With the reports trickling out about a deal that had been struck between the Vancouver Canucks and coaching candidate Willie Desjardins prior to the weekend, we had a few days to prepare for the press conference that was held Monday afternoon by the team to introduce their newest bench boss.
Though reality, we probably didn’t need the preemptive headstart; considering what has transpired with the franchise in this last calendar year, we’ve all come to know the drill all too well by now. It hasn’t even been long enough for this particular image to have left people’s minds.
The trio of relative newcomers – Linden, Benning, and Desjardins – sat in front of a flock of media types, and answered a set of questions that varied on a scale of softball filler-to-insightful discussion. There were a few interesting talking points that were brought up, and we’ll pivot off of those just past the jump. If you feel so inclined, you can watch the presser for yourself right here.
Anecdotally, I thought that Desjardins came off as well as could’ve been expected. There’s been a lot of talk about how people skills are a quality which the team craved after what happened with the position’s predecessor last year, and how it was a trait that the man they picked for the job happened to have in his toolbox. While it’s tough to gauge appropriately off of just one 20-minute interview session – remember, John Tortorella showed quite well himself in such a spot last year – we saw a glimpse of it right off the bat.
After starting things off by thanking various people for helping him get to this point, Desjardins captivated the audience with a little personal story. “I was telling my wife Rhonda, who’s in the back, when I was trying to talk her into marrying me.. I said ‘Rhonda, I’m going to be an NHL coach!’, but I just didn’t tell her it was going to take 25 years. So I fooled her a little bit there, but it’s still exciting.”
Something I brought up when the news first broke was that I found it somewhat puzzling that, given how highly regarded and oft-praised Desjardins is as a coach, it took him this long to finally get a chance to be an NHL head coach. When he was asked about if he had any doubts as to whether he’d ever get a crack at it, he got reflective:
“Yeah for sure there had to be doubts. I think more about where I’m at and winning there, it wasn’t me just waiting to try to get up to the NHL, but once pass 40 you have to start wondering about whether your chance will come. So it’s a great opportunity for me.”
There had been some talk over the weekend about whether Desjardins had happened to fortunately fall into the laps of the Canucks after the scare that was his trip to Pittsburgh last Thursday, or whether we should be commending Trevor Linden for coming through in wooing an asset (something that the organization seemed to struggle with under the last regime). While Elliotte Friedman’s ’30 Thoughts’ from earlier today sure made it seem like the latter, Desjardins’ comments when asked about it sure blurred the lines once again. We’ll probably never *really* know the full extent of what happened there, which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t ultimately matter:
“They’re [Pittsburgh Penguins] a great organization. Jim Rutherford is a great man. There were just some things that didn’t and couldn’t work out. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t mine.. it was just something that couldn’t work. Sidney Crosby is a heck of a player, obviously, but for me when I looked at what was here — I looked at the two guys that are leading this, I looked at the quality of their players, their personality, what they wanted to do. Canadian market, Vancouver fans. It was the right choice to come here.”
In his interview on Team1040 last Friday, Linden made it clear that the coach needed to be able to “recapture the players” and “reach them”. Desjardins was asked about why he has been able to do so during his time behind the bench:
“I just respect the players so much. It’s a hard game to play, you just have to respect them. They do it every night, whether they win or they lose. I think we all have the same goals, we all want the same things. So how can we get there? It’s working together.”
Other main points:
·He didn’t divulge too much as to which assistants (particularly mentioned by Ben Kuzma asking the question were Doug Lister and Perry Pearn) – which has been reported to be one of the reasons talks between himself and the Penguins fell apart – he’ll be bringing over to be part of his staff. He essentially brushed it off by saying that he hasn’t thought about it much, and that it’ll be a process the three-headed monster will have to work through.
·Along those same lines the name “Glen Gulutzan” came up shortly thereafter, I can’t say that he seemed overly excited about working with him again. The question was specifically phrased as “are you enthused?” to which he promptly replied with “Yeaaah, I have to talk to Glen. He didn’t know who was coming in, so it depends on who comes in and how they feel. We’ll figure out exactly what he’s thinking and where he’s at.”
