The Coaching Carousel continues to spin; will it stop on Willie Desjardins?


Put together by the invaluable Wyatt Arndt

The news trickling out regarding the available remaining coaching vacancies, and what we consider to be the top candidates to potentially fill them, has been akin to hockey’s version of a soap opera. There have been twists, there have been turns, and there has been a whole lot of noise that requires a certain level of prerequisite cynicism to tune out. 

Even well before John Tortorella was officially fired by the Vancouver Canucks, it was considered common knowledge that they’d zero in on one of two particular targets to take his place and steer the ship back in the right direction, with those being John Stevens and Willie Desjardins. Because of the success both were having with their current employers, though, there was a waiting game to be played.

In the meantime some potentially interesting alternatives in Trotz, Laviolette, and Muller were all scooped up, but that was just fine, because the Canucks had “their guys”. Then the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup, and quickly made sure that no one would come near their heir apparent. Shortly thereafter, the Pittsburgh Penguins – who had a top candidate of their own snatched up from under their noses –  jumped in on the pursuit of Desjardins, turning what was initially a feeling of slight consternation into full-blown dread at the thought of Scott Arniel or Glen Gulutzan potentially running the show. 

The reality of the matter: things are changing by the hour. The coaching carousel continues to spin, and where it’ll land, nobody knows. But it sure is fun to speculate!

Trevor Linden jumped on Team1040 radio early this morning for an interview I’d actually recommend listening to. It’s a little bit unfortunate that he’s as savvy a public speaker as he is because it really saved him from what were a series of expertly conducted questions by Dave Pratt. 

While he didn’t really provide much tangible insight on the Ryan Kesler trade front, he did reveal a few interesting nuggets regarding Willie Desjardins and the pursuit of a coach:

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We’ve had some great discussions with a lot of candidates. Willie’s a guy that obviously has been mentioned in this market frequently, perhaps its been the Medicine Hat connection. He’s a guy that certainly has the ability to connect with players and he’s a guy that’s had success at many levels so he’s certainly a guy we’re interested in talking to. We’ve had some discussions the last couple of days and we’ll continue that through the weekend. 

When pressed further:

“He just won the Calder Cup, so we haven’t really had the chance yet to sit down. So it’s hard to know, I’ve had some positive conversations with several people – that’s already been reported — and its been very valuable to go through that process. Jim Benning wasn’t necessarily my front runner really until I sat down with him. Until you’ve spent hours going through many different topics… I can’t really say.”

When asked about what they’re looking for in a coach:

“I think we’re looking for someone who can recapture our people who were so off last year. And in doing that you need to sell a program that guys can get excited about and want to be a part of. The lack of excitement showed up in our play last year, and kind of permeated all areas of the club. Certainly you want someone who can get guys excited about what they’re doing and excited about the style of play.”

This particular sentiment echoes what Jim Benning himself put forth last week in an interview, when he talked about how the coaching position has changed over the years, stressing that finding someone who was adept at communicating with the player personnel was a key requirement.

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For more on Willie Desjardins specifically – and how he fits some of the desirable coaching traits that have been discussed – I’d recommend reading Omar’s take over at Vancity Buzz. There are few quotes he has dug up from people in the game, specifically, that are rather telling. As Kevin Weeks put it yesterday, “[Desjardins’] attention to detail and people skills are key.

Normally I’ve a believer that the effect a head coach tends to have on a team’s overall success is blown out of proportion by fans of the game, mostly because it’s a convenient catch-all narrative to group things we can’t quantify under. With that being said, this particular situation may be an extreme exception to that. Based on what we know about John Tortorella’s year at the helm, basically anything would be deemed an upgrade, let alone someone that has been hyped as a professional who really knows what he’s doing. For whatever it’s worth, Desjardins has enjoyed all sorts of success as a bench boss:

While someone like Mike Johnston or Peter Horachek may not be the worst option in the world, there’s no denying that swinging and missing on Willie Desjardins here would be a legitimate disappointment for the Canucks. Especially after all of the Post-Traumatic Bridesmaid Syndrome fans of the team have stemming from the Mike Gillis regime.

Linden went on to say that he was “pretty confident someone would be in place by July 1st”, though there’s reason to believe this could drag on for a while longer. Just make sure you have a barf bag handy.