Vancouver Giants head coach Jason McKee will get something his last three predecessors couldn't - another crack at leading the team next season.

Langley-based Giants head into off-season

Western Hockey League coach Jason McKee hopes stability will help turn things around after another losing campaign.

Sports reflections by Steve EwenSpecial to the Langley Advance

Jason McKee is the longest-serving coach that the Giants have had among the past four bench bosses. He’s lasted an entire season.

Once a flagship for junior hockey in Canada, the Giants put a wrap on a dismal 20-win campaign Sunday. This will be a third straight spring without making the playoffs and a fourth in five tries in that regard for the WHL club. Maybe more telling, they haven’t won a solitary post-season game since 2012 and haven’t got past the first round since 2010.

They have taken a breath now.

They’ve done that at least.

They traded veterans for youngsters and draft picks. By all accounts, owner Ron Toigo is bringing back McKee, 37, and general manager Glen Hanlon, 60, for a second season. There’s a calm. They need to capitalize on that.

The Giants felt frantic for a time, rocketing from Troy Ward to Claude Noel to Lorne Molleken as coach after Don Hay was let out of his contract in May 2014, so that he could take over the bench of the rival Kamloops Blazers. Toigo and Co. were used to being front-runners. They thought they could fast track. It didn’t work.

Hanlon came from a coaching background rather than a GM one, but he had cachet in the market, dating to his time as a Canucks goalie. He also understands Toigo and the inner workings of the Giants due to his two-year stint as an assistant to Hay.

McKee came from a Junior A background rather than a WHL one, outside of his one season in the league as a player with the Seattle Thunderbirds. He did have massive success during his time guiding the Alberta league’s Spruce Grove Saints, so he gets what it takes to build a winning culture. But there are questions about him still.

Asked about the Giants’ chances in the pre-season, one rival executive was certain they were going to have problems defensively. He thought they didn’t have the makings of a team that would check well consistently. That became particularly evident on the penalty kill, which was last in the league at 72.5-per-cent efficiency (83 goals against, 302 chances).

The rival executive did believe the Giants would get solid goaltending and they had enough talent up front with Tyler Benson, Ty Ronning, Radovan Bondra, Thomas Foster and others that they would produce on the power play.

The netminding stood up much of the season. The man advantage never did.

The power play had problems in the first half of the season and continued to struggle when Benson was hurt and Bondra and Foster were among those dealt at the trade deadline. The power play wound up last in the league, connecting at 13.4 per cent (36-for-269) on the way to a 20-46-3-3 overall finish.

The power play had been 11th in the 22-team circuit at 22.1 per cent (60-for-272) in 2015-16, when the team finished 23-40-5-4 in a campaign that saw Molleken fired with two games to go. Some of those issues have to fall on McKee. It’s that simple.

That said, there was an adjustment period when the Giants went from Dean Evason as coach in 2003-04 (33-24-9-6 regular season, second-round playoff loss) to Hay in 2004-05 (34-30-4-4, first-round playoff loss). And Hay, of course, was already established at the WHL level. McKee should be judged on what’s happening by Christmas next season at the earliest. That’s simple, too.

Vancouver has finished 21st, 21st, 20th, 12th and 22nd in the WHL over the last five seasons. In just the past three campaigns alone, the Giants’ combined record is 70-127-10-9.

There are players on this team who have lost a ton of games and heard a ton of different messages about why they did so along the way. The Giants could use an influx via trade of two or three veteran players from successful programs to help get that winning mindset back, but they could also use some stability in their leadership group. It sounds like they’re going to get it.

They’ll be better next season. How much remains to be seen. Youngsters like forward James Malm and defenceman Dylan Plouffe took strides this time around and should again.

The Langley Events Centre crew has to see its injury luck change at some point; they got just 60 combined games this season from Benson and No. 1 defenceman Darian Skeoch.

The rest of the B.C. Division appears like it will be taking a step back as well.

A playoff spot should be the goal. Considering recent history, that would be a good start.

– Steve Ewen is a sports writer and columnist for The Province

• Click here to read more stories from The Province

Vancouver Giants

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Plea deal results in guilty plea in fatal Langley shooting in 2017

First degree murder charge amended to conspiracy to commit murder

Surrey Langley SkyTrain moves forward with third round of public engagement

TransLink is seeking input on new station designs and construction management plans

Virus prompts Langley Camera Club members to refocus

Technology has kept local shutterbugs connected and broadened their horizons

Langley-based charity Wellspring encourages virtual participation for Lake2Lake ride this weekend

Annual 200 km cycle across the Okanagan and Shuswap raises funds for Rwanda relief

Altercation with gunfire in Langley lands two in hospital

Quiet area of Brookswood was awoken at 5 a.m. Friday morning to a fight involving gun shots

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Most Read