Pierre Dorion is nothing if not sure of himself.
In May of 2016, when the Senators’ newly promoted general manager presented Guy Boucher as his first head coach hire, Dorion couldn’t have sounded more sure of himself.
What goes around comes around, and so it’s somewhat amusing to look at the Senators’ recent publicized job description for their new head coach. Dorion said he will be looking for a "teacher," a "listener," a "communicator" and "tactician" who brings structure and game planning.
Looking back, these are almost precisely the virtues he extolled about Boucher less than three years ago.
"Guy checks all the boxes," Dorion said when he hired Boucher, referencing his abilities as a "communicator," his defensive structure and his knowledge of the Xs and Os of the game.
Ah, well, that was then. This is now.
After firing Boucher last Friday with 18 games remaining in the season, Dorion clearly grew impatient overnight, having told a reporter a day before the firing that all staff would be reviewed at season’s end.
Given Dorion’s abrupt change of heart, and the inevitability of Boucher’s demise with his contract expiring and the Senators mired in last place, the coaching search begins anew.
We present here not Dorion’s expected list of candidates, but rather, some interesting coaches for consideration. Keeping in mind that the Senators have not historically spent money on elite NHL coaches, and owner Eugene Melnyk has said he’d spend "close to the cap" by 2021 as the Senators roster matures, it makes sense for the club to hire a strong teacher to get Ottawa’s prospects where they need to be in a couple of years.
For these reasons, we don’t include expensive, recently-fired coaches such as Joel Quenneville and Todd McLellan as it’s not realistic that the Senators will go that route.
In no particular order, here’s our list of ten intriguing candidates:
Dig deep in the Way Back Vault and you’ll discover Vigneault was an assistant to Rick Bowness on the expansion Senators before going on to NHL head coaching jobs in Montreal, Vancouver and New York.
Vigneault, 57, a local guy who played for and coached the QMJHL Hull (now Gatineau) Olympiques, might be a bit rich for the Senators blood. But at least he has a year left on his Rangers contract (at $4.25 million) so the Rangers would eat part of that bill. It would be intriguing to see if Vigneault sees this turbulent Ottawa situation as a fit.
Speaking of deja vu all over again, Martin is the sentimental choice of a lot of fans and media in Ottawa who remember the stability he brought to a dysfunctional Senators organization – sound familiar? — in 1996.
Martin, 66, is an excellent teacher, works well with young players and has guided the Pittsburgh Penguins defence as an assistant coach. But would Melnyk re-hire the guy he fired after the 2004 playoff loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs? That was the series of Melnyk’s "We’re going to kill them!" quote after a Game 6 OT win in Ottawa. The Senators fell meekly in Game 7.
The man they call "Crow" is undergoing a working audition as interim coach for the balance of the season. Dorion has said Crawford will be considered for the full time position. Having worked as an associate coach under Boucher since 2016, Crawford understands the situation here and knows the players as well as anyone. It will be up to Dorion to decide if he wants a fresh voice or feels Crawford represents enough of a difference from Boucher. Crawford, 58, has mellowed some from the wild man who coached Colorado to the 1996 Stanley Cup.
Here’s another coach who knows the Ottawa kids. Mann, 49, has done a terrific job with AHL Belleville this season, where a late charge has made the scorching-hot B-Sens a surprising playoff contender. And yet, Mann will be judged not by wins and losses but on the development of young Logan Brown, Drake Batherson, newly acquired defenceman Erik Brannstrom etc. So far, so good. He just might be the Mann for the job, an easy, organizational promotion that won’t break the bank.
Here’s an NHL assistant who deserves a shot at a head coaching gig. An outstanding defenceman for the Ottawa 67’s Memorial Cup champs of 1984, Shaw went on to be a co-captain of the early Senators in the mid-1990s. Currently an assistant coach with Columbus, Shaw, 54, would instill defensive structure. He was a strong candidate for the Senators job during the process that hired Boucher, and remains a strong one now.
This would represent a slick steal from the Maple Leafs’ backyard. Keefe, a former Pembroke Lumber Kings coach, is one of the AHL’s best — a 2018 Calder Cup winner and franchise wins record holder for the Toronto Marlies. The 38-year-old Keefe has street cred in the Ottawa Valley as the guy who resurrected the Pembroke Lumber Kings. Leafs GM Kyle Dubas appreciated Keefe’s success coaching the OHL Soo Greyhounds, where Dubas and Keefe crossed paths. To his credit, Keefe escaped the dark shadow of his former agent David Frost and appears to be the Maple Leafs coach in waiting, unless another NHL team grabs him first.
Local royalty (Ottawa West), Richardson has already done the dance as the Senators head coach heir apparent, but didn’t get a sniff from Dorion in 2016 despite his long stature as AHL coach at Binghamton and former assistant coach in Ottawa. Richardson, 49, has done a nice job as an assistant in Montreal, where the Canadiens are having a turnaround season. Can’t see how he’d be in favour now if he wasn’t three years ago, but he should be so he’s on our list.
A Bryan Murray favourite, Carvel was an assistant coach for two Murray-managed NHL teams that reached the Cup finals, the 2003 Anaheim Ducks and 2007 Senators. More recently, Carvel, 48, has shown the ability to revive a moribund college hockey program, posting the first winning season for UMass-Amherst in ten years. Ranked No. 2 in America, the Minutemen are 26-7 overall and 18-5-0 in their conference, sitting atop the Hockey East standings for the first time in school history. Hockey East includes Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College and UMass Lowell.
A Roger Neilson disciple and fitness freak with Leadville 100 bike race credentials, Eakins has personal relations skills that are off the charts. The 52-year-old coach of the AHL San Diego Gulls is likely to step up into the vacant Anaheim Ducks coaching job in the off-season. Eakins was adored by his Toronto Marlies players and was thrust into the coach-eating Edmonton Oilers organization as their bench boss from 2013-15. Deserves a second chance in the NHL.
Yeo was interviewed for the job but lost out in 2016. Whether that brings him back for another shot remains to be seen. Fired by the St. Louis Blues in November, Yeo, 45, had an extended run with the Minnesota Wild from 2011-16, where he was once the NHL’s youngest coach. The Blues have caught fire under new coach Craig Berube.