The Vegas Golden Knights will ride into the NHL next season as the newest franchise in the league and the first big league club in the Nevada city’s history. We know the name, the logo, and the arena — next we’ll find out who will make up the roster in this summer’s expansion draft and, perhaps sooner, who the first coach in franchise history will be.
That decision will be up to general manager George McPhee, the former long-time Washington Capitals GM who hired six coaches in his time with the team.
“I would say that George is looking for a particular type of coach,” owner Bill Foley said recently on Toronto’s Sportsnet 590 The Fan. “He’s not looking for a first-termer. He’s looking for a guy who has coached a couple of other – has learned a lot – and has coached in a couple of other teams.
“He has a list of six or seven candidates. Some may or may not be available. The coaching situation will probably not resolve itself until after the regular season. That’ll be my guess.
“I would say the coach that we name is going to be a recognizable individual.”
With the Caps, McPhee hired Ron Wilson, Bruce Cassidy, Glen Hanlon, Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter and Adam Oates. Of those names only one — Wilson — had head coaching experience at the NHL level at the time of his hiring. So although Foley suggests McPhee may not hire a first-timer, the GM’s history suggests we shouldn’t rule that out.
McPhee says he and assistant Kelly McCrimmon are working together to find the best fit and that all options are on the table.
“I’m completely opened minded on this,” McPhee told Sportsnet after the name and logo reveal. “Ideally it would be a guy with experience, but we’ll see. Kelly McCrimmon and I met the other day, we’ve kept independent lists, we finally got together and compared those lists and talked about the things we wanted in a coach and all the important traits and abilities and experience. So we have a really good list now and we’ll work on it henceforth. We’re not going to do anything until the spring, but now’s the time to start talking about that.”
So who are some of the candidates to be hired as head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights? Here’s an overview.
THE GUYS WITH NHL HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE
As soon as he was sent looking for a taxi by the Florida Panthers this week, Gallant immediately jumped to the top of the list of potential Vegas head coaching candidates. Despite his early dismissal this season, Gallant’s resume is strong.
From 2001 to 2004, Gallant was an assistant for the Columbus Blue Jackets and became the third head coach in team history when then-GM Doug MacLean promoted him. Gallant served as the head man in Columbus for parts of three seasons, posting a 56-81-4 record and never making it to the playoffs.
After serving two seasons as an assistant for the New York Islanders, Gallant moved to the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL where he had tremendous success. In his first season, Gallant led the Sea Dogs to the best record in the junior league, but lost in the final. For the next two seasons, the Sea Dogs led the league in the regular season again and this time won the playoff title in consecutive years and came away with the Memorial Cup in 2011.
Gallant returned to the NHL in 2012 as an assistant with the Montreal Canadiens before getting hired by the Panthers as their head coach. After missing the playoffs in Year 1, he guided Florida to its best-ever regular season finish, but of course, was fired a quarter of the way through the following year.
He is very well-liked by his players and peers and, at 53, you get the sense the best is yet to come for Gallant at the NHL level. The only thing that may actually get in the way of Gallant landing in Vegas is if an opportunity comes up with another NHL organization during the season. With the Golden Knights not expected to make their hire until some time in the spring, Gallant may not be available when decision time comes.
The Vegas leadership has suggested its eventual hire may already be employed by an NHL team, so Crawford would fit the mould. The 55-year-old has 15 years of NHL head coaching experience and a Stanley Cup on his resume, but until the Ottawa Senators brought him on board as an assistant this season he hadn’t had a job in the league since 2011.
Despite that Stanley Cup win, Crawford’s track record may not be as great as you think. He’s gotten past the first round of the playoffs just three times in his NHL career and missed the post-season entirely in each of his last five seasons behind an NHL bench.
For the past four years, Crawford was serving as the head coach of Zurich of the Swiss League and notably oversaw Auston Matthews’ first pro season when the Toronto Maple Leafs stud took an unconventional route for a North American and chose to play in Europe leading up to his draft year.
“I had a good year with him last year and I’m very happy for him to get back into the NHL,” Matthews said. “I learned a lot from him, just about being a pro, translating things from over there to the NHL so I think he played a very big role in my development last year for sure.”
Crawford had been looking to get back into the NHL for a couple years and was interviewed by the Calgary Flames before they hired Glen Gulutzan and by the Anaheim Ducks before they hired Randy Carlyle last summer. Ultimately, the assistant option in Ottawa was the route back in as a stepping stone to another head coaching position.
