Last week, it was announced the 2022 Canadian men's Olympic hockey team would be led by Doug Armstrong, as the Blues GM will be tasked with building out the roster and hiring the coaches to organize it all.
What's especially interesting heading into the 2022 tournament is that this is an opportunity to start with a fresh look. After the NHL chose to skip the 2018 Olympics, it'll have been eight years since NHLers were playing for Olympic gold and a lot of new and great players have thrived in the NHL since then.
“Youth will be served on this team, for sure,” Armstrong said last Wednesday after being named GM.
It's also a chance for the team to change over its head coaching situation. Mike Babcock, who's been out of the NHL over a year now, was recently asked about possibly returning to Team Canada, but he closed the door on that idea.
"It’s someone else’s turn," Babcock said of the national team job. "Someone is going to get a chance and it’s going to be the thrill of their lifetime. What a responsibility at the same time, but what an opportunity."
So the players will be different, the style will be different, but the expectations (gold or bust) remain the same.
Who is the best candidate to take over Canada's Olympic team as head coach? Here are the top five candidates.
Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning
Whoever coaches Team Canada at the Olympics will be managing a roster that is deeper in talent than any other. While the team won't be built out as an "all-star roster" and will take specific needs into consideration, the fact is the lineup will still be a collection of all-star players.
The NHL coach who probably best deals with that level of depth of skill on a nightly basis is Jon Cooper, whose Tampa Bay Lightning are the envy of the league. There is skill everywhere here, from Art Ross candidates up front, to Norris and Vezina candidates on the blue line and in the crease. He's had to move one superstar centre, Steven Stamkos, to the wing. Cooper has dealt with the dynamics of balancing all this and it's worked.
For all their weapons, Tampa Bay is able to play more than one type of game and, sometimes, allows the opponent to set a tone and then beats them at their own game. Because of their depth and how they're coached, the Lightning can win any which way.
At the World Cup of Hockey in 2016, Cooper was an assistant coach for Team North America, a collection of 23-and-unders from the continent, a few of whom will now be on Canada's Olympic roster. His familiarity with this next wave of Canadian Olympians should be a factor.
Cooper's Lightning are the defending Stanley Cup champions and he's won as a coach at every level he's worked. The 53-year-old should at least be on the bench for Canada's Olympic team and he may just be the guy who leads them.
Barry Trotz, New York Islanders
The third-winningest coach in NHL history and two-time Jack Adams winner deserves consideration, but he's certainly found success in the NHL differently than some other candidates.
As we all know, Trotz was a huge part of building out the expansion Nashville Predators from scratch, eventually turning them into a scrappy underdog that made the playoffs more often than not. They usually punched above their weight, but Trotz found his greatest success after moving on from the Preds.
His first stop in his post-Predators life was with the Washington Capitals, a team that was always fun and full of talent, had tried to win many different ways, but never reached the summit. It took Trotz four years, but he eventually led Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals to that point, winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Without a new contract, Trotz moved on again.
With the Islanders, Trotz has worked with a roster that looks on paper much less daunting than the lineup he had in Washington but, again, the team has punched above its weight. With a strong defensive foundation that severely limits high quality chances and allows the goalies to thrive, Trotz has instituted a system the players buy into and that has proven to work. In last summer's bubble, Trotz took an Islanders team not many thought too highly of all the way to the Eastern Conference Final.
Trotz is a terrific coach and it might be his latest NHL stop that is firmly cementing him as one of the best coaches to ever get behind an NHL bench. But if Team Canada wants to go in a different direction from the defensive shutdown style Babcock had them successfully playing at the past few events, Trotz may not be the most natural successor. But it's hard to argue that what he does, works.
Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues
Berube doesn't have the same length of a head coaching track record at the NHL level as the others on our list, but his history in the game is extensive, including logging over 1,000 games as a player.
Berube was in the Flyers organization for some time as a coach, starting in the AHL and later becoming an assistant on the NHL bench from 2008-09 to 2013-14, when he took over the head coaching gig. He did that for two seasons, but one missed playoff and a GM changeover led the Flyers to change course.
His next NHL stop was as an associate on St. Louis' bench and a bad start in 2018 led to him being promoted to head coach. The Blues had many questions about their direction when Berube took over in the middle of a storm where they sat last in the Central with a 7-9-3 record, but he righted the ship, they became a force in the second half, and won the Stanley Cup that same season.
In fact, since Berube took over in St. Louis, they have an 87-42-18 regular season record and the third-best points percentage in the league trailing only Tampa Bay and Boston.
Armstrong is Canada's GM, a title he also holds with the St. Louis Blues, and there's no doubt he'd be comfortable with Berube. The head coach won't be picked solely due to NHL loyalties, but because of that tie and the success Berube has had in the past few years, he is a fitting candidate.
Joel Quenneville, Florida Panthers
The second-winningest coach in NHL history might be the favourite to lead Canada at the 2022 Olympics.
Quenneville has a long history of success in the NHL with more Stanley Cups (three) than any other candidate on this list. In the 23 seasons he's spent as an NHL head coach, Quenneville's teams have missed the playoffs just three times. An incredible achievement.
He's also a great example of why it's hard to use Jack Adams Trophy wins as a measure for any of this, since he's only won coach of the year once and that occurred 21 years ago. In Chicago, his teams got so good and sustained that level for so long that he was overlooked for other coaches who were viewed as getting "more out of their teams." But the Hawks were already at the top with nowhere really left to go. Quenneville should be a multi-time winner of the Adams by now.
Quenneville's current challenge is to get the Florida Panthers on track. Year 1 wasn't overly successful there as a qualifying round exit against Trotz's Islanders is how the year finished. But give this some time. The Panthers allowed the seventh-most high danger chances against at 5-on-5 last season -- making it harder for their goalies -- so it's notable they have allowed the second-fewest so far this season. It's early and the Panthers haven't been tested with games against their division's best yet, but keep an eye on that.
But, of course, Quenneville's candidacy for Canada's head coaching gig won't be decided by what he gets out of the Panthers this season. He's got the best legacy of anyone on this list and has successfully worked with young players throughout his career as a head coach. He's the oldest coach on our list at 62 so he might not be a long-term option for this position, but for one go in 2022 it's hard to say anyone has a better case to lead than Quenneville.
Bruce Cassidy, Boston Bruins
Even though Bruce Cassidy is the reigning Jack Adams winner, he's often overlooked in conversations involving the best active coaches in the game. The reason for that is likely multi-pronged: he's got the least experience behind an NHL bench of anyone on this list, hasn't won a Stanley Cup, leads a team everyone expects to be good, and it was 10 years between his first and second NHL head coaching gigs after his stop in Washington only lasted a season and 25 games.
That the Bruins are expected to be a strong team and that Cassidy gets it out of them shouldn't be a knock on his candidacy here. There are many teams that should be good, but never get past a certain point and don't separate from the league. Cassidy took the Bruins to a Cup final two years ago and had them sitting as the best team in the league when the pause hit last season. He got them to Round 2 of the bubble without his starter Tuukka Rask.
This season is again proving why he should be at least talked about in this exercise. The Bruins lost Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara off their back end in the summer and yet the team is still chugging along as the best defensive team in the league. They haven't missed a beat.
The biggest problem for Cassidy's fit here isn't anything he has or hasn't done, it's that the field of others to be considered is filled with guys who have longer resumes. Still, even if Cassidy ends up being a better fit as an assistant on Canada's Olympic bench, he shouldn't be overlooked as a legitimate candidate for the head job.