Dallas Stars Coaching Candidate: Willie Desjardins

Age: 54
Playing career: 1971-1977 (SJHL, WCHL)
Coaching career: 2002-2010 (WHL)

Playing career:

Desjardins started his brief playing career in the Canadian Juniors, playing for the Moose Jaw Canucks, Swift Current Broncos and the Lethbridge Broncos. He was fairly prominent on the win, averaging over 70 points a season. He then played with the University of Saskatchewan before moving on to coaching.

Coaching career:

He began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant for the University of Calgary, before being named head coach in 1989. After a brief stop in Japan for the Seibu Bears, he took over the Saskatoon Blades in 1997. He was then named the head coach of the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2002, taking over full general manager duties in 2005.

Desjardins is perhaps the most successful WHL coach of the past decade, leading the Tigers to two WHL Championships and  six straight seasons of playoff appearances. He was also an assistant coach for the Gold Medal-winning Team Canada at the 2009 World Junior Championships, and was head coach of the national team in 2010 when Canada lost to the United States. As a coach with the Tigers, his teams were 333-182-61 in the regular season, 65-43 in the playoffs. He has never failed to make the playoffs of a team he started off the season coaching.

How he fits:

Some may not realize this, but Desjardins was actually hired as the Dallas Stars "Associate Coach" last summer. He was one of the hottest head coaches coming out of the juniors and it took a lot of persuading to get him to accept the job in Dallas, and it came with more influence as a coach than a normal assistant has. His hiring last season was seen as a relative coup for the Stars around the NHL, as they had acquired a coach who would be instrumental in helping the Stars implement Marc Crawford's up-tempo style.

He's known as a "thinking man's coach", a coach that loves the strategy of the game and is great at adjusting his teams during the game. He is also known as a coach that communicates extremely well with his players and he is one of the most well respected coaches to come out of Canada in a long time. 

His influence on the Stars was seen almost immediately. While the team certainly had defensive lapses last season, the Stars played much better on the backcheck, the defensemen were much better when pinching and the forwards showed a much better ability to rotate around and cover for the defensemen when needed.

Like Crawford, Desjardins coaches an "up tempo", puck possession game and wants his team to attack the zone with speed. He coaches his team to move the puck quickly through the neutral zone and the defensemen are the key component in his system.

Desjardins is regarded as the front-runner for the Stars' head coaching job; it just seems to be the natural progression for a coach that had a positive impact on the team despite -- what we've since learned -- were some very questionable coaching decisions and strategy by Crawford. Desjardins is going to be a head coach in the NHL very soon, and with a team like the Stars hoping to continue the transition to an aggressive, attacking style Desjardins is the logical choice -- especially if he has a good relationship with the Stars.

How he doesn't fit: 

Desjardins has just one season with any players above the junior level, and there has not been much success lately for head coaches coming from the juniors directly to the NHL. Just like college coaches to the NFL in football, it takes a completely different style of coaching to be able to relate to players that are not only much older, but are millionaires as well. It's thought that perhaps a few more years as an assistant, or perhaps as a head coach in the AHL, would make for a better progression before Desjardins moves on to a head coaching position in the NHL.

You also wonder if Joe Nieuwendyk would want to go for a coach with an established NHL career, even though that did not work out for him last time. Of all the coaching candidates that are presumably available, Desjardins appears to be the best fit.

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