The Vancouver Canucks did the expected today, hiring Willie Desjardins as head coach. Desjardins becomes the 18th head coach in franchise history, replacing one of the most volatile the Canucks have ever had, John Tortorella.
In many ways, Desjardins is a polar opposite to Tortorella. Not loud and in your face, Desjardins is much more reserved and has a reputation as being a “player’s coach.” Tortorella was seen as a motivator, while Desjardins has the reputation of a “teacher.” While Tortorella came in with 25 years of experience in the NHL and a Stanley Cup ring, Desjardins’ experience has come primarily in junior.
The mustached man from Climax, Saskatchewan had an extremely successful career as a coach for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL. In eight seasons in Medicine Hat, his teams made the playoffs in every season, losing in the first round only once and winning the WHL championship twice. He was also the head coach of Canada at the 2010 World Junior Championships.
Desjardins made the move to the NHL in 2010-11 as an assistant coach to Marc Crawford in Dallas. After two seasons in Dallas, Desjardins moved to the AHL to become the head coach of Dallas’ farm team.
It is in the AHL that Desjardins has really made a claim to be ready for the NHL. He took over a Texas Stars team that finished the 2011-12 season with the second worst record in the AHL. In his first year behind the bench, the Stars finished with the third best record and won a playoff round. This year, in his second season with Texas, Desjardins lead his team to the best record in the regular season and a Calder Cup Championship.
Desjardins has won at every level and now has his chance to do it in the NHL at age 57. What makes it more remarkable is that Desjardins chose Vancouver over Pittsburgh and the opportunity to coach Sidney Crosby. Penguins GM Jim Rutherford admitted as such, as Rob Rossi from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported last week: “The guy I had is going in a different direction.”
So why did Willie choose Vancouver? The answer is likely money/term, but it is also believed that he may not have had his choice of assistant coaches in Pittsburgh. Desjardins’ assistant in Texas, former Canucks defenceman Doug Lidster, is a good bet to follow Desjardins to Vancouver. Glen Gulutzan, who the Canucks retained as an assistant coach, worked with Desjardins in 2011-12.
Whatever the reason, you have to tip your cap to Trevor Linden, who appears 2-for-2 hiring his men thus far. Jim Benning was under contract with a rival team and Linden was able to get him before the draft. Desjardins appears to be Linden’s number one choice to coach, and not many people would have thought that anyone would have chosen Vancouver over Pittsburgh given the rosters they boast.
Now all that is left is to find out if Linden’s men are the right men for the job.
Feature Image: Colin Peddle/AHL