While the Stanley Cup Final occupies two of the top candidates for the Carolina Hurricanes' head coaching job (New York's Ulf Samuelsson and Los Angeles' John Stevens), the Calder Cup Final will soon entertain a third possible consideration: Texas Stars coach Willie Desjardins.
Desjardins, 55, has made the rounds through the global coaching circuit, leading teams everywhere from Texas to Japan to Alberta. He's had tremendous success everywhere.
However, he's never coached in the NHL.
That seems likely to change this summer.
Desjardins is considered arguably the No. 1 candidate for the Vancouver Canucks job. According to Pro Hockey Talk and the Sun-Sentinel, his name has been sneaking onto the radar for the Hurricanes and Florida Panthers' vacancies as well.
The Saskatchewan native has a connection to former Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, the only Canucks assistant retained when the club fired John Tortorella and most of his staff after this past season.
However, Jason Botchford of the Vancouver Province suggests Vancouver is also interested in re-hiring Marc Crawford—who coached the team until 2006—or bringing in Stevens—who is currently employed by the Los Angeles Kings in the ongoing SCF.
If Desjardins is passed over by the Canucks—or if new Carolina general manager Ron Francis makes a bold move to beat the Canucks to him—the fast-rising coach's path to the NHL could shift from British Columbia to North Carolina.
Desjardins is concluding his second season coaching in the AHL, where he has won the Western Conference regular-season title in both years.
He led Texas to the second round of the playoffs last spring before marching all the way to the league championship series this campaign. The Stars will play Game 1 against the St. John's IceCaps (affiliate of the Winnipeg Jets) on Sunday.
Promoted to the head coach position in Texas after two seasons as assistant coach for the NHL's Dallas Stars, Desjardins also boasts eight years of experience with the WHL's Medicine Hat Tigers.
Medicine Hat won the league title under his leadership in 2004 and 2007, and posted a winning record in every year but his first.
|Willie Desjardins' Coaching History|
|1989-1994||University of Calgary||Head Coach|
|1994-1996||Seibu Bears (Japan)||Head Coach|
|1997-2002||Canadian Men's National Team||Head Coach|
|2002-2010||Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)||Head Coach|
|2010-2012||Dallas Stars (NHL)||Assistant Coach|
|2012-current||Texas Stars (AHL)||Head Coach|
|Dallas Morning News, Hockeydb.com|
Steve Marr, a Medicine Hat defenseman under Desjardins, wrote to The Vancouver Province last year praising his former coach. His words glisten with respect:
Having had an opportunity to play under Willie’s leadership for his first three years with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Willie was the sole reason for the complete, and quick, resurection (sp) of the Tigers’ program.
Willie’s teams are held accountable through their core values, their goals and their vision. His vision is very clear: to win a championship. His teams are successful because he gets the most out of his leadership groups...Willie knows how to utilize his team’s strengths, while constantly improving their weaknesses.
Accountability? The importance of leadership? The resurrection of a struggling program? All seem like traits the 'Canes could desperately use.
Desjardins has also reportedly gained the same admiration from his players in Texas.
"I think he's just a tremendous coach," young Stars forward Alex Chiasson told the Dallas Morning News last June. "He helped me so much, and I think he helped a lot of the players there."
Chiasson had played just nine professional hockey games (all in the AHL) prior to Desjardins' 2012 arrival. Two years later, he's coming off an impressive 35-point rookie campaign in the NHL after blossoming under Desjardins in Texas in 2012-13.
On the other hand, Desjardins also possesses some similarities to Kirk Muller—an effective communicator, a soft-spoken person, a coach with success in lower levels but no experience behind an NHL bench—and that could raise a few concerns.
It's undeniable that he would be a riskier selection as head coach than grizzled household names like John Tortorella, Kevin Dineen or Jacques Martin. Martin interviewed, according to TVA's Louis Jean, for the 'Canes job on Tuesday
With that said, Desjardins is also a coach with a well-rounded pedigree, having instilled a winning heritage and won over the support of all everywhere he's been.
The unexpectedly lengthy duration of the 'Canes' coaching search, perhaps an indication that Samuelsson and Stevens are the top candidates, could also tie Desjardins into the mix.
He's just four wins away from claiming the Calder Cup, which would expand his trophy case to three championships in a decade.
Once the series is determined, however, the race is on for the 55-year-old coach.
Carolina can't afford to let Vancouver be the lone contender.