The Stars made a point of giving Willie Desjardins the title of ``associate coach'' when they hired him in the summer, in part because Desjardins was a coveted commodity on the free agent coaching market and Dallas had to woo him with a title like that, and in part because they do like the idea of bringing in a top-level voice to work with head coach Marc Crawford.
That said, Crawford still will run the bench in a similar manner to what he did last season. Desjardins will team with assistant coach Charlie Huddy to run the defense and penalty kill, but Crawford still will select all players, including the defensemen, when he's matching lines during a game. Assistant coach Stu Barnes will watch the first period from the pressbox, and then will come down to the bench for the second and third periods. Last season, Barnes and former assistant coach Andy Moog alternated between time in the pressbox and time on the bench.
Dallas has gone with four coaches on the bench at varying times over the past three or four seasons, as Ulf Dahlen also used to alternate between time in the press box and time on the bench with Dave Tippett's coaching staff.
When asked if he thought four guys on the bench could be too many, Crawford said: ``I think there are a lot of teams doing it. I think there is a lot of value to a guy watching the game from upstairs and then bringing that knowledge to the bench. He gets to see things from up top, he gets a feel for what is happening, and then he gets the perspective of how can a player use that in a game. I think it's an ideal situation. We also have video guys who will be feeding information to Stu and Willie when they both are on the bench.''
Barnes will also be given the job of faceoff guru. He will work not just on centers being better in winning actual draws, but an entire team concept that leads to a better faceoff winning percentage. Dallas ranked 26th out of 30 teams in faceoff winning percentage at 48.1 percent last season.
``It's not just the centermen, it's team play and attitude, it's knowing where everyone is,'' Crawford said. ``We should be better than we are and we're going to get better. A lot of it is experience for the centerman, and there are just some who are better than others, but I do believe you can get better with work and attention to detail. I think there is focus that you need as a centerman and there is focus you need as a teammate. That has to become a priority.''
Desjardins will work slowly into running a unit. He will help with the defense, he will work with Huddy on running the penalty kill, and he will be a big idea guy. He has experience as a head coach, but all of it is at the lower level, so this is a big step up to the NHL. He is expected to take some time to get to know the NHL personnel. In the mean time, he will have a big hand in designing the penalty kill.
``We've worked hard on the PK. We worked hard on the areas where we wanted to improve,'' Crawford said. ``We've talked a lot about we wanted to be a harder team to play against, so how are we going to do that? That's an area where we really can play with a little more pressure and aggressiveness.''
Desjardins also is expected to be a big voice in team meetings, in planning and in helping to run practices.
``For me, I like the idea of having someone who has been a head coach and really thinks like a head coach, because I think that's something that I can relate to,'' Crawford said. ``We have great insight from Stu and Charlie from a playing background, but what they don't have is that understanding of being a guy who has to look big picture and has to make those decisions. Willie has been a head coach. He has a lot of experience with looking at a team in that way.''
Crawford added that the discussion have been good so far. He said it reminds him of the days when he and assistants Jacques Martin and Joel Quenneville would get into debates while coaching the Colorado Avalanche.
``I think our chemistry has been really good. Willie has fostered a lot more discussion, and that is something that we definitely would be one of the great byproducts of his hiring,'' Crawford said. ``He's an idea guy, and I think idea guys get the conversations started, and that's something that is very healthy for a coaching staff. I think it's actually good if you don't agree all of the time, because I think the process of talking things out can lead to even more ideas and more creativity.''