Desjardins' new approach to fixing Kassian

Dec 19 2017, 1:53 pm

Before Willie Desjardins was even hired as Canucks head coach this summer, we heard he was a “players’ coach.” He came advertised as an incredible communicator – one who’d find different ways to motivate his players so he could get the most out of the team.

Desjardins was going to reinvigorate the Sedins and Alex Burrows, while reviving Alex Edler’s career. And he was, we hoped, going to turn Zack Kassian into the star we’d all been waiting to see.

While he’s done well on most fronts, the plans for Kassian have been a bust so far.

Kassian has two goals and six points in 26 games this season and he’s been in and out of the lineup due to his inconsistent play.

On Monday, a day after being scratched against Minnesota, Kassian wasn’t speaking highly of the rapport with his coach.

Talking to Ben Kuzma and Elliot Pap about being scratched, Kassian was at a loss:

“I don’t even know what the hell is going on.”

“I thought I played well against Anaheim. I took the bad penalty but I was playing with emotion and I was trying to do the right thing. I played a good game against Buffalo and then that happens. So, honestly, I can’t tell you. I don’t know. I was if not more shocked than anyone.”

“Am I frustrated? You guys have no idea how fucking frustrated I am.”

Desjardins’ response to hearing about Kassian’s confusion made him appear to have all the communication skills of John Tortorella: (from

“He’s just got to work on the consistency of his game. I’ve talked to him. It’s not like he hasn’t been told.”

Coach and player weren’t exactly singing the same tune.

A new tactic

With Kassian scratched a second game in a row against Winnipeg on Tuesday, it appeared the Desjardins and Canucks management had all but given up on “the project”, as Tortorella used to call him.

But Desjardins was on TSN 1040 with Scott Rintoul Wednesday night, and he looks to be changing his approach.

“I just talked to Warren Rychel down in Windsor about when he had him and how Zack was down there.”

Rychel is co-owner of the Windsor Spitfires, the OHL team where Zack Kassian spent two years and won the Memorial Cup.

“Our job is to get Zack back playing the way he can. That’s something we’re committed to and we just have to find a way to make it work. It’s difficult for Zack but he’s a player who’s got talent and we’ve just got to get it going the right way.”

Would it be wrong to suggest this is the first time we’ve heard such commitment to seeing Kassian succeed?

Unfortunately, Desjardins wouldn’t expand on the conversation he had with Rychel.

“We just talked. It wasn’t any direct advice. We just talked about when he played down there and Warren had good things to say.”

Desjardins wasn’t done pumping Kassian’s tires there.

“I respect Zack and how he plays. He’s a young player who’s still trying to find exactly the identity to his game and the consistency…

When he’s on his game he’s a big presence, he’s a power forward, he’s got good hands, he’s got good skill. He’s the type of player who can help you when he’s on his game.”

While the glowing skill assessments and encouragement aren’t what we’ve heard from Canucks management so far this season, they may be exactly what Kassian needs.

The tough love approach hasn’t worked too well.

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