago, where he called out his team for their lack of a winning attitude and culture.
Not adding defencemen or scorers or the talent they’re sorely lacking – culture.
If that’s not a clear shot at his coaching staff, nothing is.
If nothing else, it tells us Desjardins’ return is not a lock. You have to wonder how the players will answer when asked to evaluate him in this year’s exit meetings.
No doubt Derek Dorsett, Linden Vey, and Matt Bartkowski will give glowing reviews (and be sending him gift baskets all summer long), as they’ve been Willie’s go-to guys no matter what. But what will the Sedins say about not taking offensive draws after TV timeouts, or about Willie’s rolling of four lines through thick and thin?
What will Jannik Hansen say when asked, in private, if he should’ve been considered for the power play?
And while Alex Burrows might not be in the team’s future, he can’t be too happy about playing fourth line minutes all season long.
You have to believe management will put more weight on the veterans’ responses.
One other thing that might concern you out of Benning’s newfound doubts is they appear to be a reaction to the team’s recent futility. Prior to the losing streak, Desjardins had his job locked up.
Thing is, Desjardins’ deployment decisions, stubbornness on playing his grinders, and rolling of four lines were going on long before the recent slide. Signs of Willie being outcoached have been clearly evident since last season’s playoff series against Calgary – a series many believe the Canucks would’ve won with better coaching decisions.
It should be noted Benning took much of the blame upon himself, saying it’s on him that the team didn’t have enough depth to deal with their injuries.
Still, with Desjardins having to coach two more games this season, if Benning has already made the decision to let his coach go, “As of right now, no,” would be the only answer he could give.