Canadian national junior team head coach Willie Desjardins yells instructions during practice

Canadian national junior team head coach Willie Desjardins yells instructions during practice

The Nucleus of Normal: Canucks Hire Desjardins, Patience is on the Menu

With Willie Desjardins, Jim Benning, and Trevor Linden, Vancouver has three NHL rookies as head coach, general manager, and president.

Originally published on White Cover Magazine


Golfers play their own game. Thieves call it ‘The Long Con’ and good things come to those who wait. Nice guys finish first, eventually. The Tortoise beat the Hare. (Kids, a hare is a rabbit.)

They’re all longer, cliched ways of meaning once thing, and that one thing is the most important thing right now for Willie Desjardins and for the Vancouver Canucks…


You know it’s a virtue. And you know how valuable a luxury it can be, but it’s very, very hard to practice it. The temptation is always to blow your dough on something the minute you get it, to jump out of the starting gate with the lead, to bluff early and stack up your poker chips.

But it rarely works, not in the end.

The Canucks know that very well, or at least their fans do. The team’s last regime, led by GM Mike Gillis and head coach Alain Vigneault, was all about the inception. Gillis’s first summer, he entered the ring with a shotgun blast to the face – a $20 million, two-year offer for Toronto’s Mats Sundin. Eventually, the vet took the deal, and it worked out just fine. The Canucks didn’t win a Cup that year, but they shocked the West to win the Northwest Division and they blew past St. Louis in the first round, losing in six games to Chicago in the conference semi-finals.

And over the next couple of years, Gillis’s feather-fluffing paid for itself, adding pieces like Manny Malhotra, Christian Ehrhoff, Dan Hamhuis, and Kyle Wellwood (come on, he was good for while) to a core that already had the Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Roberto Luongo, and blossoming players like Alex Burrows, Alex Edler, and Kevin Bieksa.

But after the Canucks lost that 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the floor shattered.

Gillis had put so much effort into impressing everyone and alienating the rest, he found himself without any friends.

(We don’t know for sure that other teams wouldn’t deal with Vancouver during their fall from 2012 to 2014, but we do know that Trevor Linden spent the first few weeks of his presidents’ job this spring repairing relationships and contacting general managers and executives around the league. If John Lennon had broken up with Yoko Ono and then suddenly he was sleeping on Paul’s couch the next day, you’d have to imagine he was mending fences.)

Patience wasn’t in Gillis’s dictionary. And it worked out for a little while.

But when the dust settled and the sun came up, the Canucks were hungover. There were in the middle of their Coke Years – every movie’s got a montage like that, where Ray Liotta is snorting so much snow (sorry, not snow but “Pittsburgh stuff”) and he is having a great time, but you’re looking in from the outside going, “Dude, you look terrible. When’s the last time you slept?” Dewie Cox had them. Johnny Cash had them.

Everyone goes through their Coke Years, even if those years having nothing to do with cocaine. It could be too much caffeine, or they could be a workaholic. They could even in Arnold Schwarzenegger in Jingle all the Way, missing their kid’s stupid karate demonstration all because he couldn’t leave his office five minutes earlier and then insulted a police officer for no good reason.

It doesn’t even have to be a real addiction – it’s more about those times you’ve floated through in your life, moving far faster than you’re ever supposed to move, only to come out the other end thinking, “Boy, I wasn’t.”

The Canucks have had their coke years and, again, they came close to actually pulling it off in the middle of them.

But now they’ve got their patience back. Their new triumvirate – made up of Linden, their new GM Jim Benning, and Monday’s appointed head coach Willie Desjardins – is a nucleus of normal.

I’d pay to watch Desjardins and Benning have a showdown to see who can use the words “You Know, Like” more in one 30-second speech.

It’s a group of guys who just love hockey, who are all here because they finished their respective playing days and couldn’t let the game drive away.

The Canucks have finally found the right recipe for success.

But let’s hope their ownership has the patience to let this thing marinate.