The 2014/2015 season is tantalizingly close, and Canuck fans are upbeat and hopeful, largely due to the changes made between the end of last season and now. Turns out one of those changes may have transpired due to an unlikely figure.
It is possible, maybe even likely, that the development that’s exciting the Canuck nation the most is the coaching change. Yes, a lot has gone on in the front office and on the ice with personnel, but the one constant factor that caused discontent with the cheering masses was John Tortorella and his team’s identity.
Canuck faithful were not happy with the constant shot blocking festival and lack of freewheeling play, and to the fans the blame for that fell on Tortorella. Yes the GM gets the players but the Coach is the on ice Generalissimo and dictates what those players do and how they do it. Clearly, a Coach’s role is hard to overstate and is critical in a team’s success.
Fans are well aware of that and they had seen enough, and wanted a Coach that had the same vision that they did. During the offseason they got their wish, and Willie Desjardins was brought in, a man who’s won on many levels and doesn’t live by defence alone.
So if the Canucks turn their fortunes around and return to a team that can legitimately take a run at the Stanley Cup, who will they have to thank for it?
And how exactly did I come to that conclusion? Well, it works like this.
Sure, Lidster has some valuable experience in his background that led directly to the development of some of his key skills. And yes, he has used those skills successfully in his career, yet during his tenure here people may look back and realize that he contributed far more than prowess with X’s and O’s.
Because as it turns out, Lidster played a large role in determining the path of the Canucks future.
Willie Desjardins was highly sought after for his abilities as a Coach, and we have covered the massive importance bestowed on the coaching position. So it probably wasn’t a big surprise that the Pittsburgh Penguins interviewed him for their vacant coaching slot.
They have a couple of the best players in the game in Crosby and Malkin, and feel they are close to challenging for the Cup again with some adjustments in some key areas. One of those areas was behind the bench. So it speaks volumes that a team who believes they are close to championship calibre would approach Willie Desjardins to lead them.
The job was all but his, and sportscasters on T.V. were speculating an announcement was forthcoming. But instead, Desjardins turned down the offer.
Why? Because he wanted to bring on Doug Lidster as one of his assistant coaches. They had won together in junior in Medicine Hat and in Dallas in the AHL, and he was loyal to his hardworking cohort.
Pittsburgh wouldn’t agree to that condition, so he politely declined the opportunity to coach an exciting team with a great deal of upside and a lot of pieces in place.
Instead, he interviewed with the Canucks and was pleased with the direction they wanted to go. It would seem they had no issues with Desjardins bringing staff he coveted aboard, and happily announced he would be at the helm of the Canuck ship this year.
So wherever the Canucks go,it will be Desjardins taking them.
And one of his first moves was a significant one. In hiring Doug Lidster, Desjardins exemplified putting his money where his mouth is, and defined leading by example before even setting foot on so much as training camp ice.
Desjardins preaches things like integrity and accountability, and turning down the Pittsburgh job because he wasn’t allowed to bring in his own assistant coach is essentially the essence of integrity.
Many coaches have used similar phrases to illustrate their philosophy and direction, but too often the illustration is in crayon. It is refreshing to see that Coach Willie seems to prefer using permanent ink by comparison.
He wasn’t able to build the staff he felt was the right one to maximize the team’s performance, so instead of abandoning his beliefs and his colleague, he moved on from an opportunity that featured some of the league’s brightest stars. And in doing so, told whichever team he landed with that he will meet his own high standards, so his players better do the same.
It’s the kind of attitude that holds promise and gives hope, and is certainly what the Canucks need on the bench and in the dressing room. It isn’t always the most talented teams that win, more often it’s the best led teams.
So now Vancouver has Willie Desjardins, largely due to former Canuck Doug Lidster. A lot is still unknown, as Desjardins hasn’t left a trail of wins behind him rivaling a Trotz or Babcock, but he was well respected and the Canucks felt lucky to acquire him.
But his reputation is such that a reasonable hope of a return to winning ways now exists where previously there was none, and if it all leads to playoff glory in a not too distant future, a lot of that will be because of coaching.
Finally the Canucks may have the bench architect in Desjardins who can display leadership that inspires his team to achieve levels previously thought unattainable, and if they do, it looks like they will have Doug Lidster to thank for it.