|(L to R) Rick McLaughlin, Jim Lites, Willie Desjardins and Scott White (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)|
Lites and the entire Dallas organization are obviously extremely pleased with the work that Coach Desjardins did in Texas this season. They knew it wasn't an easy task from the start.
"When Willie started 3-6-2, I think we were all a little nervous," said Lites. "We had dealt him a pretty hard hand. We were pretty young. It's been unbelievable the job he, Doug Lidster and Scott White have done finding players and taking them and making them not just competitive but ultra-competitive. They've done a great job of teaching these players how to play."
Former Dallas coach, GM and current Senior Advisor to Hockey Operations, Bob Gainey, heaps praise on Dejardins and his systems work with the team, according to Lites.
"The guy I rely on more than anyone as a friend, mentor and confidant is Bob Gainey. Bob pays a lot of attention to what goes on here, and he loves Willie Desjardins. What we know and see is that when you are playing in a Texas Stars uniform for Willie Desjardins, you're playing the right way. You're getting pucks deep; you're clearing the zone. He uses ice time as a tool. He doesn't let guys float. If you don't play well, you sit."
That player growth has been evident in the number of callups that have been earned out of this group this season.
"You can see guys grow as they come here. There is no honor more important for an NHL franchise than to have their AHL coach win Coach of the Year. It means he's really good and you're really good. It's always a harbinger of future success. It would be one thing if we were dumping a lot of veteran guys down here, but we're not."
Looking forward to the playoffs, Lites is realistic about the Dallas Stars' hopes to make the postseason.
"You'll be helped if Dallas doesn't make the playoffs. We've set it up so that three guys come right back. One thing that may [have been missing Saturday night] is the forward talent pool is a little thinner. If Reilly Smith and Matt Fraser and Alex Chiasson come back and assuming Ritchie is healthy, you're going to be a very difficult team to play against and beat. I'm not cheering against the Dallas Stars; we're being realistic."
Past the playoffs, Dallas has decisions to make about how many players they slot in from the American League to start in Dallas next season. Lites feels that it could "four or five".
"Those decisions ultimately get made by the general manager and our development team including Les Jackson and Scott White. We're confident that there are four or five guys that are going to be capable of playing in the NHL relatively soon. Ritchie's close. He's probably a guy that starts [in the AHL]. We think everyone should play some in the American League. I would imagine that two or three of these defensemen will find their way onto our opening roster."
Lites added, "The future is rosy and bright and you don't get that without quality coaching."
Dallas brass including Lites, GM Joe Nieuwendyk and others will surely be back soon if Texas can make a deep playoff run.
"A Calder Cup championship would be wonderful; we'd love it."