When Canucks general manager Jim Benning began this quest to hire a new head coach, one of the criteria was finding someone who had won at different levels.
Enter Willie Desjardins, who the Canucks introduced as the 18th head coach in franchise history at a press conference at Rogers Arena on Monday. According to CKNW, Desjardins signed a four-year with Vancouver. The Pittsburgh Penguins also pursued him, and looked to be the frontrunners in the sweepstakes, but the opportunity suddenly fell through.
Desjardins is one week removed from winning the Calder Cup with the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League, and twice has made it to the Memorial Cup with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the Western Hockey League.
Not only does his resume include winning — fair point, however, is those markets aren’t in the NHL — but achieving success with young players, whether they’re teenagers or in their early 20s.
How this correlates to the Canucks is that with an aging core and three disappointing seasons following a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011, this team is facing an influx of youth. The word ‘rebuild’ has been mentioned often in these last few months.
Nicklas Jensen will challenge for a full-time NHL job at training camp, having shown well for a few games during a call-up stint with the Canucks last season.
Defenceman Frank Corrado has emerged nicely from a fifth-round pick into someone who could be steady on the blue line.
Centres Brendan Gaunce and Bo Horvat could challenge for spots, especially if the Canucks can land the right deal and trading partner for Ryan Kesler.
Hunter Shinkaruk showed in pre-season last year that he has offensive upside, but is coming off hip surgery.
Among the many things the L.A. Kings’ thrilling and at times improbable Stanley Cup run showed was how successful a team can be when young players in the organization develop to the point where they’re inserted into the lineup in pressure situations, like the playoffs, and are able to take some of the burden off others.
The Canucks’ staff believe Desjardins is capable of getting through to such players, and it’s a quality that could best serve the franchise through a transition period.
But no matter the age of the players, the Canucks’ management team, including president of hockey operations Trevor Linden, is digging Willie’s style.
“Willie’s excellent with working with young players … his young players always improve,” said Benning.
“In hiring Willie, we’ve talked to, or I’ve talked to a lot of different general managers in the league and they always have glowing reports about Willie’s ability to get teams to play hard, to buy in to what he wants them to do.
“And then talking to former players of Willie, they have the utmost respect for him as a coach and as a person. So it was all those things combined that made us feel like he’s the right fit for our organization.”
At the age of 57, Desjardins will make the jump many players do, going from the AHL to the NHL. He’ll do so with two years experience as an associate coach with the Dallas Stars.
He’ll have to find ways not only to develop younger players but continue to motivate veterans, many of them tied into expensive and long-term contracts.
Benning was recently candid about what characteristics he would like in a coach. The method of yelling and screaming at players wasn’t among them, especially in this modern era.
Last June, the Canucks management and ownership thought they were getting a motivator in John Tortorella — a man of passion and intensity who would push this team and its players to get the most out of them.
Good intentions. But it didn’t work out so well. The final four months of the season amalgamated into one giant disaster.
The players were spent and Tortorella’s style had worn severely thin.
Desjardins’ strategy for motivating his players seems a little different.
“I just respect the players so much. It’s a hard game to play, they go out and lay it on the line every night, not healthy, they’re hurt, they’re banged up,” said Desjardins.
“I have a lot of respect for them and we all have the same goals. We want the same and it’s how can we get there, and it’s working together.”
NO TIMETABLE FOR RYAN KESLER SITUATION
With the NHL Draft quickly approaching, the speculation around the future of Canucks centre Ryan Kesler is sure to grow before the first round on Friday.
Kesler, 29 years old and with two years left on a six-year deal with a $5 million annual cap hit, has a no-trade clause and the reports have varied when it comes to how many teams he would waive that for — the latest being two teams.
“We’ll work with Ryan. As I’ve said before, Ryan’s a tremendous player, he’s got the assets that we want to have on this team,” said Linden.
“There’s absolutely no timetable there.”
Added Benning: “We’ve talked to him and his agent and we’re trying to make things work for him and for the organization.”
CANUCKS STILL TALKING TO PANTHERS ABOUT NO. 1 PICK
The Canucks appear to still be kicking the tires about acquiring the No. 1 overall pick from the Florida Panthers.
Benning reiterated he is talking with Panthers general manager Dale Tallon about such a move.
“I’ve had a couple of conversations with Dale and those conversations will continue this week,” said Benning. “We’ll see where they lead to.”
The Canucks currently have the sixth overall pick.
Courtesy Vancouver Canucks