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Photo Credit: © Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Desjardins Says Goodbye

Earlier this morning, former Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins addressed the media after his dismissal – something that doesn’t often happen in pro sports. His opening statement was merely a bunch of thank yous, and he didn’t hold back. There a lot of action that goes on behind the scenes that we don’t typically see, and it’s fairly obvious from what Desjardins had to say. There was a long list, but it’s highly worth the read.

“I’d like to thank my family. It’s hard for them, I feel bad for them. Saying that, they’ve been through everything with me. I don’t get to this spot without them. I’d like to thank Mr. and Mrs. Aquilini, and I thank Francesco. You want an owner who will give you everything to win, and he’s given us everything. Victor de Bonis and Jeff Stipec – head of this department – they were incredible to work for. They were so good and so loyal, so supporting, and just class people. Those two are two of the best. Andrea Lobo and Kathy up top, they’re so good. Trevor, Jim and Weis – it’s always tough when things come to an end, but you have to remember there was a beginning too and they were great. Jim has done the best he can, he’s a really quality man and I thank them for this time and the opportunity. Medical staff – our medical staff has taken a lot of heat and they don’t deserve it. Rick Celibrini is one of the best I’ve ever met, if not the best. Those guys are so so good. Trainers – Pat O’Neil, Red, Mac – those guys are the best. Their job is unbelievably hard and they always gave us what we needed and never complained. My media staff was great – Chris Brumwell, Ben, Steph, Alfred. I was prepared for the tough questions and they’re great at their job. Mike Brown – he was our team liaison and did lots of great things with us. For the coaches, I feel bad for Doug Lidster and Perry (Pearn). Both guys lost their job basically under my watch. They deserve better and I think they did an outstanding job. Ben Cooper, Glenn Carnegie, Manny, Doug Jarvis, Clouts – all quality people. It was a good staff and they worked hard. Players – I can’t thank the players enough. Every day they were there through good and bad. Hank and Dannk never once got small and pointed the fingers. The whole team was good that way. Say what you want, but I didn’t lose that room. That room was there and we were together and willing to battle. I don’t have one bad thing to say about that group. For the fans, the fans in Vancouver have been great to me. I’ve walked down the street and it’s hard to believe I haven’t had one bad comment made to me. Not one. I said to Ronda (wife), ‘You gotta be careful because somebody’s going to say something and it ain’t going to be good.’ The media – you guys have a job. Sometimes we aren’t together, but I never had a problem with the media. It’s a tough media and market, but I was lucky to work in this market and with this media. My last comment would be Alex Burrows. Alex said, when he was going to leave, ‘I was just really disappointed that I couldn’t win a Cup in this market. I felt I let the market down.’ He didn’t let the market down, he gave everything he had. I think I did the same and that’s what I think, it’s the same thing.”

Make no mistake, Desjardins developed young players. Horvat, Baertschi, Tryamkin, Stecher, and Granlund have all taken strides from when they first made the team. I cannot pinpoint the exact interview, but I remember Desjardins saying he didn’t think Horvat would be anything more than a 3rd or 2nd-line player when he first met him. He’s taken unbelievable strides since then and perfectly embodies Desjardins’ idea of earning your ice time. Baertschi was on the brink of being a first-round bust when Calgary traded him to Vancouver. With Desjardins’ patience, he resuscitated his career. People thought Granlund would be a career third-line centre, but he turned heads this season as well.

You cannot question that Desjardins didn’t develop the young players. That’s what he was brought in to do, and that’s what he did. Maybe it wasn’t the most conventional method, but he did develop them.

Desjardins on why he thinks he was fired: “That’s not my question, that’s management’s question. I can’t speculate why they went that way, but I know guys have developed and the guys appreciate what I did with them. It’s a good group and I like to see them develop. Why they made that call? You’d have to ask Jim and Trevor.”

