The Vancouver Canucks made it official on Monday, as Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins was named the 18th guy who will eventually be fired in franchise history.
Desjardins, 57, led the Stars to the Calder Cup title this season and was named Coach of the Year in 2012-13. He was an associate coach with the Dallas Stars from 2010-12, and was the head coach and GM of the WHL Medicine Hat Tigers from 2002-2010.
Also, he was born in Climax, Saskatchewan. Which is weird, because we always figured once you’re in Climax you never want to leave.
Obviously, the first question about Desjardins’s hiring is why he picked the Canucks over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the other team that courted him heavily. (Pass It To Bulis offered seven suggestions.)
Elliotte Friedman of Hockey Night In Canada reports that the Penguins were ready to offer Desjardins their head coaching job on Friday morning of last week after interviewing him on Thursday night. The working theory: That Vancouver swooped in and made their pitch that night before the Penguins could close the deal.
There is zero doubt the Penguins were going to hire Peters or Willie Desjardins. They were the top two on the list. When Carolina snapped up Peters, Desjardins was the guy. Desjardins can answer this better than anyone else, but in the end I think his heart was in Vancouver.
He's from Western Canada and has the Medicine Hat connection with Trevor Linden. But do not underestimate the place of Doug Lidster in all this. Lidster -- who worked alongside Desjardins in AHL Texas -- is very tight with Linden and also will be joining Vancouver. If Linden and Desjardins had any doubt about each other, Lidster would have erased it. If Desjardins wouldn't be able to take Lidster with him to Pittsburgh, as it was reported, that would have been a problem. (For the record, another Penguins candidate said he was not told about any restrictions on assistants. That source is not Peters, who is quoted above.)
So in the end, the Penguins’ coaching situation is boned because of … Doug Lidster, Hockey Intermediary?
There’s a reason Desjardins was so hotly sought after by both teams, beyond the obvious fact that coaches with mustaches are automatic Jack Adams winners. He’s a hell of a coach, and one of the few candidates we’ve seen in recent years that can play the role of father figure while at the same time bringing a fresh perspective to coaching. He’s a winner. He’s also a really likeable dude not prone to trying to fight other coaches near the dressing rooms, which is a nice change of pace for the Canucks’ bench.
But Trevor Linden nailed what’s most exciting about this hire:
“One of my goals since coming onboard here was to create a real synergy between myself, the general manager and the head coach,” said Linden. “With Jim Benning we have a guy with no ego who is super hardworking, he’s been at it a long time, lots of experience, and Willie fits right into that. You walk into a room with those guys and there are no titles, it’s just down to business.
“To create that situation within our hockey operations department will translate through our team and Willie is a real passionate guy, loves the game and real supportive of his players. It’s an exciting announcement, it’s a great day, his name has been talked about a lot in this market for a long time and we’re just thrilled we’re able to get him here.”
Of course, Linden’s sorta wrong in one aspect: There are titles, if not formal ones. Benning won one with the Bruins and Desjardins is coming off one in the AHL.
For a franchise trying to find its footing again, that sort of confidence in vision and message is essential.
It’s the sort of thing the Penguins could have used, too.