Thus far in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs, arguably the biggest story has been the run the Nashville Predators are on. After shocking the world with a clean sweep of the consistent Cup-favorite Chicago Blackhawks, the Preds then rode that high en route to a six-game second-round victory against the St. Louis Blues.
After years of playoff contention but an inability to advance past the second round, the Predators finally find themselves in their first Western Conference Final. Despite finishing the regular season with 11 fewer points than their opponent, the Anaheim Ducks, the Predators are generally seen as the favorites in that series given the way they are playing right now. They earned a split of the first two games in Anaheim and play Game 3 in Nashville Tuesday night.
The Predators’ biggest strength is their versatile and deep defensive corps, which features P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm in the top four. A major reason for that group’s success, though, is assistant coach Phil Housley.
Housley, of course, had an illustrious career as an offensively-gifted defenseman, tallying a whopping 1,232 points in 1,495 career NHL contests for eight different clubs. The Preds’ impressive playoff run has put him in the spotlight as a top head coaching candidate.
Panthers Interested or Not?
The two NHL teams with head coaching vacancies at this time are the Florida Panthers and one of Housley’s former teams, the Buffalo Sabres. Prior to the start of the Western Conference Final, the Sun-Sentinel reported that it was believed that Panthers GM Dale Tallon was waiting for the chance to interview Housley for the head coaching position. Tallon and the Panthers would have to wait for the Predators’ playoff run to be over.
Just a day after that report, however, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Panthers were no longer waiting for any other candidates still in the playoffs.
LeBrun: Source told me today that #FlaPanthers "are no longer waiting on anyone else still in the playoffs" for head coach search. 1260
— Chris Nichols (@NicholsOnHockey) May 11, 2017
Given these conflicting reports, it’s hard to discern whether the Panthers are interested in Housley and if so, the extent of that interest. We are just left to speculate at this point. Perhaps, though, the Panthers will move forward with their search during the playoffs, but could always revisit Housley if they do not reach a resolution prior to the end of the Predators’ run. With the way the Preds are playing, that might be awhile, but that might only help to increase Housley’s standing as a potential candidate.
Housley would appear to be a good fit for the Panthers, who have a strong blue line featuring Aaron Ekblad, Keith Yandle, Jason Demers, and Michael Matheson.
Sabres Another Potential Landing Spot
The other team with a head coach opening, the Sabres, also appears to be a good fit for Housley. Housley spent his first eight NHL seasons in Buffalo, amassing 558 points in 608 games.
Having just hired Pittsburgh Penguins associate general manager Jason Botterill as their new GM, the Sabres’ next big move—and Botterill’s first—will be to secure a head coach. Unlike with Botterill, the Sabres (and all other clubs) will have to wait for the teams of any head coaching candidates to be done with the playoffs.
While Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported that the Sabres might also look to Pittsburgh for their head coach—in the form of current Penguins assistant Rick Tocchet—the Buffalo News speculates that the club could also look to bring Housley back to Buffalo.
Housley would be a good fit in Buffalo as the Sabres look to shore up a mediocre defense that finished in a 10th-place tie for the most goals given up in the regular season. He could also presumably play a role in the development of gifted 22-year-old offensive blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen.
In an age where speed and skill are paramount and puck-moving defensemen are valued perhaps more than ever before, Housley should be a hot commodity in the coaching market given his background and current success with the Predators. While there are only two head coaching vacancies in the NHL right now, Housley might very well fill one of those positions or perhaps another if anything else opens up.