Days after leading the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup in the American Hockey League, Willie Desjardins is close to signing on as the new head coach of the Vancouver Canucks according to Kevin Weekes of Hockey Night in Canada. Desjardins had also been connected to the opening with the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Vancouver always seemed like the better fit of the two destinations for the first-time NHL head coach.
The 57-year-old Desjardins hasn't run an NHL bench yet, but he has an extensive resume at the junior and minor league levels. He spent eight seasons as the head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League where he led the club. The Tigers had just one losing season under Desjardins, his first, and won two WHL titles along the way.
The veteran coach who never played in the NHL also led Canada to the silver medal at the 2010 World Junior Championship.
From Medicine Hat, Desjardins joined the Dallas Stars as an associate coach and spent two seasons with the NHL club starting with the 2010-11 season. He was then moved to the club's AHL affiliate to be the head coach in the 2012-13 season where he guided the team to 91 wins over two seasons culminating with the Calder Cup title won on Tuesday night in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Desjardins also had stints as a head coach at the University of Calgary from 1989 to 1994 and with the Seibu Bears of the Japan Hockey League.
This is a guy that has absolutely paid his dues and his success at multiple coaching stops made him one of the most sought after candidates this offseason and probably a big reason a lot of these teams that had coaching vacancies waited until they could talk to him before filling them. With the Stars going on a deep run in the Calder Cup playoffs, that may have delayed some teams' plans.
Desjardins joins a Canucks team in transition. After a disastrous year that saw the team lose two No. 1 caliber goaltenders, cost both the general manager and head coach their jobs and star players asking out of town, a steady hand is needed to right the ship.
Without much NHL experience, there's going to be some risk in bringing Desjardins aboard, but his record of success at virtually every coaching stop he's made makes him a guy worth taking a chance on. The Climax, Saskatchewan native's experience developing players could go a long way for a club that's going to need to get more from their younger players as the Canucks' aging core starts fading.
Canucks president Trevor Linden told Team 1040 radio earlier Friday that he was looking for a coach that could “get the players excited about what they're doing and excited about the style of play.” (via ProHockeyTalk)
After leading his most recent team to a championship, Desjardins is sure to bring along some enthusiasm. The Canucks also make a big splash, too, as it was said that he was also the favorite to land the Penguins job as recently as Thursday night according to Darren Dreger.
As of last night, Desjardins was Pittsburgh's target. Perhaps, Desjardins interest in the Canucks coaching job scuttled the Pens plan.— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) June 20, 2014
Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that the Penguins were going to resume their coaching search next week as they failed to reach a deal with their top choice. That choice was believed to be Desjardins.
The Pens job would have been rather interesting for a first-year head coach, with such huge expectations tied to that job. Also, managing star players and trying to get the most out of a shallow lineup that could be weakened further by some free agent departures, would have been a tall order. The expectations remain high in Vancouver, but there's more building required there than in Pittsburgh, which may be better suited to Desjardins' experience level.
This could be a major coup for the Canucks if Desjardins brings all of the elements the team is looking for. Coming off a rough season under the cantankerous John Tortorella, a fresh perspective of a first-time head coach could be just what the doctor ordered.