Ranking the NHL coaching openings – and the best fits for each

With former Dallas Stars head coach Rick Bowness stepping aside after an exemplary not to mention epic career in coaching, that brings the current number of head coaching jobs available in the NHL to six. It would have been seven, but the New York Islanders last week tabbed longtime assistant Lane Lambert for his first-ever head coaching gig after they shockingly parted ways with Barry Trotz.

Each of the remaining openings – and we’re including Chicago, even though Derek King remains listed on the Blackhawks’ website as the team’s interim head coach – represents a different challenge and a different level of opportunity for whoever signs on.

To be clear, no one will balk at getting an NHL head coaching job. There are just 32, after all. But these openings are not created equally, so let’s have a look at how the current vacancies size up, with some pros and cons and who might be good fits.

1. Dallas Stars

Let’s start with the opening created by Bowness’s decision to step away from coaching. His assistants outside veteran goalie coach Jeff Reese were also relieved of their duties, creating a clean slate for whoever takes over in Dallas. The Stars had a magical run to the 2020 Stanley Cup final in the bubble in Edmonton but since have struggled to create and maintain an identity, missing the playoffs in ’21 and getting bounced in seven games in the first round against Calgary after netminder Jake Oettinger stood on his head for seven straight games.

 

Pros

The Stars boast great ownership and Dallas is a terrific city in which to live and work. True, the Stars, along with the MLB Rangers and NBA Mavs and every other sporting team and/or event, will always live in the giant shadow cast by the Dallas Cowboys. Is that a pro or a con? Discuss amongst yourselves. Certainly this is a city that requires the NHL team to create its own buzz, and we’re guessing that will factor into the hire on some level, especially after the team went with an unknown in Jim Montgomery at the start of the 2019 season. That ended badly with Montgomery’s alcohol issues leading to his dismissal and the promotion of Bowness to the top job. There is a terrific young core in place starting with the dazzling Oettinger and including defensive gem Miro Heiskanen and young offensive stars Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz. The defense is solid and deep. There’s a better-than-average pipeline of young players coming.

 

Cons

The challenge for any new coach in Dallas is going to be in coaxing more offense from a team that was 21st in the league in goals scored per game and was tied for 29th in 5-on-5 scoring. The Stars scored 14 goals in seven games against Calgary. That’s not great. Part of the problem is the ongoing decline in production from the team’s top two forwards (vis a vis salary cap commitment) in captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. The cap isn’t really the coach’s problem, but working around cap problems as it relates to the roster is the coach’s problem, and this is a big one for the Stars with Benn and Seguin swallowing almost $20 million annually in cap hit. So there’s a certain element of patching things together that must be administered if this team is going to be anything but a playoff bubble team and/or first-round fodder.

 

Who Fits?

Don’t sleep on Rick Tocchet getting a good, hard look. Given owner Tom Gaglardi’s desire to win and the failed experiment with former collegiate coach Montgomery, I fully expect this job will go to a proven NHL head coach. Trotz would likewise be a nice fit but you’ll see we think that of Trotz pretty much anywhere. Ditto for Tocchet. Pete DeBoer, recently fired by Vegas, would be a natural fit, as DeBoer’s teams are almost always playoff-bound and he knows the Western Conference like the back of his hand.

Author: Lucy Green