The top candidates for NHL head-coaching jobs this offseason

There was this coach I heard about. He hadn’t yet served as an NHL head coach. His qualifications indicated he was ready to do so.

So like a fan of a new indie band double-checking its coolness with a music snob, I reached out to an NHL team executive to ask how they felt about the guy.

“I don’t know why he’s on the ‘Wow, why doesn’t he have a head-coaching job yet?’ tier,” they said. “If we count NHL assistants and AHL head coaches, there are about 100 guys in the candidate pool. What makes him stand out to you as being among the top of that group?”

I didn’t really have an answer. To quote the movie “Major League”: Well, cross him off then …

If last offseason was the NHL’s Summer of the Netminder, this one is the Summer of the Bench Boss. As that team executive noted, the number of potential candidates for open jobs could reach triple digits when one factors in former head coaches, current assistant and associate coaches, minor league coaches, junior and NCAA coaches, international coaches and some of those out-of-the-box options, like when Martin St. Louis went from coaching his kids to coaching the Montreal Canadiens this season.

The Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets all have official vacancies; the Chicago Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers and Florida Panthers all currently have interim coaches.

Here is what I’m hearing on some of the top candidates, some other coaches who are being discussed by teams (but probably won’t make the cut this year) and some rising coaching candidates to tuck away for the future.

 

The top candidates

Barry Trotz

The third-winningest coach in NHL history (he has 914 victories) was fired by the New York Islanders after two trips to the third round of the playoffs and one disastrous non-playoff season. What makes the 59-year-old an exemplary candidate isn’t just his coaching acumen, but the culture he instills around the teams that hire him.

Trotz would be a top candidate for any opening; and when one has the pick of the litter, might as well play with the pups a little bit, right?

The notion that Trotz and the Golden Knights have something in place has already bounced around the NHL echo chamber and was reported by ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. But I’ve heard he’s taking his time on making a decision. I’ve also been told by an NHL source that “taking his time” can be read as “stoking a bidding war” among teams for his services.

Getting a market-setting offer from Golden Knights owner Bill Foley wouldn’t be a bad starting point to that end, were we Barry Trotz.

 

Bruce Cassidy

Reading between the lines of Bruins team president Can Neely’s postseason comments, it was clear that Cassidy’s job wasn’t completely safe. But it was still shocking to see Cassidy dismissed after a run in which the Bruins advanced past the first round in four of six postseasons, played for the Stanley Cup in 2019 and had the best regular-season record of any team not named the Tampa Bay Lightning during his tenure.

Cassidy said on Thursday that teams were already reaching out for his services. “I wanna get back to work,” he said. “Hopefully it’s a really good fit for both sides.”

His availability changes things, potentially even for Trotz. “I wonder if Cassidy goes to Vegas because he works well with veterans,” one NHL source pondered.

Keep in mind that Vegas president of hockey operations George McPhee hired Cassidy when both were with the Washington Capitals. Cassidy clearly wasn’t ready for that job from 2002-03 to 2003-04. He is ready for the one in Vegas.

Author: Lucy Green