Thursday, May 19, 2011
Where will the coaching carousel stop?
By Scott Burnside
It is hard to believe, but with a little more than a month to go before the entry draft, not one offseason coaching vacancy has been filled.
Some of that may be teams waiting until the playoffs are over before approaching other teams about current staff members. Many general managers were overseas at international tournaments, including the recently completed World Championships. And, well, what's the hurry, really?
As Nashville coach Barry Trotz once famously said of the entry draft, he was just there to be eye candy.
That is not to say that GMs aren't talking to potential coaches. Various sources have told ESPN.com that openings in New Jersey, Ottawa, Minnesota, Florida and Dallas are being discussed at various levels.
If Devils GM Lou Lamoriello decides he needs someone with experience, Ken Hitchcock has to be a candidate.
But where will the candidates land when the coaching carousel stops sometime in the coming weeks?
Every year there is a hot coaching candidate that appears on the horizon from either the minor pros or an existing NHL coaching staff. This year's guy is Kirk Muller, who has survived a couple of coaching regimes in Montreal as an assistant and seems ready to take on an NHL team as a head coach.
There are lots of options for the well-liked Muller.
We all know New Jersey president and GM Lou Lamoriello likes the familiar, and, as a former Devils player, Muller certainly fits that bill. Having coached with the defensive-minded Jacques Martin the last couple of years in Montreal, it's likely Muller would jibe with Devils hockey.
The one drawback for this potential fit is that Lamoriello went with a coach who had no NHL head-coaching experience a year ago in longtime Devils player John MacLean, and it was an unmitigated disaster.
That may mean Muller looks to Dallas, where he played at the end of his career. He played alongside Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk while in Dallas, so you know there would be a comfort level there.
Also, Nieuwendyk is looking to change the attitude and culture around the team after whiffing on his first coaching go-round when he fired Dave Tippett and installed Marc Crawford, who he then fired at the end of this regular season. Muller may be just the guy to get all that done in Big D.
Back to the Devils for a moment. If Lamoriello decides he needs someone with experience to get his Devils back to the playoffs, Ken Hitchcock has to be a candidate.
There were whispers that Lamoriello wanted Hitchcock to come to New Jersey and essentially mentor MacLean before last season, but that didn’t pan out. Now it could be a nice fit.
For those concerned about Hitchcock's ability to get the most out of Ilya Kovalchuk, they would do well to recall the success Hitchcock had with Brett Hull in Dallas, where they won a Stanley Cup together. Hitchcock also helped make Rick Nash a better two-way hockey player in Columbus, even though their relationship may have gone south toward the end of Hitchcock's tenure.
Hitchcock also has a strong connection to Dallas, having won a Cup there in 1999. Among the players on that roster: Nieuwendyk. Hmmm.
2011 NHL Coaching Changes
The 2010-11 regular season had only barely ended when teams started to make changes to their coaching staffs. Keep track of all the coaching changes. »
The Minnesota Wild are looking to go in a new direction now that GM Chuck Fletcher dispatched Todd Richards after the Wild stutter-stepped their way out of the playoffs for the third straight season.
Longtime Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish, relegated to tournament duty and television analysis the past couple of years, has been linked to the Wild job. But we think this might be a good landing place for former Pittsburgh head coach Michel Therrien.
Therrien worked with Fletcher when both were with the Penguins, so Fletcher saw first-hand the work Therrien did with the Pens' young prospects in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and in leading the Pens to a berth in the 2008 Stanley Cup finals.
The other guy to watch for the Wild will be Mike Yeo, who is doing yeoman work with the Wild's AHL franchise in Houston. Yeo might not be ready to make the jump, but he was an assistant in Pittsburgh when Fletcher was there then was lured to the Wild.
You have to think Therrien would be someone Ottawa GM Bryan Murray would want to take a look at, as well.
The Senators, of course, have seen a dizzying number of coaches parade through Scotiabank Place in the past couple of years. While Murray received a contract extension, mercurial owner Eugene Melnyk's patience must be wearing thin after foolishly boasting midseason that the Sens were ready to take off, only to see them sink like a stone. There is some reason for optimism with the young talent in Ottawa, but it will be a struggle to get that team back to the playoffs next season, and a firm hand like Therrien’s might be the perfect tonic.
Another coach whose name will no doubt pop up in connection to Ottawa is Bob Hartley. He is from the area, and sources have told ESPN.com he was among those being considered a couple of coaches ago, when the job went to Craig Hartsberg.
But Hartley has committed to coach in Switzerland and isn't believed to be in the market for an NHL job at this point.
It will be interesting to see what kind of interest former head coach Pete DeBoer generates after Florida GM Dale Tallon relieved him of his duties shortly after the end of the regular season. DeBoer couldn't quite coax the talent-challenged Panthers into the playoffs, but when he emerged from the junior ranks he had plenty of suitors, including the Ottawa Senators.
Could that be a fit, especially now that DeBoer has a couple of NHL years under his belt and is still considered a good teaching coach? Or will Melnyk still harbor a grudge about being spurned by DeBoer?
Either way, the likeable DeBoer will land somewhere. That seems certain.
Canadian World Junior head coach Dave Cameron is another with ties to Ottawa. Cameron coaches Melnyk's major junior team in Mississauga, Ontario; has some AHL head-coaching experience; and played in the NHL. But one wonders if Murray will go a more traditional route, after the Cory Clouston experiment failed, and hire a proven NHL coach such as Hartley, Hitchcock, Therrien or MacTavish.
As for Tallon, look for the Florida GM to go with what is familiar as he tries to replicate the post-lockout success he had in Chicago. That means trying to lure Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland to South Florida.
Haviland filled in this past season when coach Joel Quenneville was ill, and his personality seems to be a good fit for the youthful Panthers, who are still a couple of years away from being a legitimate playoff contender.
Another non-NHL coaching prospect is Kevin Dineen, whose name always pops up in these discussions. He continues to toil away for the Portland Pirates in the AHL, but his NHL pedigree is strong, and look for him to jump into the mix for a team looking to go a different direction coaching-wise.
Although some of Detroit's special teams and defensive numbers haven't been all that great the past couple of regular seasons -- injuries being a significant factor in that -- assistants Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon have a wealth of NHL coaching experience at the assistant level and went to the finals in 2009. MacLean also won a Cup with the Wings in 2008.
Both could find themselves on interview lists, especially since McCrimmon announced Thursday he would not return to the Red Wings, saying he enjoyed his time in Detroit, "but there are things out there right now that I have interest in," according to The Sporting News.