Back in 2014, Desjardins was a candidate for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ head coaching job. Rumours abound that he turned the offer down to come to Vancouver, which seemed odd given the fact that Pittsburgh was in a far better situation. Since then, the Penguins have won a Stanley Cup, and the Canucks have seen themselves at the bottom. One would have to think that there is regret in his decision, but Desjardins says he wouldn’t have changed his mind.

Desjardins: “When you get to this spot, sometimes you [think about the past]. I picked here for a reason – Trevor was a big reason why I came here. When you lose, you’d always change something. What I knew at the time, 100% comfortable making the call. I’ve met some great people here. It’s hard to turn back because I’d lose all that too. I wouldn’t because there’s good people.”

Ice time given to young players has been one of the biggest stories of the year. Whether it be Virtanen, Boucher, Goldobin, and even Horvat at the beginning of the year, people scrutinized Desjardins for his lack of deployment of the young players. He made it known that you cannot only give them lots of ice time, and that frustrated many. Moreover, his player deployment was also odd at times. For one, his trust and confidence in Jayson Megan is arguably one of his most curious decisions of the year. People called him stubborn for his unwillingness to rearrange the line-up, which is likely one of the reasons for his demise.

Desjardins on playing the young players: “There is a misconception. I’ve never had a problem playing young guys. I knew where the organization was and where we needed to go. I have my beliefs on how you develop young guys, and maybe that was different from what the media thought. I’ve developed a lot of young players in my coaching career, and a lot of guys have turned out. If you give a guy stuff, you don’t turn out the player. I believe you build the foundation, and if you build the right foundation, it’ll withstand the pressure when times are tough.”

Desjardins on reluctance to change the line-up: “I could’ve maybe split up Hank or Danny or done things like that, but that would’ve broken some of our chemistry. I thought chemistry – keeping everything together – was more important than making a move. You know you’re not making the playoffs, but you want your team to have the best chance to stay on the same page and stay together. Nobody can say we quit and didn’t care, and I’m proud of that. How I managed my player through that stretch might have been indicative of that.”

 

When Jared McCann and Jake Virtanen made the roster last season, many questioned whether or not they were truly ready. Management wanted to get younger, but perhaps they rushed the two players in. Their rookie seasons were decent — nothing special honestly. They were also called out by Alex Burrows and the Sedins for their professionalism and dedication to the game. You can argue that the decision to keep them around stunted their growth, especially when you look at how both have played this season.

Desjardins on McCann and Virtanen: “Time is always the telling factor. That’s a tough one because in 3 or 4 years, you’ll always be able to tell if that was the right or wrong process. They probably didn’t think I got through to them. You have to be at a certain point in your develop to learn the lessons, and maybe they weren’t at that point. Boeser – he’s ready. He’s ready to learn things, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to be an everyday player.”

So where does Desjardins go now? Darren Dreger said earlier on that numerous teams would have interest in Desjardins’ services. He was reportedly a top candidate for the Dallas Stars’ job, but that was given to Ken Hitchcock this morning. The Florida Panthers have also contacted the Canucks, so he may have an opportunity there. Regardless, there’s no doubt that he’ll have a coaching job by next year. He has the reputation of developing young players and winning, whether that be in the NHL, AHL, and CHL as well.

Desjardins on his future: “I love to coach. For sure, I’ll be looking if there’s something else out there. I’ll try to look for the right spot. It’s great game and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”

Addressing the media after being fired is a rarity for anything in an organization. So why did Desjardins do it?

“There’s lot of great people. I wanted to say thanks. I’m not bitter about [being fired], I am disappointed. It’s such a great game and there’s lots of people I owe thanks to who have been great to myself and my family.”

Willie Desjardins is, without a doubt, a fantastic person. His character cannot be questioned. He may not have been the hardest and most punitive of coaches, but that ties into his personality. I believe this quote perfectly sums him up:

“Those guys may leave me but I’ll never leave some of those guys. I’ll always follow and they’ll always be special. The chance to work with them was great. That won’t ever change.”

