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Canucks next coach must be patient

Following firing of Willie Desjardins, Vancouver GM says next hire likely will experience 'growing pains' with young roster

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Willie Desjardins was fired as coach of the Vancouver Canucks on Monday along with assistant coaches Doug Lidster and Peary Pearn one day after Vancouver finished the season with 69 points (30-43-9), second-fewest in the NHL.

"We're all in this for sure," president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, who addressed reporters alongside general manager Jim Benning said. "Jim and I sit up here every bit as responsible and certainly at the same time we think there are some things we can do better and that's why we made the change."

Benning and Linden hired Desjardins in their first summer on the job in 2014.

In three seasons with Vancouver, Desjardins was 109-110-27. The Canucks made the playoffs in his first season, finished 28th last season and lost their last eight games this season. Vancouver was 0-9-3 in their final 12 games at Rogers Arena, breaking the franchise record for their longest winless streak at home of 11 games (10 losses, one tie) set in 1970-71.

Vancouver, which also had a nine-game losing streak this season, finished 29th in the NHL on the power play (14.1 percent), 28th in penalty killing (76.7 percent), second last in scoring (2.17 goals per game) and 24th defensively (2.94 goals against per game). The bigger concern for Linden and Benning is finding the right coach to work with an increasingly younger roster.

In his final week on the job, Desjardins pointed to the development of young forwards like 21-year-old center Bo Horvat, who led the team in scoring in his third season, Sven Baertschi (24) and Markus Granlund (23), as well as defensemen Ben Hutton (23), Troy Stecher (23) and Nikita Tryamkin (22). However, Desjardins was criticized for not playing some young players enough, and Linden said a focus on development will play a big role in hiring a replacement, preferably before the 2017 NHL Draft starts on June 23.

"The next coach will have some challenges, no question," said Linden. "We're going to be young and young players make mistakes. There are going to be some growing pains. We need a coach that understands exactly where we are in that development. Some players aren't going to be ready to take it, some are, and even with the ones that are will make mistakes."

Desjardins, who will meet with reporters on Thursday, coached more than 30 years before getting his first NHL head coaching opportunity with the Canucks in 2014 at age 57. But Benning and Linden stressed NHL experience wasn't necessarily a prerequisite for their next coaching hire.

"We're going to take the weekend to talk about the criteria for the next coach," Benning said. "But like Trevor said, you're seeing now more and more young coaches make the leap to the NHL. They all have good technical skills. It seems like communication with the young player is a big part of getting teams where they need to be and the development of young players."

Despite the finish this season and hearing the frustration from some fans, Linden was optimistic about the future.

"I can understand the skepticism," Linden said. "I'm super encouraged by where we are today. I know that's hard when you finish 29th but I'm more encouraged today than I have been in the past two years, three years. That's because we've got a future, and that's with kids (the fans) have probably never seen play."

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