“I’ve been trying to get back into the league for five years, and I was so close so many times,” Crawford told Damien Cox in May. “I’m back in the show. And that’s great.
“But I’ve learned you’ve got to be focused on what you’re doing. I’ve been around long enough to recognize you can have other thoughts, but they’re no use to you.”
At 58 years old, MacLean has been in the coaching game for many years, starting in the IHL with the Peoria Rivermen in 1993 and getting his first full-time NHL gig as an assistant in Anaheim 10 years later.
For eight years — two with Anaheim and six with Detroit — MacLean served as an assistant to Mike Babcock so the pedigree is there. Edmonton’s Todd McLellan and Detroit’s Jeff Blashill are two other former Babcock assistants who came into head coaching positions with a healthy spoonful of hype.
MacLean’s first head coaching job came with the Senators, who he led to back-to-back playoff appearances and won the Jack Adams Award with in 2013. Ottawa won 37 of 82 games the following year and after a slow start in 2014-15, MacLean was fired.
He’s spent this season and last as an assistant coach with the Anaheim Ducks, so he’s another candidate who falls under the “currently employed” umbrella. But with the Jack Adams and just two full 82-game seasons under his belt as a head coach, it will not be long before MacLean is given another shot.
Speaking of Jack Adams winners, Bob Hartley got the award after the Calgary Flames made an unlikely run into the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Hartley has 13 years of NHL head coaching experience with the Avalanche, Atlanta Thrashers and Flames. In between stops with Atlanta and Calgary he, too, went to Switzerland and led Zurich to a championship in 2012.
Hartley is the second member on this list with a Stanley Cup ring as a head coach, winning one with Colorado in 2001.
Dineen is the second axed Florida Panthers coach here, as he had that job before Gallant arrived. Gallant and Dineen are the only two coaches who’ve guided the Panthers into a playoff berth the past 16 years and both lost their jobs the very next season.
Like Gallant, Dineen is a former NHLer, but his track record behind the bench is shorter and, therefore, not as successful. Before arriving to the NHL with the Panthers in 2011, Dineen guided the AHL’s Portland Pirates for five years, missing the playoffs just once and making it to two conference finals.
Since being let go by Florida, Dineen has served as an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks.
THE GUYS WITHOUT NHL HEAD COACHING EXPERIENCE
For the past two years or so, Green’s name has been on these kinds of lists whenever an NHL team fires its coach.
Although his resume is short, it doesn’t lack for success. Green took over the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks bench in 2012-13 for his first lead gig after team GM and coach Mike Johnston was suspended by the league for player benefit violations. The Winterhawks went on to win the WHL championship and lost in the Memorial Cup final.
Since then, Green has been the head man for the AHL’s Utica Comets, farm team for the Vancouver Canucks. He missed the playoffs in his first season, but made it to the Calder Cup final in Year 2 and qualified for the playoffs again last season. They’re 7-10-1 and fifth place in the North Division this season.
Like Crawford, Green has been interviewed for a few NHL jobs already so it seems his opportunity is near. But if Vegas owner Bill Foley is set on getting an experienced guy in place to lead the new team, this one won’t be a fit.
Like Green, Keefe’s resume is short but strong.
After winning five straight CCHL championships with the Pembroke Lumber Kings — a team he bought and ran — Keefe moved into a lead role with the OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in 2012, teaming up with current Leafs assistant GM Kyle Dubas to build a powerhouse team.
Now, if you remember Keefe for his association with controversial figure David Frost as a junior and pro player, here is what Dubas said about Keefe after he hired him with the Greyhounds:
“I think, as everybody knows, there’s some baggage there that was accrued when Sheldon was a young man,” Dubas told the Toronto Sun. “He’s spent the last seven years of his life shedding it. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard anybody give such a blunt assessment, criticizing themselves for their decisions in the past, than I have with Sheldon. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have made mistakes in their life and it’s always guarded or with conditions, blame goes elsewhere. With Sheldon, I think he was influenced at a young age by someone who was not a very good person … but he doesn’t ever blame anybody but himself. He’s extremely forthright and honest.
The Greyhounds had three playoff appearances under Keefe, going as far as the conference final in his last season with the team. For the 2015-16 season, Keefe again joined Dubas within the Maple Leafs organization, becoming head coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies.
With 56 wins in 2015-16, Keefe’s first year in the AHL resulted in the Marlies leading the league in the regular season, though they fell short in the conference final when playoff time rolled around. This season they’re at 10-6-1-1 and sit three points off the pace in their division.