Canucks' list of coaching candidates growing


Trevor Linden on the job.

Trevor Linden on the job.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

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VANCOUVER — The spring arrivals are nearly here. Get out your platinum card and be the first on your block to own a brand new National Hockey League head coach — or at least a coach new to your team.

It’s an exciting time of the year to be a general manager. In the absence of one, it is exciting to be Vancouver Canuck president of hockey operations Trevor Linden. It’s also a complicated time.

Asked about his delay on a decision regarding Canuck head coach John Tortorella, Linden said last week he is dealing with a lot of variables and he can’t make a judgment based on only one aspect.

One of the variables for Linden is not knowing which coaches might be available to replace Tortorella. But with teams now crashing out early from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the list of unemployed coaches could suddenly grow with some extremely appealing names.

Even in this era of disposable coaches, it seems unlikely that St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock will be looking for a new job despite the Blues’ second straight first-round, four-game playoff losing streak. But the Blues’ exit Sunday from the Stanley Cup tournament, losing a fourth straight game to the Chicago Blackhawks, 5-1, after leading the series 2-0, stings much more in St. Louis than last year’s identical win-loss pattern against the Los Angeles Kings. So you never know about Hitchcock.

Excellent San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan, on the other hand, will probably be fired if his team fully collapses this week against the Kings, who with Saturday’s 3-0 win trail the series 3-2 after losing the first three games. (The collapse was all but guaranteed by Hockey Night in Canada’s retired-player panel after the game).

Pittsburgh Penguin coach Dan Bylsma probably needs an extended playoff run to continue working for Sidney Crosby’s team, which has wobbled against the Columbus Blue Jackets after first-round playoff exits in 2011 and 2012.

Hitchcock, McLellan and Bylsma are among the top dozen coaches in the NHL, as is Barry Trotz, fired two weeks by the Nashville Predators after missing the playoffs a second straight season.

Any of these guys would be a big hire for the Canucks. Unfortunately, there isn’t technically a head-coaching job available to them in Vancouver. That should change soon as the pool of potential replacements for Tortorella deepens.

ANOTHER THING: Ideally, Linden should first hire a general manager to replace fired Mike Gillis, and the new GM should then hire the coach. But as more coaches become available, the Canucks won’t be able to wait for weeks until a new manager is hired. If the Canucks’ GM job comes with someone as respected as McLellan or Trotz already installed as coach, that shouldn’t dissuade anyone.

AND A QUESTION: Assuming Linden fires his coach, who gets another NHL job first: Tortorella or Gillis?

Unconventional Gillis, the former player agent, may not be a one-and-done GM as his harshest critics would suggest. Don’t be surprised if Washington Capitals’ owner Ted Leonsis at least talks to Gillis after firing general manager George McPhee.

WILD CAPS: If you could stand the desultory way the Vancouver Whitecaps played in the first 10 minutes Saturday night in Utah, you were rewarded with the way they played in the final 10, scoring twice to steal a 2-2 draw against Real Salt Lake.

The stunning game perfectly encapsulated all the promise and uncertainty the young Major League Soccer team possesses. It’s like watching your teenager grow up.

With veteran midfielders Nigel Reo-Coker and Pedro Morales unfit to travel, and forward Kenny Miller replaced in the 67th minute, Whitecaps’ manager Carl Robinson finished the game with a front six of attacking players with the following ages: 24, 23, 23, 22, 22 and 22.

Two of them, Uruguayan substitutes Nicolas Mezquida and Sebastian Fernandez, scored goals in the 86th and 94th minutes. Both goals were poorly played by Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando, although Fernandez’s 35-yard rocket was a spectacular shot and Rimando may have been in a stupor of disbelief because RSL forward Alvaro Saborio, with acres of space around him and only seconds of injury time remaining, inexplicably dribbled into a Whitecap fullback Steven Beitashour’s fierce tackle. Two touches by Fernandez later, the ball was behind Rimando.

It had looked like the Whitecaps might lose by four or five goals with they fell behind 2-0 in the first nine minutes due to inept defending. No wonder Whitecaps’ goalie David Ousted was twitching and screaming at teammates like a Texas warden had just sparked up the electric chair on him.

Vancouver’s 19-year-old forward, Kekuta Manneh, was pretty much awful after looking pretty much brilliant the previous week, and 24-year-old defender Johnny Leveron, starting for veteran Jay DeMerit, was skinned by Joao Plato on Salt Lake’s opening goal.

Both great and awful amid their growing pains, the Whitecaps are a team you don’t dare take your eyes off. Real Salt Lake discovered this the hard way.

MILLER MOURNING: Miller wore two armbands on Saturday. The Scotsman filled in for Whitecaps’ captain DeMerit, but also wore a black armband in honour of Glasgow Rangers’ great Sandy Jardine.

When I was six, my father, married to a Glasgow girl who grew up in the shadow of Hampden Park, thought it appropriate to take me to see my first real soccer game: Rangers versus Celtic at Parkhead. There were about 50,000 fans that night, only two of whom died, according to the papers. I was forbidden to wear either blue or green. But I can still hear the singing and see Jardine bursting into the box from right wing and scoring to put Rangers ahead.

Soccer became my first sport, and Jardine my first favourite player. He died last week from cancer at age 65, and I feel a lot older.

Trevor Linden on the job.

Trevor Linden on the job.

Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG

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