The Seattle Kraken have less than three months to name a head coach in time for the July 21 NHL Expansion Draft. THW has profiled a few possible candidates, from front-runners like Bruce Boudreau and Gerard Gallant to a possible dark horse in Colorado Avalanche assistant Nolan Pratt.
Carolina Hurricanes assistant coach Jeff Daniels is another under-the-radar option, as he not only has a close tie to Kraken general manager Ron Francis but has also succeeded in every role he has served in professional hockey. Here is what makes him a candidate for the job.
NHL Playing Career
Daniels was selected 109th overall in the 1986 Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins, coming from the OHL Oshawa Generals. The left winger played from 1991-2003 for the Penguins, Florida Panthers, Hartford Whalers & Carolina Hurricanes, and Nashville Predators. He was a fourth-liner, averaging just 8:01 of Time on ice (since the stat was first recorded in 1998). Over his 12-year NHL career, he appeared in 425 games, scoring 17 goals and registering 26 assists for 43 points.
Daniels played with Francis in Carolina for four seasons, helping the Hurricanes reach the 2002 Stanley Cup Final; they had last won a playoff series in 1986 as the Whalers.
Hurricanes Assistant Coach & Scout
Daniels immediately transitioned into an assistant coach role following his 2003 retirement, and in 2006, he helped capture the Hurricanes’ first Stanley Cup. He left the Hurricanes in 2008 to coach their AHL affiliate, the then-Albany River Rats, but returned in 2015 as a pro scout — during Francis’ tenure as general manager. He was promoted to manager of pro scouting in 2017, a role he served for one season.
When Francis left the Hurricanes in 2018, Daniels returned to the bench as an assistant. The team exceeded expectations by not only qualifying for the playoffs for the first time in 10 years but also advancing to the Eastern Conference Final — defeating the defending champion Washington Capitals along the way.
Head coach Rod Brind’Amour, assistant Dean Chynoweth, Daniels, and the rest of the coaching staff have helped Carolina emerge as an elite franchise that should contend for a Stanley Cup over the next several years.
AHL Head Coaching Experience
After his first stint as a Hurricanes assistant, Daniels took the next step in his career as head coach and general manager of the AHL Albany River Rats — who became the Charlotte Checkers in 2010. Over seven seasons, the club compiled a 268-225-51 record.
Daniels’ best season with the Checkers franchise came in 2010-11 when he guided the team to the Eastern Conference Final — the club’s deepest run in 14 years. The following season, he was named the Eastern Conference coach for the 2013 All-Star Game.
Expansion Teams Hiring First-Year Head Coaches
Expansion franchises hiring a first-year NHL head coach occurs frequently but produces mixed results at best. The most recent qualified hiring is Curt Fraser, who coached the Atlanta Thrashers from 1999-2002 and never had a winning record.
Barry Trotz needed six seasons to guide the Nashville Predators to the playoffs, but he consistently produced a playoff team for the rest of his tenure. Other first-year head coaches for expansion clubs include Ron Wilson, whose Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made the playoffs in their fourth season, and the less successful George Kingston with the San Jose Sharks.
Nonetheless, Daniels could quickly succeed with the Kraken, as they will have the same expansion draft setup as the Vegas Golden Knights and will play in a fairly weak Pacific Division.
Enforcers & Grinders as NHL Head Coaches
Hiring Daniels could continue the trend of former NHL enforcers & grinders behind the bench. Such coaches have, at times, stood out from their peers, including 2019 Stanley Cup champion Craig Berube with the St. Louis Blues and 2018 Western Conference champion Gerard Gallant with the Golden Knights.
Dean Evason of the Minnesota Wild, Rick Tocchet of the Arizona Coyotes, and Bob Boughner of the Sharks are all current head coaches who had a hard-nosed reputation during their playing careers.
Daniels has amassed 30 years of professional hockey experience and has helped build a winning culture in each of his roles. He is perhaps approaching his prime with a strong franchise to which both he and Francis have made sizable contributions. The next logical path in his career is as a head coach opportunity and a reunion with a former teammate & colleague.
Nick covers the Seattle Kraken for THW. At his alma mater, Santa Clara University, he served as sports editor for the campus newspaper but carved out time to cheer on his San Jose Sharks nearby. His professional experience spans reporting, copywriting, and video production for sports, gaming, and tech brands.