In Dallas, he'll be remembered as the guy who earned his shot.
In Pittsburgh, he'll be remembered as the one that got away.
And in Vancouver? They hope Willie Desjardins will be the remembered as the guy who turned it all around.
Desjardins (remember to pronounce the s at the end) was named this morning as the new head coach of the Canucks after a lengthy search to replace the failed experiment that was John Tortorella. And going by the skins on Desjardins' wall, this looks like a brilliant hire.
"Willie Desjardins has won at every level and we believe he'll be an excellent fit as we strive to return to the playoffs and build with youth for long-term success," Canucks general manager Jim Benning said on Monday. "Willie is a great teacher, motivator and communicator; his teams have competed with a style of play we believe will help us compete in our division and in the playoffs. With Willie’s leadership behind the bench we look forward to bringing back this team’s winning qualities and our fans’ passion and excitement for the Canucks."
Desjardins comes to Vancouver with a starry resume. He just led a moderately talented Texas club to the Calder Cup championship. The year before, he was the AHL's coach of the year. Before joining Texas for the 2012-13 season, Desjardins coached the Medicine Hat Tigers for eight seasons, leading them to two Western Hockey League titles. He was on Canada’s staff for two World Junior tournaments and one World Championship.
That's a lot of talent for Dallas to give up, but it says two things about the organization: the Stars have full faith in Lindy Ruff as a long-term option behind the bench with the big club and they won't stand in the way of anyone's success.
"I believe you want to allow your people to advance, because it’s good for the entire organization," Dallas GM Jim Nill told The Dallas Morning News. "You want your players to advance to the NHL, and you want your coaches and trainers or managers to advance. I think that’s the right way to do things."
From the right way to the wrong way: What exactly were the Penguins thinking? New GM Jim Rutherford made it known that Desjardins was his top choice to replace Dan Bylsma, but then he made the inexplicable decision to low-ball him with a two-year offer. Desjardins wisely passed, and now Rutherford has to settle for his second choice (or worse)... and he'll likely have to offer more money and a longer term to secure the guy.
Maybe the next coach comes in and guides the Pens to their first Stanley Cup since 2009 and all of this will be forgotten. But the mishandling of this situation makes the curious decision to bring in Rutherford--a man whose previous team, the Carolina Hurricanes, had missed the playoffs in six of the past seven seasons--even harder to defend today than when he was hired earlier this month.
At least his glaring misplay will be celebrated in Vancouver, where Desjardins is sure to be welcomed as the right man at the right time. No, he's never been a head coach in this league, but that'll be a non-issue by Game 10 of the regular season. He's a man whose background and honest, caring nature will quickly earn the respect of the team's veterans and whose adaptability and teaching focus is ideal for a club that's looking to get younger.
You just have to look at the job he did in Texas, where he helped develop promising but raw youngsters like Patrick Nemeth and Brett Ritchie into players who will battle for spots in Dallas next season. For a team like the Canucks that's done a miserable job of graduating prospects during the past five years (hello, Jordan Schroeder!), that's a tantalizing skill set. Guys like Frankie Corrado and Niklas Jensen and Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk won't just have a chance to compete for a job, they'll have a real opportunity to thrive under the tutelage of Desjardins.
The question is, who will they be competing against? The Ryan Kesler situation remains up in the air, and there are likely several other moves yet to be made by Benning as he reshapes the club in his image. But know this: Desjardins can work with the group however it shakes out. In Texas, he showed he could win with the players he had, not with a system he was determined to impose. He is that rare coach who listens and learns and makes the best of whatever he's handed.
That doesn't mean he'll make pumpkin pie out of rotting pumpkins. If the talent is there to play the run 'n' gun style that team president Trevor Linden wants, he'll make it happen. If not, he'll massage the approach to get the most out of the players he has.
That's all that management, and the team's frustrated fans, can ever ask for.