VANCOUVER — Willie Desjardins seemed to sense he was on borrowed time in the waning weeks of a second consecutive lost season with Vancouver Canucks.
The club's head coach was increasingly candid with the media, admitting more than once he was aware his job might be in jeopardy as the team limped towards the finish line.
The axe fell swiftly on Monday morning.
Vancouver fired Desjardins less than 24 hours after an eighth straight loss in regulation that concluded a miserable 2016-17 campaign where the Canucks finished 29th in the NHL's overall standings with a 30-43-9 record.
"He's a great person who has great character," president of hockey operations Trevor Linden said during an afternoon press conference at Rogers Arena. "Our decision was based on just needing to make a change.
"There was a feeling between (general manager Jim Benning) and I there was some areas we can improve."
The 60-year-old Desjardins was 109-110-27 during his three seasons in charge, but 48 of those wins came in 2014-15 when led the club to the playoffs as a rookie NHL head coach.
The rebuilding Canucks took a big step back last season with a 75-point, 28th-place finish before tumbling further with a dismal 69-point showing in 2016-17.
"It was a hard conversation," Linden said of how Desjardins took the news. "Willie's such a good person and has a big heart and loves the game. He was obviously disappointed. It's a challenging day for us.
"It was tough."
Vancouver also let go of assistants Doug Lidster and Perry Pearn, while Doug Jarvis and Dan Cloutier were retained.
Linden, a former Canucks captain who returned to take over hockey operations in the spring of 2014, was asked how much responsibility he and Benning bear for the organization's current plight.
"We're all in this, for sure. This is on us," he said. "At the same time we think there are some things we can do better."
Focus now shifts to Desjardins' replacement, who the Canucks hope to have in place by June's draft.
Benning said NHL experience isn't a prerequisite, which could be good news for Travis Green, currently the head coach of Vancouver's AHL affiliate.
"We want to find the coach that's the best fit for where we're at right now as an organization with our young players," said Benning.
Named the 18th head coach in franchise history in June 2014 after John Tortorella was fired, Desjardins looked to have things back on track early this season when Vancouver was perfect through its first four games.
But the fast start was mostly smoke and mirrors as the Canucks became first team in NHL history to win its first three games of a season while never leading in regulation.
After their 4-0-0 start, Vancouver went on a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1) that included getting shut out four times in five games.
While rumours concerning his job security swirled, Desjardins seemed to again have righted the ship by mid-season — the Canucks were 23-20-6 on Jan. 25 and occupied the Western Conference's second wild-card spot — before things cratered in spectacular fashion.
A loss to Arizona on Jan. 26 where Vancouver didn't register a shot until just before the midway point of the second period started a downward spiral that would see the club go an NHL-worst 7-23-3 over its final 33 games — a 42-point pace over a full season.
During his time in Vancouver, Desjardins' deployment of aging superstar twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin, along with host of other players, was a lightning rod for criticism.
This season, a lot of the questions surrounded his loyalty to certain members of Vancouver's veteran core — he leaned heavily on Brandon Sutter, Luca Sbisa and Alexander Edler — as well as fringe NHLers like Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna.
The power play and penalty kill were also disasters, ranked 29th and tied for 28th, respectively.
The Canucks dealt veterans Jannik Hansen and Alexandre Burrows prior to the trade deadline for assets as the rebuild finally got into full swing, but things went from bad to worse for the injury-riddled club that has now missed the playoffs three of the last four years.
Vancouver scored just 178 times this season to set a new franchise low (not including lockout-shortened campaigns) that eclipsed the 186 goals of 2015-16.
Their 12 straight games without a victory at home (0-9-3) dating back to an overtime win on Feb. 18 to close out the schedule also broke a franchise mark previously set during the team's inaugural 1970-71 campaign.
Just 2-13-2 over their final 17 games overall, the Canucks' last victory in regulation at Rogers Arena came all the way back on Jan. 20.
While there weren't many highlights, Desjardins can be credited with helping develop Bo Horvat, Sven Baertschi and Markus Granlund into legitimate offensive contributors.
He steered the Canucks to a 101-point campaign and second place in the Pacific Division in 2014-15 before falling to Calgary in the first round of the playoffs.
Already in the process of dismantling the aging group that got to within a game of winning the 2011 Stanley Cup, Vancouver continued down that course the following season with younger players taking on bigger roles in an attempt to rebuild on the fly while still trying to stay competitive.
The plan didn't come close to providing the desired results, at least in the standings, and Desjardins was the one who ultimately paid the price.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press