Kuzma: Canucks zeroing in on coaching hire
Willie Desjardins appears to be ‘The Man’, though there are still a few options out there
They’ve always been wild about Willie.
With the Vancouver Canucks coaching derby finally hitting the home stretch, the only thing preventing Willie Desjardins from not finishing ahead of considerable competition would be a contract stumble in his final few strides.
The Calder Cup winning coach with a strong winning lineage and a Medicine Hat Tigers connection to president of hockey operations Trevor Linden was always a strong betting favourite to supplant fiery fired coach John Tortorella — especially when John Stevens elected to remain with the Los Angeles Kings last week and was promoted to associate coach.
And while the Pittsburgh Penguins tried to hire Desjardins last week — reportedly offering the Texas Stars coach only a two-year contract — you could argue that the 57-year-old Climax, Sask., native was wisely using the interest as leverage to land his first NHL head-coaching job, or that his heart was always in Vancouver.
We’ll soon know. Desjardins was interviewed here this weekend.
A teacher and tactician who commands respect and can relate to today’s impressionable prospects, Desjardins fits the Canucks criteria on many levels. He led the Dallas Stars’ affiliate to a 48-18-3-7 AHL record this season and spent two seasons as an associate with the parent club — including one with former Dallas coach and retained Canucks assistant Glen Gulutzan — and there’s one connection.
Another is eight seasons and coach and general manager of the Tigers from 2002-10, including WHL championships in 2004 and 2007. It’s also Linden’s hometown and the junior club he would star for and win consecutive Memorial Cups in 1986-87.
Desjardins was on the coaching staff of Canada’s world junior teams in 2009-10 winning gold and silver respectively. He also coached in Japan and at the University of Calgary to two Canada West titles.
“His teams were always well-prepared and they always played hard,” said former Vancouver Giants coach and current Kamloops Blazers bench boss Don Hay, who matched WHL coaching wits with Desjardins.
“Willie is a real genuine person and a real quality coach. His teams will always come at you hard and play a real uptempo game and everywhere he’s gone, he’s had success.
“He’s shown that he can work with all kinds of athletes, and that’s what he wants to be known as — a guy who’s not one-dimensional. He’s coached at all different levels and really fits in well with a variety of people.”
It’s now a matter of dollars and sense for the Canucks.
They’re not going to dole out another five-year contract, but Desjardins deserves three. And if that’s going to be a problem, then Mike Johnston, Scott Arniel and perhaps even the forgotten Kevin Dineen may come into play.
Johnston, a former Canucks associate and general manager/coach of the Portland Winterhawks interviewed extremely well, according to Linden. Arniel, as assistant with the New York Rangers, has a connection here as former coach of the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves and Manitoba Moose and was also head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Dineen is intriguing because of what the former Florida Panthers coach achieved at the 2014 Winter Olympics and his apparent spotting Friday night at a downtown Vancouver restaurant.
A credible NHL source relayed the supposed sighting in a text to the Province, but, of course, it doesn’t quite compare to the Dan Bylsma spotting because there was photographic proof of his arrival here last week for an interview.
So, take what you will from all that. Dineen was hired by Hockey Canada to stabilize the national women’s program in advance of the Sochi Olympics. He brought structure, accountability in a gold-medal run. He also guided Florida to first postseason appearance in 12 years in 2012 and was fired in November, 2013. He also coached Team Canada at men’s under-18 world tourney.
If Desjardins becomes the No. 1, who replaces Mike Sullivan as the No. 2 could have another local connection. Former Canucks defenceman Doug Lidster served as an AHL assistant to Desjardins and there are comfort and consistency levels to consider.
Another possibility is Perry Pearn. 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. They each coached the Medicine Hat Tigers on separate occasions but have never worked in tandem.
Pearn, who was let go as an assistant by the Winnipeg Jets in January along coach Claude Noel, has also been an NHL assistant with the Montreal Canadiens, the Rangers and Ottawa Senators.
MORE KESLER SUITORS
The Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues have joined the Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks in trying to acquire Ryan Kesler. The centre will waive his no-trade clause to move to a contender of his choosing and if he wants to go east — closer to his family and offseason home in Livonia, Mich. — the prospect of pairing with Olympic linemate Patrick Kane would be enticing in Chicago. So would joining U.S. teammates David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk in St. Louis. The Blackhawks have only $4.6 million US in cap space and will eventually need to sign Jonathan Toews and Kane to enormous contract extensions. The Blues have $21.7 million in cap space and could easily absorb Kesler’s $5 million annual salary in each of the next two years. Restricted free agent centre Patrik Berglund would be a tempting target for the Canucks. However, they’ll be pressed to match what the Ducks could offer — their 10th overall draft pick Friday, plus a promising centre and winger.
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