·On what Desjardins specifically likes about the team he’s taking over: “I’ve heard a lot about their character. You go through the lineup – and you know I’ve talked to other people, I didn’t take the job without doing the research and talking to other people – I know their skill level. I was with Dallas when we played Vancouver, and their power play was running nearly 40% on us. So maybe I’m their good luck charm because they were doing great against us. I think Pittsburgh has great players as well, but I like the package here.”
·On how he can turn this team around: “We want to be an entertaining, high-paced, fast team. We want to be those things. The transition may take a little bit of time – I know you don’t get much time so you better get there quick – but we’ll come to camp ready. We’ll know what we want to do. There’s a lot of proud guys in there and they don’t want to repeat what happened last year, so they’ll come in motivated.”
Beyond that, he didn’t provide us with any tactics, specifically, except for singing the praises of the Sedins and pointing out that the power play was elite once, so why wouldn’t it be again?
·On whether he’d rather be a head coach in the minors or an assistant coach in the NHL: “I don’t know, for whatever reason with me I just like being a head coach.”
·When asked about the Medicine Hat connection, he talked for a little bit about Trevor Linden’s mom. It wasn’t nearly as awkward as that sounds, and was followed up with Linden himself bringing up how his mother had raved to him about how exciting Desjardins’ teams had been to watch.
·According to Linden, there were “5 or 6, I think” people interviewed for the vacancy. When asked whether “Willie was always the guy”, he responded that he had always had an idea of what they were looking for, but that he didn’t really know until he was able to speak to Willie. Strangely enough, during his aforementioned Team1040 spot on Friday morning, he had mentioned that he hadn’t had a chance to actually sit down with Willie yet. Then the news of a “verbal deal” between the two parties broke just a few hours later. Hm.
·Linden was asked about where we’re at with Ryan Kesler: “We certainly have no timetable there. We’re working with Ryan, he’s got the assets that we want to have on this team. Getting Willie done was so important this week, so it really sets us up for a great week heading into the draft.” For all we know, Kesler could very well be traded as soon as tomorrow. I don’t blame Linden for posturing, trying to retain as close to max value as he can.
·There was also a Jim Benning sighting! He was asked about the talk regarding the team potentially trading up for the first pick, and whether they had established what the asking price was. He most certainly did nothing to throw water on the fire, by any means, responding with “we’re going to stay on top of that going forward. I’ve had a couple of conversations with Dale, so those conversations will continue this next week. We’ll see where they lead to on draft day.”
In the aforementioned 30 Thoughts column by Friedman today, he dropped a nugget regarding the situation when he wrote the following:
“One team that has definitely made an offer? Vancouver. I believe it included their first pick in this draft (which is sixth overall) and Hunter Shinkaruk, who was taken 24th in 2013. There was at least one other piece, probably off the main roster, but I can’t pin it down.”
It seems fair to assume that the player would be Chris Tanev, whose name has found its way into trade rumours involving that 1st overall pick even prior to this. Throwing Shinkaruk in there certainly provides some pause – I had him as the team’s top prospect last August – but ultimately the value of that 1st overall pick is just way too immense to pass up. As for whether anything actually winds up coming of all of this, time will tell, but the momentum is most certainly building up in a hurry.
·On how much Willie’s track record with working with under players influenced their decision to hire him, Benning had the following to say: “Willie’s excellent at working with young players, whether it be at the junior level or Dallas’ farm team. HIs young players always improve. I talked to different general managers in this league and they always had glowing reports about how he got his players to play hard. They had glowing reports. All of that made us feel like he’s the right fit.”
·Finally, as a follow-up to the quote above Desjardins was asked about whether he specifically enjoyed working with younger players: “What you really enjoy is seeing players come to a level that exceeds what you expect..”
I think fans of the team are hoping Willie Desjardins enjoys himself a great deal this coming season, then, if that’s the case.