The Vancouver Canucks coaching search is now in full swing with new general manager Jim Benning and team president Trevor Linden in the process of interviewing the handful of potential candidates which began last week. We’ll begin with the two perceived favorites who’ve been holding up the process until now due to their current teams being involved with deep playoff runs that resulted in championships. They would include Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings assistant coach John Stevens and the AHL’s Calder cup winning Texas Stars head coach Willie Desjardins.
In the case of Stevens, the Canucks patience won’t end up paying off as it was reported by several outlets on Tuesday that the Kings did not grant Stevens permission to interview with other NHL clubs and instead gave him a promotion and a presumed raise to become associate coach to Darryl Sutter. Stevens will be staying put and likely has further assurances that he’ll be the first choice as successor to Sutter when he chooses to step down.
Several sources have confirmed the Canucks have asked for and received permission from the Dallas Stars organization to interview the now perceived front runner Willie Desjardins who just guided their AHL affiliate Texas Stars to a Calder cup championship on Monday night with a 4-3 overtime victory over the St. John Ice Dogs in game five of the final series. The 57 year old, has just finished his second season with the AHL club following two campaigns as an associate coach to Marc Crawford with the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Prior to his NHL promotion Desjardins spent 8 successful seasons (2002-2010) as head coach of the WHL’s Medicine Hat Tigers where he guided the club to eight straight playoff appearances, highlighted by two WHL Championships and a Memorial Cup appearance. The Canucks hope to interview Desjardins next week but won’t have total free run at the Saskatchewan native because the Pittsburgh Penguins have also asked for permission to speak with the veteran coach as they look to replace Dan Bylsma who was fired earlier this month after five and a half years and a Stanley Cup title while at the helm in Pittsburgh.
Speaking of Bylsma, the 43 year old was in Vancouver on Tuesday to interview with the Canucks but many prognosticators believe he’s the favorite to take over as head coach of the Florida Panthers, an announcement that might come as early as next week.
According to Sportsnets Dan Murphy the Canucks have already interviewed several other familiar names including former Canucks coach Marc Crawford who’s reportedly also spoken with Florida and Pittsburgh about their vacancies. Also having an audience with Jim Benning and company includes former Canucks associate coach Mike Johnston who worked under Marc Crawford in Vancouver for six seasons. Johnston has spent the last five and half seasons enjoying a very successful run as head coach and general manager of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
The former connections don’t end with Crawford and Johnston as the Canucks are also expected to interview current New York Rangers associate coach Scott Arniel. Arniel of course spent two seasons as an assistant and another five as the head man with the Canucks former AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose before a short head coaching stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Arniel returned to coach the Canucks newly acquired AHL team (at the time) the Chicago Wolves in 2012-2013 before joining Allain Vigneaults staff in New York where in their first season they led the Rangers to a Stanley Cup finals appearance against the eventual champion LA Kings.
The Canucks have also interviewed Peter Horachek who most recently was a mid season replacement as coach of the Florida Panthers before being let go. Previous to his stint in Florida Horachek spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators.
The Canucks have a busy couple of weeks in front of them with the other top priority being next weekend’s NHL entry draft in Philadelphia (June 27-28th) meaning the team will likely announce their decision of a new coach after the draft.