Thoughts: Pens Coaching Candidates Update – Add Desjardins, Subtract Stevens

Published on June 18th, 2014

By: Meesh Shanmugam (@HockeyMeesh)

*If you missed the full summaries of John Stevens, Ron Wilson, John Hynes, Bill Peters, Ulf Samuelsson, Tom Renney, and Marc Crawford, you can find them by clicking here*

Another day in the coaching search brings more rumored names to talk about.

Today’s update from Rob Rossi includes Willie Desjardins, head coach of the AHL’s Texas Stars, who just led his team (with Dustin Jeffrey) to a Calder Cup win.

This is Dustin Jeffrey. Wearing a championship hat. (Colin Peddle/AHL)

This is Dustin Jeffrey. Wearing a championship hat. (Colin Peddle/AHL)

Rossi also discusses the potential of bringing Rod Brind’Amour on in “some capacity”, but not as a head coach.

Finally, he passes along that Rutherford has completed interviews with all of his candidates except for Desjardins. That group includes Wilson, Crawford, Samuelsson, Peters, and Hynes (again, I would suggest reading yesterday’s post, but you can skip Renney and Stevens it looks like).

Speaking of Stevens, the Penguins are interested but it sounds like he is not going to pursue a head coaching job. As MANY writers have suggested at this point, Stevens seems to be a potential succession plan for Darryl Sutter in LA. It even appears that LA won’t let teams talk to him either.

With all of that said, let’s talk about Willie Desjardins.

Willie Desjardins (Age: 57), Head Coach – Texas Stars

Desjardins has been mentioned roughly 7028375923 times for the Canucks current opening.

He had a limited playing career, never making it beyond college hockey. His coaching career began as an assistant coach for the University of Calgary in 1985. He was promoted to head coach in 1989 and stayed there until 1994, winning two championships in that time. After his stint in college hockey, Desjardins moved on to the Seibu Bears in Japan for two seasons before returning back to Canada. In 1997, he took over the head coaching duties for the Saskatoon Blades and then accepted a job as an assistant coach for Team Canada.

Moving into more relevant times Desjardins was the head coach for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the WHL from 2002 until 2010. In his eight seasons there, his teams posted a 333-182-31-30 record and won two WHL Championships (’04, ’07). He was also named WHL Coach of the Year in 2005-06.

He was then hired by Dallas as an assistant coach under Marc Crawford in 2010. Crawford was fired after the season, but Desjardins was retained to be an assistant under Glen Gulutzan in 2011. After his second season as an assistant coach in Dallas, he was then named the head coach of their AHL affiliate, where he has spent the past two seasons.

Among some key things that were said in his move to the AHL:

“We believe that Willie’s track record as a teacher of the game and his ability to develop young players is a perfect fit for the Texas Stars,” Nieuwendyk said. “His knowledge of Glen Gulutzan’s system and his familiarity with our prospects will continue to improve player development between Dallas and the Texas Stars.”

“I’m extremely excited for the opportunity to become head coach of the Texas Stars,” said Desjardins. “I feel one of my strengths has always been in coaching younger players and this is a fantastic opportunity to do just that. The Stars organization has a group of very talented prospects coming through the system and I look forward to helping them develop.”

Another quote from him that may explain why he has bounced around in his coaching career in an unusual track:

“I like being a head coach, I just do,” he said. “I was very fortunate to work with two great people in Marc Crawford and Glen Gulutzan, but at the same time I like to be able to do the things I need to do. I feel more comfortable as the head coach.”

The Texas Stars finished first in their conference each of the past two seasons under Desjardins. In 2012-13, they were upset in the second round. This past season, as of yesterday, he led his team to a Calder Cup win.

Should the Penguins hire the latest AHL winner? (Colin Peddle/AHL)

Should the Penguins hire the latest AHL winner? (Colin Peddle/AHL)

Here are some quotes on his coaching style from former players:

Vern Fiddler, who played in Dallas while he was an assistant:

“He’s a great motivator and he knows how to find the best in every player — that’s why he’s been so successful,” said Fiddler, who also played for Trotz. “One of the biggest things I noticed is that he really cares about everybody and he knows that everybody is different. I was in the league for six or seven years and he still found a way to get more out of you. Even as an assistant coach, he was a guy who would push you to different levels and I definitely found that guys respected him for that.”

“You obviously have to turn to your room sometimes and he did a great job with that,” added Fiddler. “He respected our opinions, and when he was running our penalty kill, he would definitely consider them. He didn’t have an ego that it was going to be his way or no way. It was always the collective of what can we do to be better? He did what was best and wants to be an NHL head coach. You’ve seen what he’s done with that (AHL) team. He’s taken them from the bottom of the barrel to the top now — and he’s getting the success he deserves.”

Travis Morin, who currently plays for Texas:

“Willie likes to attack and push the pace, and it’s the same with practice,” Morin said. “We go short and fast, but when we’re out there, we’re going. We’ve been a fast-paced team since he got here.”

Thoughts: Every interview and article I pull up discusses Desjardins as open-minded, a great communicator, and a man focused on getting his players into the right roles. At first, I was concerned about his coaching resume at the age of 57, but it definitely makes more sense based on his desire to be in charge as stated above. Vancouver still seems to be the front-runner for Desjardins according to just about everyone with a voice, but I consider him to be a very intriguing candidate. The Penguins had several players trying to play styles they weren’t able to handle last season, perhaps Desjardins can play to their strengths and develop the younger guys better.

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Updated preferred order, removing Stevens and Renney:   Wilson, Hynes (I’m flip-flopping between these two), Desjardins, Peters, Samuelsson, Crawford.

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Other things of note, the Penguins released their preseason schedule today:

Monday, September 22: Red Wings at Penguins – 7:00 PM (Pittsburgh CW)
Tuesday, September 23: Penguins at Blue Jackets – 7:00 PM (No TV)
Thursday, September 25: Wild at Penguins – 7:00 PM (No TV)
Saturday, September 27: Blue Jackets at Penguins – 4:00 PM (Pittsburgh CW)
Monday, September 29: Penguins at Wild – 8:00 PM (ROOT Sports)
Wednesday, October 1: Penguins at Red Wings – 7:30 PM (ROOT Sports)

They also will qualify all 5 restricted free agents (Despres, Sutter, Megna, Samuelsson, Farnham), not use either of their two compliance buyouts, and have started discussing which of their 11 UFAs they will attempt to keep (all from the Rossi article linked above).

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Thanks for reading!!

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