VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks will hit the ice at training camp on Friday with head coach Willie Desjardins nowhere in sight.
Desjardins underwent hip surgery earlier this month after a pre-existing condition deteriorated quickly and required immediate attention, forcing the 58-year-old to monitor camp proceedings in Prince George, B.C., from Vancouver.
It’s a scenario that will be unique for both the coach and his players.
“I wanted to go. The doctors wouldn’t let me go,” Desjardins said Thursday as the Canucks reported for testing and team physicals at Rogers Arena before travelling to Prince George.
Walking with the help of a crutch, Desjardins said he hopes to be back behind the bench by the midway point of the exhibition schedule, adding that he doesn’t expect there to be any issues with his assistants at the helm.
“Everything we’re going to do, I’ve already gone through and I know where we’re at,” he said. “That’s why you need a good staff. It’s not about one guy. You don’t win with one player, you don’t win with one coach and that’s why we’re a team.”
But with a number of new faces and young prospects at camp, it could be awkward for those looking to make a good first impression.
“It’s a bit of a different situation,” said centre Brandon Sutter, who was acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins at the end of July. “I know (Desjardins) a little bit from Hockey Canada stuff. I kind of know what he’s all about. Just talking to the players here to know what to expect from him, he’s a guy that’s got a lot of respect.”
Apart from Sutter, who signed a five-year extension with the club, other newcomers include hard-nosed winger Brandon Prust and puck-moving defenceman Matt Bartkowski, while speedy winger Sven Baertschi is hoping to make an impact after being acquired at last season’s trade deadline.
“Unfortunate Willie can’t be there, but that’s the way it is,” said captain Henrik Sedin. “For us it doesn’t really matter. We’re professional, we’re going to go out and work hard and be focused.”
After missing the playoffs in 2013-14 under John Tortorella, the Canucks finished second in the Pacific Division last season with 101 points only to lose out in the first round to the Calgary Flames in six games.
Sedin, who along with twin brother Daniel turns 35 at the end of the month, still sees that series as a missed opportunity.
“We had a chance to win every game,” he said. “It’s tough looking back at it because I thought if we could get past Calgary we had a good chance at getting on a run. We held the puck for long periods of time, but we just couldn’t score.
“We brought in a few pieces (for this season) and I think it’s going to help us.”
Meanwhile, the pieces sent packing this off-season were forwards Zack Kassian and Nick Bonino, as well as defenceman Kevin Bieksa and goalie Eddie Lack.
The Canucks weren’t considered playoff contenders in the Western Conference by many pundits ahead of last season, and expectations are about the same heading into this camp. But the belief inside the locker-room remains with a veteran core that got a injection of youth, speed and grit this summer.
“It’s a tough conference, but if you can make the playoffs, and that’s what we’re aiming for, anything can happen,” said Henrik Sedin. “I still see this team as having a chance to be a better team than last year. It’s not only about what you have on paper, it’s about what you can do as a team.
“I think we have a great group here. The guys coming in are great guys and it’s going to be an exciting year.”
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press