Connor McDavid and Mike Babcock.
This summer’s coaching carousel revolves around those two winners, 33 years apart in age. One has absolute control of his destiny; the other’s fate rests in a lottery.
But the logo those two guys wear in 2015-16 will have a significant impact on how the rest of the cards are played.
Say Arizona lands McDavid. Tippett would be crazy to leave, wouldn’t he? Say Edmonton does. Would the Oilers leave the development of such a talent in Todd Nelson’s hands, or try to land, say, a Ken Hitchcock (if let go) or Dan Bylsma?
The speculation is rich. But we won’t get a clear picture of the 2015-16 coaching landscape until (a) we know who has the No. 1 pick and (b) free-agent Babcock, playing close to the vest, signs a new deal.
Last summer the NHL saw six teams hire new head coaches. Seemed like a lot. This summer we should see more.
Here are the 11 teams in contention for a coaching change, ranked in order starting with the team most likely to pull the trigger.
When the Maple Leafs placed the title “INTERIM HEAD COACH” on Horachek’s nameplate, the modifier screamed: “Don’t get it twisted. This guy’s not our real head coach!” Though the Leafs’ miserable record since the mid-season firing of Randy Carlyle has squashed any shot of Horachek keeping his post next fall — and has increased Carlyle’s own value — few are blaming the substitute for the losing.
Toronto is expected to go big-game hunting — Babcock, Todd McLellan, Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter have all been in the rumour mill — this summer and find a long-term, proven replacement to oversee what will be a lengthy rebuild. There’s no salary cap on coaches; this is where Toronto can flex its wallet.
The Toronto Sun asked Leafs president Brendan Shanahan to comment on Horachek’s future with club.
Shanahan won’t speak yet, but Steve Keogh, the Leafs director of media relations, told the newspaper that “it is fair to say that management has been extremely impressed with Peter Horachek the man, and the way he has battled through this. His strength of character and resolve is on display through this difficult period.”
Don’t rule out a return to his previous post as assistant.
When Flyers owner Ed Snider rattled off the club’s keepers this week–Claude Giroux, Steve Mason…–Coach Berube’s name didn’t make the list. Snider sees this as a playoff team and wants GM Ron Hextall to make changes this summer. Change No. 1 is likely Berube.
“When you don’t make the playoffs, anything can happen,” Berube told CSNPhilly.com of his job security. “Especially here… It’s an organization that has a lot of pride. They want to be in the fight every year.”
An interesting side story to watch for: Kimmo Timonen, who will retire after this season, might be a candidate to re-join the Flyers organization as an assistant coach.
SCOTT STEVENS / ADAM OATES
Not unlike the situation in Toronto, the Devils’ performance after firing coach Peter DeBoer in season has only made the guy they pink-slipped look good. The coach-by-committee approach of Scott Stevens, Adam Oates and Lou Lamoriello is just a Band-Aid until Lamoriello sees who’s available after the regular season. Oates (short-lived as the head guy in Washington) and Stevens will be candidates, but we expect Lamoriello to aim for a new bench boss.
Fun fact: McLellan has never missed the playoffs in 20 seasons of coaching. Not-so-fun fact: That streak ends this spring, giving management the reason it needs to make a switch. The sense is, McLellan would be open to a fresh start anyway.
“I feel confident with myself and the coaching staff, but I’m also a realist,” McLellan told the Mercury News back in November. “I know that the team hasn’t performed to the level that any of us are happy with — not just ownership and management, but also coaches and players aren’t happy with the results.”
Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean said Tuesday he’s hearing rumblings that “Buffalo may make a big-time run at somebody” other than Nolan to coach the team next season. Though one could hardly blame the coaching staff for the Sabres’ ineptitude — management’s tank job to land Connor McDavid has been epic in scale and execution — GM Tim Murray did not hire Nolan (although he did remove the interim tag in 2014).
Also, Nolan spoke out against trading Tyler Myers right before the Sabres traded Tyler Myers, suggesting coach and GM aren’t always on the same page.
That said, the book on Nolan is he’s great with young players — the Sabres’ most important commodity in 2015-16.
Claude Julien has won a Stanley Cup and 57 playoff games while making seven straight post-season appearances, yet if Boston misses the playoffs, everyone is fair game. The team’s CEO, Charlie Jacobs, fired a warning shot to that effect back in early January.
“What matters to me is that I come in and do a job here. Whatever they decide they can decide. It really doesn’t matter to me,” Julien told reporters in February. “If they don’t think that the job was done to the expectations it should’ve been done, then that’s their prerogative. But those things don’t even faze me the least bit — trust me when I say that. I’m here. I’m happy. I’m doing my job.”
Question: If the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup this season, does that make it more or less likely Babcock re-signs in Detroit? I’m guessing less.
Babcock loves nothing more than winning, but does he want to bring his golden touch elsewhere? Would he want to oversee a rebuild in Buffalo or Toronto if that rebuild centres around a generational talent like McDavid?
“He might want to take on the challenge. Imagine that. You’d go down in history if you’re the guy that turned the Maple Leafs around,” said Red Wings and Leafs alumnus Larry Murphy this month. “He’d be a national hero. They’ll make him the Prime Minister.”
All we know for sure is #BabcockWatch will be one of the most fascinating off-season stories and that he’ll become the league’s highest-paid coach ever.
Here’s the thing. General manager Bob Murray must be feeling like he’s held up his end of the bargain to set the Ducks up for a Cup run over the last few years, locking up franchise players such as Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry; bolstering the offence through the Ryan Kesler trade; hanging onto Matt Beleskey with no guarantee he won’t walk; and adding players at the deadline (James Wisniewski, Simon Depres, Tomas Fleischmann).
It’s on Boudreau to take this group deeper than last season’s second-round exit. If Anaheim fails to reach the Western Conference final, he may be in jeopardy.
Sportsnet’s Mark Spector analyzed Nelson’s future nicely here.
The interim head coach, who has paid dues in the organization, has a decent shot at signing a permanent deal with the Oilers, especially if management cannot lure one of the marquee names on the market.
If the Oilers do replace Nelson, it will mark the club’s sixth head coaching change since 2009.
A mastermind when it comes to the team game — limiting scoring chances, killing penalties, spreading around ice-time — Hitchcock has a chance to both win the Presidents’ Trophy and get fired. Weird, huh?
The Blues have survived the first round of the playoffs just once in the last 11 seasons, and Hitchcock’s club has been a first-round exit the past two springs despite entering those series with home-ice advantage.
Three strikes, and he’s likely out. A deep run saves his job and invigorates a city.
The winningest coach in franchise history presents an interesting case. As with Nolan, the Coyotes’ purposely pitiful season is not his fault. And GM Don Maloney has been clear in his goal to overhaul the lineup, not the bench.
He’s under contract for three more seasons and won’t be fired, but does he want to be cut free and join a more immediate contender?