Seven Seattle Kraken coaching candidates: Is Julien in the mix?

Marc Bergevin explains why the short NHL season impacted his decision to fire Claude Julien and why he believes Dominique Ducharme will be a great replacement.

We’re less than five months away from the scheduled Seattle Kraken 2021 Expansion Draft and the franchise still hasn’t hired a coaching staff.

Seattle general manager Ron Francis has long stated he’s in no rush to name a coach because he isn’t quite sure which type of team he’ll be able to piece together.

With the immediate success enjoyed by the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural 2017-18 campaign, there’s naturally going to be pressure from the public to see Seattle also post impressive win totals right away – especially considering they’re working with identical expansion draft rules.

“You always want to win now,” Francis previously told The Athletic when discussing hiring a coach. “But we'll have to judge the landscape and see where things are and make the decisions that are right both short term and long term. … Are there guys that end up losing their jobs or looking for other things elsewhere? I just think we have time on this. We're not in a race to make that decision at this point.”

Four months after that quote, the Kraken are remaining patient.

The NHL’s coaching carousel has been fairly busy with a handful of off-season coaching changes and the recent firings from the Montreal Canadiens. The more changes that happen means more options for Francis and Seattle to consider.

You can expect some familiar names to lead the pack, however, Seattle plans on being a forward-thinking franchise so it wouldn’t be entirely surprising if the team went slightly off the board for its first head coach.

With that in mind, here are seven names in no particular order we feel could be candidates.

Gerard Gallant

Career NHL coaching record: 270-216-4-51
Most recent coaching gig: Vegas Golden Knights (2017-2020)

Gerard Gallant hasn’t yet landed his next coaching gig after being fired by Vegas early in 2020, but the 57-year-old is likely to end up on the shortlist for any vacancies that open up this year. Gallant is widely regarded as a players’ coach for whom his teams quickly develop an affinity.

Gallant went an impressive 118-75-20 in his two-plus seasons in Vegas, winning the Jack Adams for the franchise’s inaugural season and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final. Gallant proved only a few years ago that he’s capable of galvanizing an expansion team and since the same expansion draft rules apply, there’s reason to believe Seattle could be relatively competitive out of the gates just like Vegas.

Bruce Boudreau

Career NHL coaching record: 567-302-115
Most recent coaching gig: Minnesota Wild (2016-2020)

Boudreau recently expressed interest in coaching the Kraken. The 66-year-old hasn’t been behind a bench since being relieved of his duties by Minnesota more than a year ago, but he has stayed close to the game by doing some analysis for television.

“The thing about that job is it would be great to start with a team that is starting fresh and to be the builder of something,” Boudreau said. “Anybody that has done this, wants to be coaching in the greatest league in the world if they can. (Seattle) is new. It is fresh. It is a new team and I think the whole idea is exciting.”

Claude Julien

Career NHL coaching record: 667-445-10-152
Most recent coaching gig: Montreal Canadiens (2017-2021)

Julien is the latest veteran coach to hit the open market after he and assistant Kirk Muller were fired by Montreal last week. The Kraken, like the first edition of the Golden Knights, will in all probability have a wide variety of experience and youth on the roster. With nearly 1,300 regular-season games, plus a Jack Adams Award and a Stanley Cup under his belt, you’d have to think it would be a relatively easy transition for Julien. It would be a safe choice from Seattle's perspective.

Rikard Gronborg

Career NHL coaching record: 0-0-0
Most recent coaching gig: ZSC Lions in Swiss National League (2019-present)

The longtime Swedish men’s national team coach has been mentioned in NHL coaching rumours for the past few years and the New Jersey Devils were reportedly interested in speaking with Gronborg prior to hiring Lindy Ruff last summer. During his first year coaching in Switzerland, Gronborg had his Lions in first place when the 2019-20 campaign was cut short due to COVID-19. He has been thinking about a possible move to the NHL for a while.

“I’ve kind of done all that stuff and coached some of the best players in the world,” he told Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston in 2018. “Now I’m interested to have my ideas, to (implement) them over a period of time and do them overseas, and kind of challenging the coaching community over in the NHL. I bring a different perspective on things.”

Rod Brind’Amour

Career NHL coaching record: 98-60-13
Most recent coaching gig: Carolina Hurricanes (2018-present)

Brind’Amour has a pretty good thing going in Carolina, yet he’s in the final year of his contract and he has a history with Ron Francis. If the Hurricanes can’t come to an agreement on an extension and/or choose to go in a different direction for whatever reason then we might see Brind’Amour emerge as a frontrunner for the Seattle job. He’s a former teammate of Francis and has been on the Carolina coaching staff for the past decade after retiring as a player.

Todd Nelson

Career NHL coaching record: 17-25-9
Most recent coaching gig: Dallas Stars assistant (2018-present)

If Seattle decides to look at current assistant coaches as potential options, then Nelson could be at the top of that list. He didn’t post a great record with the Edmonton Oilers when he was their interim head coach in 2014-15 after taking over for Dallas Eakins, but did well enough to leverage it into a head coaching job with Grand Rapids in the AHL. Nelson went 133-78-17 in three seasons with the Griffins and won a Calder Cup in 2017. He played one game with Francis and the Penguins during the 1991-92 season.

Stars general manager Jim Nill described Nelson as having a “coaching style that is defined by his ingenuity and his ability to get the most out of his players.”

Mike Vellucci

Career NHL coaching record: 0-0-0
Most recent coaching gig: Pittsburgh Penguins assistant (2020-present)

Vellucci has a dearth of professional head coaching experience, but has enjoyed success at all levels of his career behind the bench. After five seasons and two championships with the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors in the North American Hockey League, he found a home with the Plymouth Whalers in OHL. The Whalers qualified for the post-season every year Vellucci was there even winning a championship in 2007.

He joined the Carolina Hurricanes organization in 2014 as assistant general manager and director of player development under Francis. After three seasons in that role, Vellucci became the head coach of Hurricanes AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers. He was named coach of the year and the team won the Calder Cup in Vellucci’s second season there. He spent last season with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and was promoted to assistant coach with Pittsburgh this past September. Vellucci is also a former teammate of Francis. He suited up for two NHL games during his playing career and both were spent with Francis’s Hartford Whalers in 1987-88.

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