Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A look at some 'free agent' NHL coaches

Five NHL teams (Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Dallas Stars) have either "relieved their head coach of his duties" or seen him retire this past season, meaning that five teams need a coach (or in some cases two or three coaches to finish a season) heading towards next season.  In today's DGA, I will take a look at some of the likely candidates to coach some team next year.

Ken Hitchcock 

About him - Ken Hitchcock won a Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999 (No, not a Superbowl, a Stanley Cup).
The case for him - He's won a Cup before and he could certainly be a good teacher for young players, such as teaching a young draft pick how to grow a moustache...and keep it all year long.
The case against him - He's a bit stubborn at times and wants to win, which won't coincide with Ottawa Senators fans constantly booing his decision to pull Brian Elliott for only allowing four goals in the first period.
The verdict - He would be a good fit in New Jersey, since he's already been fired three times.

Mike Haviland

About him - Haviland was the Blackhawks' assistant coach on their Stanley Cup team in 2010, so he's experienced a team blow up their roster immediately following a Stanley Cup championship.
The case for him - Hawks coach Joel Quenneville spent a few days in the hospital this past season, so Haviland has some extremely little head coaching experience.
The case against him - Don Cherry has played more NHL games than Haviland.
The verdict - As a minor league coach, Haviland's teams lost in the first round of playoffs perennially, which would make him fit right in with the Devils.

Kirk Muller

About him - He's the guy that stands next to Jacques know, the guy with the iPod earpieces in all of the time.
The case for him - All three Devils Stanley Cup winning coaches have been former Montreal Canadiens' players and/or coaches.
The case against him - He often gets bored during games, so he puts his earpieces back in and listens to a constantly repeating playlist of the Bouncing Soul's "Ole."  Oh wait, that's just Habs fans serenading the other team.
The verdict - He's my pick for Lou Lamoriello to hire, once he fires the Devils' head coach in December.

Guy Carbonneau

About him - He's worked for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, so he has access to expert advice from Donald S. Cherry.
The case for him - He hasn't yet played or coached in Ottawa, except for the occasional road game to Ottawa.
The case against him - I'm not sure how he would respond emotionally to seeing his best players get traded away every season, as the case in Florida and Ottawa.
The verdict - It could come full circle for Carbonneau if he goes to Ottawa, since he was fired in favor of a former Sens coach, Jacques Martin.

Bob Hartley

About him - He won a Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche, and although the Avalanche returned to the Conference Finals the following season, he was fired.
The case for him - He's one of just two coaches that's living proof that Ilya Kovalchuk has actually played in a playoff game before.
The case against him - He just signed a 2-year contract in Sweden.  With the healthcare benefits there, he's not leaving.
The verdict - He'll realize how much he misses coaching in the NHL someday, perhaps once he realizes that Sweden doesn't have a big silver trophy for the league's champion every year.  Then again, he wouldn't know about that if he became a coach of the Panthers or Senators either.

Michel Therrien

About him - He replaced Eddie Olczyk as the Penguins head coach after being fired in Montreal after the lockout.  He was Sidney Crosby's first NHL head coach.
The case for him - At the time of his firing in Pittsburgh, he was just four games coached behind Eddie Johnston for the most in franchise history.
The case agaisnt him - He was fired, replaced by Dan Bylsma, the man who led the same Penguins to win the Stanley Cup just months later.  That's pretty brutal.
The verdict - During Therrien's tenure with Pittsburgh, he took them from dead last in attendance to a top-5 team.  Trade Crosby to the Panthers and sign Therrien.

Mike Keenan

About him - Keenan has done something that causes most people to do a double-take.  He won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers as their head coach.  Not many people (since the existence of color TV) can say that.
The case for him - He coached the Flyers and Blackhawks through some of their great, though Stanley Cup-less years during the 1980s and 1990s.
The case against him - He hasn't been able to hold a job very long during any of his assignments.
The verdict - Judging by what I just said, he'll probably be released by Versus this summer.

Marc Crawford

About him - Crawford was a Stanley Cup winning coach with the Quebec Nordiques Colorado Avalanche in 1996.
The case for him - He has several accolades besides the Stanley Cup: he's won an Adams Trophy and coached the Canadian National team during the 1998 Olympics.
The case against him - He's never been fired.  He'd get eaten alive in New Jersey.
The verdict - Unfortunately, the Phoenix Coyotes are not searching for a new coach, since Crawford has plenty of experience with hockey-related lawsuits.

Craig MacTavish

About him - He was on the 1994 Rangers' Stanley Cup team, so like Keenan, he's experienced something few have since World War II.
The case for him - He was a teammate of Wayne Gretzky and had more penalty minutes than recently retired Sabres legend Andrew Peters.
The case against him - His head coaching experience is limited to the Edmonton Oilers, so unfortunately, he has no NHL head coaching experience.
The verdict - If the Oilers' rebuilding period doesn't go very well, I'm sure Steve Tambellini would consider re-hiring MacTavish, so we should know by 2025.

Ted Nolan

About him - Nolan had an unsuccessful stint as an Islanders head coach.
The case for him - Well, it's the Islanders.  He hasn't coached NHL talent since 1997, aside from the great Alexei Yashin.  Where is that Yashin nowadays?
The case against him - Quite honestly, he's a bit insane.  He claims that Rick DiPietro was their starting goalie when he was with them.  Full-time.
The verdict - He often gets overlooked, but he shouldn't.  Hasek won 59 games under Nolan and DiPietro won 58, both in two seasons.  That's a major accomplishment.