Crowded coach class
There will be six, and maybe as many as eight, new coaches patrolling behind NHL benches next season -- new, at least, in the sense that they'll be different than the coaches who finished the season in their respective places.
It seems that in the NHL you just can't keep an old coach down. Case in point: The Avalanche were the first to name their new man when they tabbed former coach Tony Granato to step in for Joel Quenneville, who earlier had replaced...Granato. Might be a good idea for Coach Q to hang on to any real estate he has in the greater Denver area, just in case.
Of course, Quenneville remains a highly regarded commodity, meaning he could end up with the job in Atlanta, Florida, Ottawa, Toronto or San Jose. And those are just the teams with the Help Wanted sign in plain view. There's a chance that Tampa Bay's John Tortorella, who just returned from a stint coaching Team USA, may yet open his locker to find a pink slip. So, too, could Peter Laviolette, whose Hurricanes melted down in the season's final week to give away what looked like a certain playoff spot.
No wonder that everyone with career aspirations and no fear of the firing that could be just a season away is polishing his resume. With the NHL and AHL seasons about to conclude, thus freeing up several candidates for interviews, and with the July 1 start of free agency looming, you can expect most, if not all, of these positions to be filled within the next five weeks.
Each of the jobs offers varying degrees of challenge and pressure that call for differing set of tools. That's why the list of names being tossed about is longer than usual this time around.
New-to-the-unemployment-line types like Ron Wilson, Bob Hartley and Quenneville might not be out of work for long. NHL assistants like Tampa Bay's Mike Sullivan, Detroit's Todd MacLellan and Pittsburgh's Andre Savard are generating buzz. Fresh faces like Kevin Dineen, John Anderson, Randy Cunneyworth and Scott Gordon, all coaching in the minors, or junior leaders Pete DeBoer and Craig Hartsburg are ready for their shot in the big leagues.
The best coaching resume belongs to Pat Burns, who boasts more than 1,000 games of NHL head coaching experience, three Jack Adams awards and one Stanley Cup. But the former steward of the Habs, Bruins, Leafs and Devils is burdened by the concern that comes from his pair of bouts with cancer. Just 56, Burns has slowly worked his way back into the game, scouting for the Devils and serving as an assistant coach with Canada at the world championships. But even with the disease in remission, a team would be taking a big chance. The stress on both his physical and mental well-being would be considerable, but Burns has always been a battler. And it's that very quality that should have him high on the wish lists of San Jose and Ottawa.
Dineen doesn't have much of a coaching resume, but he's caught a lot of eyes for his ability to win with a constantly shifting roster during his three seasons with the AHL's Portland Pirates. An 18-year-vet of the NHL, Dineen appears to be cut from the same cloth as Detroit's Mike Babcock and Anaheim's Randy Carlyle. He's tough, demanding and well prepared, and he earns the respect of his players. But Dineen also has a 2006 drunk driving arrest on his record, and that was mentioned as a possible reason for his being passed over last summer. Now, with a little more water under the bridge, it may be time for him to get his chance...if he wants it.
Dineen is under contract to the Ducks until June 30, but reports suggest that GM Brian Burke already has offered him a job with the big club. With Carlyle firmly in place, it won't be as head coach, but if Dineen is more comfortable taking it slow, the option is there. He's playing it cool with the media, saying he's appreciative of the offer and considering it. His style seems like a good fit in Atlanta and Toronto, and if the Tampa Bay job opens up, he might work well there, too.
There's all kinds of speculation, both whispered and published, out of Miami and Pittsburgh that the Panthers are just waiting for the Stanley Cup finals to be over so they can announce that Penguins assistant Andre Savard will be their man. The 54-year-old hasn't been an NHL head coach since his one-season stint with the Quebec Nordiques in 1987-88. Since then, though, he's filled nearly every work boot in hockey, scouting and acting as assistant coach in Ottawa, along with stints as the GM with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs and the Montreal Canadiens.
In his second season assisting Michel Therrien with the defense in Pittsburgh, Savard is earning praise for the improved play that has fueled the team's drive to the Cup finals. The Pens allowed 70 fewer goals this season, but it's the more reliable play of youngsters Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik, and even veteran Sergei Gonchar, that brought Savard's name into the picture.
Quenneville, who did a fine job getting an injury-riddled Avs squad into the second round, won't be twiddling his thumbs for long. His past connections with Florida GM Jacques Martin make him an interesting option there. His ability to handle a mix of established vets and youngsters makes him ideal for San Jose and Ottawa. But don't be surprised if he gets the call in Toronto.
A former defenseman with the Leafs, and coach of their AHL St. John's affiliate in 1991-92, Quenneville has the experience and personality to handle coaching in the center of the hockey universe. He has also worked with interim GM Cliff Fletcher in the past, making him the early favorite for that spot.
Atlanta could be looking to go young. Chicago Wolves coach John Anderson and Scott Gordon of the Providence Bruins, seem like the best bets. Anderson has the Wolves, the Thrashers' top farm team, in the AHL finals for the fifth time in his 11 seasons with the team. Gordon, who played for the old IHL Atlanta Knights and whose wife runs a ballet academy in the city, is in the mix after an impressive six-year run with the Baby B's.
With a need to put an end to what has been described as a country-club atmosphere in Ottawa, expect an established disciplinarian like Wilson or Hartley to get the nod. However, if Tortorella becomes available in the next two weeks, look for him to land the gig.