Kuzma: Canucks coaching carousel keeps on spinning
Vancouver may have found their head coach, but now might have to fill some other crucial positions
The coaching carousel hasn’t stopped spinning in Vancouver.
On Monday, it was Willie Desjardins becoming the third Canucks coach in the past three seasons. By the end of the week, it could be Utica Comets bench boss Travis Green joining the Pittsburgh Penguins as an assistant to the newly-hired Mike Johnston and reuniting the former Portland Winterhawks coaching duo.
And just to give that carousel a few more spins, Canucks assistant coach Glen Gulutzan could wind up as bench boss of the Texas Stars, the Dallas Stars AHL affiliate that Desjardins guided to a Calder Cup championship this season.
Texas assistant Doug Lidster is also in the running for that post, and has expressed interest in joining Desjardins here, where the club has to also replace fired associate coach Mike Sullivan. Former Winnipeg Jets assistant Perry Pearn is interested in working with Desjardins, his longtime coaching confidant, but said Thursday he has yet to be contacted. Getting dizzy?
There’s also the other kind of spin.
Gulutzan was retained by the Canucks in the purge that cost John Tortorella his job. However, he didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement from Desjardins — who served as an associate coach with the Dallas Stars when Gultuzan ran that bench — and it’s not surprising that Gulutzan has kicked the WHL coaching tires with the Saskatoon Blades and could be approached by the Vancouver Giants if let go.
“Glen is a great guy and a really good person and there are other things he wants to do, too, and it’s got to work both ways,” said Desjardins. “He’s got to want to work with me as well, and there’s not an awkwardness from my spot. He might (have that), but that’s why we have to talk.”
Translation? Gulutzan wants to run his own bench again to ascend back to an NHL head-coaching job.
Meanwhile, the Canucks have given the Penguins permission to talk to Green and his hiring would certainly present a comfort level to Johnston. It could also elevate long-serving AHL assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner into the head role, or perhaps Tim Hunter, who turned down a Giants offer, could surface in Utica.
Johnston, a former Canucks assistant coach, saw how well Green handled a junior bench in 2012-13 when the franchise was slapped with a series of WHL sanctions in late November of that season.
Cited for a series a player benefit violations over the previous four seasons, the club was suspended from the first five rounds of the bantam draft and forfeited first-round picks the next four years. The Winterhawks were fined $200,000 and Johnston was suspended for the balance of that season.
With Green elevated into a head-coaching role, Portland marched to a WHL title and Green was hired by the Canucks to run their Utica bench.
Green didn’t return a call from The Province on Thursday, but it’s not a stretch to suggest he would jump at a chance to leap to the NHL and work the bench with Johnston and Rick Tocchet. He could bolt back to Portland and run his own bench, but NHL opportunities don’t often arise, especially one that seems like a natural fit. Assistants Tony Granato and Todd Reirden weren’t retained in the housecleaning that saw general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma fired.
The Penguins opted for Johnston after interviewing Desjardins and watching Detroit Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters become coach of the Carolina Hurricanes. You’d think 970 NHL games with five teams would afford Green, a 43-year-old Castelgar native, some level of respect from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In his first year as a pro coach, Green showed patience in pushing prospects to higher levels after a slow start. And in a failed late-season push to a playoff position, he got the best out of Frank Corrado and Nicklas Jensen, expected to contend for a roster spots on the Canucks next season.
“It was trying time — I’ll be honest,” Green told The Province. “Every coach has high expectations and there were some long nights. I’m a realist. I just felt like a lot of people around the city were antsy for me to push them in a certain way and getting harder or them or whatever needed to be done. I really had to stick to what I believe in and I did. I felt like our team was close and that our record was better than it was. It would have been a panic move to do something other than what I believe in and I’m glad I did.”
OF NOTE — The Young Stars Tournament featuring Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg prospects returns to Penticton on Sept. 12-15.
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