We may not have always agreed with his decisions, but we cannot question that he didn’t care. He chose to address the media today, and he handled the situation with class and respect. He is a humble individual, and it’s obvious that he was grateful to be in the NHL. He’s been under constant scrutiny this season, both by the fans and the media. He stuck through it and handled the adversity with poise and politeness. Although he came into Vancouver when the team was in decline, he leaves having made a positive impact. Horvat may not have taken the strides he has if it weren’t for Desjardins, and the same is true of a lot of the young players.

That said, thank you, Desjardins, for everything you’ve done over these last three years. We were critical at times, but that comes in any marketplace. Regardless, it’s obvious that you’re highly respected and thought of by the organization. You got through to the players, and you got a lot out of what management gave you. This season was full of curiosity and pessimism, but it appears your overall influence in the locker room is nothing but positive. So for that, we thank you.

  • I am Ted

    Critical? CA bloggers were beyond critical. A lot of the igoramouses here chastised WD for everything. These punks who have never played any form of competitive sports at any real level would come on here on a regular basis and post scathing reviews.

    Sure, WD was far from perfect but he did a good job with the kids. He made them earn it. My issues with him are his stubbornness (not changing PP, deployment, using Miller too much) and some of his deployment (yes, Megna and not giving Pedan or Subban a single game this year etc).

    Overall, I am glad WD is gone.

  • Locust

    Sure glad Vanessa wrote this instead of one of the other ‘tools’ that would just gloat with an “I told ya so” attitude.

    Agree with “I am Ted” – reading some of this nonsense here from guys that have so obviously never been in an athletic environment is painful. Total douchebags sometimes, so unnecessary and so childish. The most contact some of these guys have ever had was when the lights went out at band camp.

    Overall, CA needs some big improvements for next year.

  • Rodeobill

    I always thought some of the things done by WD and said to the media seemed to point toward maintaining his “earn it” ideology, even, quite possibly at the cost of icing a lesser lineup. This is for the greater good in the interest of getting the most out of your players and getting them to play as a team and follow the systems in the long run and for development. I questioned many of his choices at times, and still do not think of him as a master strategist, but I always thought he was probably a good coach for the kids and in the locker room. The media seemed to become convinced that “developing the kids” meant playing them 20 minutes a game, but sometimes developing the kids and the team in general means not playing them or showing some restraint. Maybe, at times, the plugs didn’t have the skill, but at least they knew what Willie wanted them to do and would buy into it, and if the Kids with the skill wouldn’t get on board then they are just loose cannons and everyone else playing the system gets thrown out of whack to compensate.

    I wish willie the best, as said in the article, I think he really was a “real good” guy. I hope the next coach can salvage what he did build in the team and move it forward from there.

  • bobdaley44

    So sick of hearing how he kept playing Megna and Chaput more than Boucher and Goldobin. The later two couldn’t defend or forecheck with any authority not to mention their lack of size and Boucher’s lack of foot speed. Willie was right they never earned it. This ludicrous thinking that you can just play kids and they’ll figure it out is asinine. If you don’t have an all round game you should be in the AHL.

    • BBoone

      Agree on AHL . Almost all prospects should play 1 or 2 seasons in AHL . Somehow it has become a demotion or failure rather than a fundamental step in the process to NHL competence . Both Hutton and Stecher should have spent a fulll season in AHL . Next year both Boesser and Goldobin Shambhala Uli start in AHL . Jake and Jared back t junior and then AHL,. Media have been sucked into this AHL is failure narrative .

  • Donald's Hat Trick

    First, props to Willie for giving the interview.

    But, it also contained a fair amount of fluff. Like choosing Vancouver over Pittsburgh because of Linden. I guess he didn’t realize that both Crosby and Malkin play in Pitts, and that that team was right in its window. Even if the pay package was significantly worse, I don’t know what kind of coach picks Vancouver over the Penguins.

