Kuzma: If Willie is No. 1 for the Canucks, Pearn may be his No. 2
Former Jets assistant Perry Pearn has plenty of history with leading coaching candidate Willie Desjardins
No matter how the coaching, roster or draft dominoes fall, we know this much for sure: When it comes to finally naming the successor to John Tortorella as coach of the Vancouver Canucks, who fills the Mike Sullivan void as the trusted associate will be just as vital.
Think about it.
Alain Vigneault had Rick Bowness and Marc Crawford had Mike Johnston. They would play good-cop, bad-cop, share a philosophy on how the game should be played and the roster deployed. They would also share a lineage and have a support system in place.
While the latest buzz here was a Dan Bylsma sighting Tuesday night in advance of the fired Pittsburgh Penguins coach being interviewed for the bench-boss vacancy — and John Stevens promoted and remaining with the Los Angeles Kings — you’d have to think Calder Cup championship coach Willie Desjardins could be at the top of the Canucks’ wish list. They have formally asked for an interview and if the Texas Stars mentor becomes the franchise’s third new coach in the last three years, the choice Desjardins makes as his associate will be critical for the NHL rookie head coach. It’s a different animal being the main guy who has to deal with management, players and media.
That’s why the well-travelled and well-versed Perry Pearn would be a logical choice to pair with Desjardins.
His connection with Desjardins dates back to the 1980s in Alberta. Pearn was head coach at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton when Desjardins was running the bench at the University of Calgary.
Pearn won six national titles and Desjardins two Canada West crowns. They coached the Medicine Hat Tigers on separate occasions but have never worked in tandem, which is remarkable considering their bodies of work in college, junior, pro and the international ranks.
Pearn was an assistant coach for Canada’s world junior entry in 1990-91 and was head coach in 1993 while Desjardins served as an associate coach with the Dallas Stars for two seasons before guiding their AHL club the past two.
Pearn and Desjardins share a mutual admiration and stay in touch. And even though Pearn was part of the Winnipeg Jets housecleaning in January when Claude Noel was also fired, his ability to teach and connect with veterans and young players is not lost on those in the game. Neither is connecting the lineage dots with Desjardins.
“Willie and I know each other very well and for a long time,” Pearn said Wednesday.
“Our paths have crossed in a lot of different ways and my nephew played for Willie in Medicine Hat. “We’ve followed each others’ careers and I sent him a text message after they won (Calder Cup), and he shot one right back at me. He’s a guy I’d be very interested in working with.”
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and winning but one road game this season in the ultra-tough Pacific Division, the Canucks are going to be in some sort of transition.
Ryan Kesler could be dealt before the draft and a number of other scenarios could develop. A Kesler deal with Anaheim, assuming the former Selke Trophy winner would waive his no-trade, could fetch a lot because of the Ducks’ need to challenge the Stanley Cup champion Kings.
The Canucks could land Anaheim’s No. 10 overall pick for this draft, a centre in Rickard Rakell, Mathieu Perreault or Emerson Etem and a winger in Devante Smith-Pelley or Kyle Palmieri. However it plays out, relationship building is going to be as imperative here as the right strategy because general manager Jim Benning isn’t interested in a yeller and a screamer.
If ability is more important than age, then the 63-year-old Pearn could get a look. Desjardins also has a history with former Canucks defenceman Doug Lidster, 53, who served as his AHL assistant the past two seasons.
“I had more contact from players after I got fired in Winnipeg than when I left any other place,” said Pearn, who has also served as an assistant coach with the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
“I made good connections there in a short period of time and feel pretty comfortable with that. I’m probably better at relating to players today than I ever was because I have more perspective. The age difference now is more like a father-son talk or maybe even talking to grandpa a bit.”
Pearn has seen just about everything in the game, and gaining the respect of a veteran like Andrew Ladd or reaching the mercurial Evander Kane on some level was one of his strong suits. So was being a teacher and tactician for the Jets, who had the 10th-ranked penalty kill but only the 25th-ranked power play.
“You always reach some players more than others, and I had a really good relationship with Kane and I got him killing penalties, and he did a really good job,” said Pearn.
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