Some established names have already spun out of the coaching carousel in what is, for all but eight teams now, the NHL off-season.
Former Florida Panthers bench boss Gerard Gallant was tapped to guide the new Vegas Golden Knights next year and — in a move that really reinforces clubs’ tendencies to go with what they know — Ken Hitchcock will begin a second tour in Dallas 15 years after originally leaving the Stars.
Even John Stevens’ promotion in Los Angeles speaks to comfort with familiarity.
Right now, coaching vacancies exist in Buffalo, Florida and
Vancouver, while Bruce Cassidy is still, technically, an interim coach in Boston. Until those spots are filled, we’re likely to hear a lot about candidates who are known commodities and might be getting a second or third kick at the can.
But what about the off-the-board guys who rarely make headlines?
Driven by that question, we chatted with one member of the coaching fraternity about five of his emerging brothers. And in the interest of avoiding repetition, each of the people he mentioned possess the one trait required to lead the modern NHLer: a willingness and ability to communicate.
Todd Reirden, 45, Washington Capitals, Associate coach
Reirden’s name has appeared in Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column before, so he’s probably the most recognizable guy on this list. Being a finalist for the Calgary Flames opening last summer put him on some radars and prompted the Caps to bump his title to that of associate coach (the same position Stevens held before replacing Darryl Sutter in L.A.)
Players rave about Reirden, whose career behind the bench started as a volunteer with his NCAA alma mater, Bowling Green. Reirden, who played nearly 200 games in the NHL, was with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization for six seasons before joining the Capitals with Barry Trotz in 2014-15.
“He was a defenceman, but he sees the game pretty offensively,” said the coach we spoke to.
Lane Lambert, 52, Washington Capitals, Assistant coach
Hey, when a team wins the Presidents’ Trophy in consecutive years, it’s not just a sign of great players, but smart men in suits.
Lambert, a long-ago roommate of Steve Yzerman’s with the Detroit Red Wings, has worked with Trotz both in Nashville and D.C. In a profession that can make people very hot under the collar, those who know Lambert speak of his even temperament.
“They talk about his calmness and his ability to relate to the players,” the coach said.
Jay Woodcroft, 40, Edmonton Oilers, Assistant coach
Woodcroft is now on his third stop working closely with Oilers head coach Todd McLellan. The two spent three seasons together on Mike Babcock’s staff with the Red Wings from 2005-06 through 2007-08, then another seven with the San Jose Sharks before joining Edmonton.
That history proves one thing; Woodcroft can connect with mega-star players, from Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit, to Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski in San Jose to Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in Edmonton.
He does some of his best work drawing up power plays — including for Sidney Crosby and the gold medal-winning Canadian team at the 2015 world championship — and is almost always the guy slotting Xs and Os in any kind of crucial moment.
“[McLellan’s] trust in him is huge,” said the coach.
Brad Larsen, 39, Columbus Blue Jackets, Assistant coach
A left-winger who saw nearly 300 games in The Show, Larsen has been a head coach in the AHL and just completed his third season with the Blue Jackets. Say what you will about Columbus bench boss John Tortorella, but he sets an incredibly high standard for hard work and passion — something Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was exposed to while working with Tortorella before leading Pittsburgh to a Cup.
Among the things that make Larsen unique is the fact he can diagram special-teams deployment at both ends of the ice.
“He’s run the power play and penalty kill, which is rare,” the coach said.
Jamie Kompon, 50, Winnipeg Jets, Assistant coach
Few people have had more exposure to high-level success in the past five years than Kompon, who won a championship as an assistant with the grind-you-down Kings in 2012, then joined the turbo-charged Chicago Blackhawks and got a ring there in 2013.
After the 2013-14 campaign, Kompon made the bold decision to step away from a sweet NHL gig and take full control of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.
“He left the comfort of the Blackhawks to go to Portland to be the head coach and GM, and learn things from that side,” said the coach.
Kompon joined the Jets staff for this season and is known for his unreal ability to mentally catalogue his team’s plays.