    Nice of Willy to give his support staff the rah rah rah, but it rings a bit hollow when you look at where the team finished in the standings.

  • wojohowitz

    Willie accepts none of the blame. The closest he comes is; `Maybe I should have broken up the twins…` With the first line not playing well until Granlund showed up, the fourth line not getting any serious icetime and deadweight Sutter centering the third line, only the Horvat line was doing the job and you know when he lost the twins? When Eriksson wasn`t part of the line, early in the season. The low point was asking why Tryamkin did not attack beat up Marchand. In the years ahead Willie and Bill Laforge will be grouped as the most inept in Canuck history.

  • RoCkFaThEr

    Normally I just read half the article and then I go straight to the comments.
    Not today!
    Great article…fully enjoyed it.
    Look forward to an article on when Benning said he’s looking at other teams rosters and who the can’t protect at the expansion draft for possible trades with Vancouver.
    -cheers-

  • TD

    Well written article that was fair to all points of view. Willie showed great class doing the press conference. I hope he gets another chance with a better roster.

  • Double U Tee Eff

    I think this interview was the best of the year by anyone associated with the canucks and Vanessa did a great job summarizing it. I think Willie was too nice a guy and his focus on keeping team chemistry intact at the expense of making needed deployment changes was what cost him his job in the end. Also, I noticed Willie’s reference to a great relationship with Benning but I didn’t hear any acknowlegement that way dished out to Linden….but perhaps I’m reading too much into that. Good luck to Willie though. I think he will land somewhere in the league as an assistant coach and thats probably better suited to him as I don’t think he”s hard assed enough to be a head coach in the NHL.

  • Dirty30

    WD is a classic example of putting the right people in the wrong positions.

    Trev isn’t a great President but serves a purpose for ownership.

    Benning should have been a VP but in charge of scouting.

    WD should have been hired as President of Player development.

    That leaves a different GM and a different Coach.

    As for the ‘earn it’ crowd — that’s a fine philosophy in amateur sports but when you are asking fans to pay big bucks to watch a game in which the Coach ices plodders only because they earned it, just reveals that that coach is still thinking at an amateur level.

    A player like Goldibin who has the skill to slap a puck out of mid-air into the net has just earned his right to play just as much as the guy who plays hard but doesn’t score nor prevent scoring.

    It’s not like this team has a surplus of goal scorers even when they are all healthy.

    • DJ_44

      “Earn it” can mean two things: you will have to serve your dues before you get an opportunity; or your effort, understanding of the game, ability and performance (in that order) will dictate the situations in which you will play. There are very few coaches that adhere to the first definition, and that includes WD. I cannot recall any coach that does not follow the second definition.

      He accepted mistakes from younger players all the time, and put them right back out on the ice, however he would not put them in situations where he thought they would not succeed. Boeser was a good example. His ice time was not gifted to him, he “earned it” by demonstrating immediately that he understands hockey and has the skills to be where he should be; recognize danger as well as opportunity and act accordingly. Others did not.

      The problem I had with WD (along these lines), is I thought some of the youngsters were ready to take a lot more weight than WD permitted. He afforded a player like Hutton way to much benefit of the doubt, in my opinion.

      • @ DJ44

        Stop bashing Hutton. Did young Ben knock up your daughter or something? Man, every comment includes some form of Ben Hutton thrashing. He’s a young defenseman finding his way, not to mention an asset with high potential. If you wanna hate, spread it around a bit. (To your credit, most of your thoughts are on the mark, but not this.)

  • Moneyball

    Judging the guy because he didn’t make the Stanley cup with this roster is not a fair test of his ability as a coach. The Canucks have the sedin anchors and all new kids with no superstars. Colorado has a lot more talent and a brighter future, Arizona has some younger marquee players on a budget. Expecting playoff with this club was not realistic. I doubt the next coach will have any more success. The twins have to be dealt for this team to rebuild.