When the Dallas Stars fired Glen Gulutzan in 2013, they had the opportunity to promote Willie Desjardins, who had just finished his first year as head coach of the Texas Stars after serving as Gulutzan’s assistant head coach.
Instead, the team elected to hire Lindy Ruff. Desjardins went on to win Texas their first Calder Cup in just his second year on the job and, less than a week later, signed on to be the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.
Fast forward three years — the Stars announced that Ruff would not be returning as head coach, while the Vancouver Canucks had fired Desjardins after just three seasons. Again, the Stars elected to not hire Desjardins, and instead opted for a Ken Hitchcock homecoming.
One year later, and the Dallas Stars are once again looking for a head coach, and Willie Desjardins is still on the market. They say that the third time is the charm, so should the organization go with their old AHL bench boss? Let’s break it down.
First of all, Stars General Manager Jim Nill emphasized that he wants to hire a coach that has head coaching experience, and Willie Desjardins has a lot of it. He has spent 13 total seasons as head coach for the Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL), Texas Stars (AHL), and Vancouver Canucks (NHL), as well as half a season as interim head coach for the Saskatoon Blades (WHL).
In addition, Desjardins has served as head coach for the University of Calgary, the Seibu Bears in Japan, and two Canadian national teams — the 2010 World Juniors squad and the 2018 Winter Olympics team this past February.
Experience as a head coach only gets you so far, however. You also need to be able to produce results, which Desjardins has managed to do in most of his stops. In eight seasons with the Medicine Hat Tirgers, Desjardins won two championships and failed to make it past the first round only once. As already mentioned, he also won the Calder Cup with the Texas Stars in just his second year on the job, and he won Canada the silver medal in the 2010 World Juniors, and the bronze at the 2018 Winter Olympics.
His stint in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks is a different story, but it’s also one that requires context. First of all, while he failed to make the playoffs in his second and third seasons, Desjardins did lead the Canucks to a 48-29-5 record in the 2014-2015 season. Although they lost to the Calgary Flames in the first round, this was a huge improvement from their 36-35-11 record the previous year — their worst since the 1999-2000 season.
Desjardins had also adopted a team that was weak on defense and whose top players consisted of only Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The team had also traded in Robert Luongo for an aging Ryan Miller, who, along with the Sedin twins, started to decline rapidly after that 2014-2015 season. The team also failed to bring in new talent; outside of Miller and draft pick Bo Horvat, the only major addition during Desjardins’ tenure was free agent Loui Eriksson, who has been more or less a bust in Vancouver.
So while you might look at Desjardins’ performance in Vancouver as a reason why he can’t get it done at the NHL level, you have to understand he was dealt a pretty poor hand to work with, and still found success in his first year despite that. Imagine what he could do with the likes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov as his top forwards, plus a strong defense and decent goaltending led by John Klingberg and Ben Bishop, respectively.
Speaking of players on the roster, Desjardins also had experience coaching Benn when he served as an assistant coach for the Stars under Glen Gulutzan, and was the head coach for the likes of Radek Faksa, Antoine Roussel, Brett Ritchie, and Curtis McKenzie while in Cedar Park. He would be a familiar face to a handful of Stars players, and his experience working with young players in the AHL could put to rest current concerns of “trusting young players.” In fact, Bo Horvat was fourth in average ice time among forwards with 17:02 in Desjardin’s second season with the Canucks, despite being just 20 years old and in only his second season.
So while Willie Desjardins might not be my first choice as head coach, he does bring to the table a wealth of head coaching experience and is a familiar face to the organization —something the Stars seem to be big on lately. He may not have found glory in his first NHL stint, but given the current state of the roster and his ability to produce champion-winning teams, Desjardins just might be the guy to bring Dallas its second Stanley Cup.