The speculation for the past number of weeks has now become a reality, Willie Desjardins has been named the new Head Coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
The 57 year old career coach has earned his stripes while enjoying success at the WHL and AHL levels, something Canucks President Trevor Linden and General Manager Jim Benning said was a key requirement for the job. Linden confirmed that Desjardins was signed to a four-year deal.
With the Medicine Hat Tigers, Desjardins led the Tigers to four Division titles in eight years, two WHL Championships and two berths in the Memorial Cup, falling to the Vancouver Giants back in 2008.
Desjardins spent two years as an Associate Coach with the Dallas Stars of the AHL, before being named the Head Coach of the Stars affiliate in Cedar Park, TX. The Texas Stars won their division under Desjardins in both seasons and just last week captured the Calder Cup title as the AHL’s Championship team, defeating the St. John’s Icecaps in the AHL Final.
Desjardins had another intriguing option late last week as he was offered the vacant head coaching job with the Pittsburgh Penguins, however there were a reported several strings attached. Stipulations reportedly included only being offered a two year contract while Desjardins wouldn’t have the freedom to choose his own assistant coaches. That said Desjardins admitted that he was always leaning towards the Canucks job because they were the first club to reach out to him, adding that Vancouver gave him traction for an NHL job not Pittsburgh and there’s loyalty in that.
It was believed that Desjardins would announce that he would be adding Doug Lidster to his assistant coaching staff but he chose to stay away from revealing his plans as of yet. Lidster, spent just over nine-seasons patrolling the Canucks blue line through the 1980′s and has spent the last two seasons as Desjardins assistant with the Texas Stars. In what may turn out to be an awkward turn of events the Canucks chose to retain Glen Gulutzan this off season instead of dismissing him along with John Tortorella and Mike Sullivan. Gulutzan worked as an assistant alongside Desjardins as part of Marc Crawford’s staff with the Dallas Stars and it was Gulutzan who wound up being Desjardins boss after Crawford was relieved of his duties in Dallas. Even though Gulutzan remains on the Canucks staff as an assistant coach Desjardins was non committal about whether the two would work together and didn’t reveal how either enjoyed their previous working relationship. That said Desjardins does think Guluzan is a great guy while adding the two will have to talk and see where each other is at.
Desjardins said he wants to play a fast uptempo brand of hockey next season while telling CKNW that Daniel and Henrik Sedin won’t be part of the first unit penalty kill as they were for much of last season which saw a dramatic drop in their production. The new coach said. “We need our best offensive players in a position of strength, they might be put out in the final 20 seconds of a penalty kill in hopes of leading to an offensive situation.”
It was also revealed that Desjardins has an education degree and a masters in social work which has given him experience in crisis counselling, all of which should serve him well in an NHL dressing room in a frenzied hockey market like Vancouver.
With files from Dave Sheldon