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.