Sometimes it’s hard to know who the best candidate is going to be for a coaching job in the NHL. It can be a choice between a veteran with visible warts or an unproven rookie without a track record at the pro level to support the hiring decision. The veteran has often left another franchise due to a lack of results, stagnation or a scandal. The newbie is the media darling, the “best coach not in the NHL” and there might be pressure to hire them before a competitor does.
For the Seattle Kraken, the NHL’s newest franchise, the selection is as obvious as what the choice for the team name was. Let’s take a look at who is available.
The First Round of Cuts
There are a couple who, though available, aren’t likely to make it past the first cut. Bill Peters, who departed the Calgary Flames after a disturbing pattern of player abuse and racism was revealed, is out. Jim Montgomery is also unlikely to fit the bill, though we wish him well on his road to recovery.
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The shine came off Mike Babcock’s reputation during his Toronto years — his increasingly out-of-touch techniques exemplified by his treatment of a rookie Mitchell Marner, demanding the player identify the worst of his teammates and then sharing that list with those very players. So, we will move past those three and look at a couple more likely candidates.
A Good Option – Peter Laviolette
Laviolette brings a very strong resumé with him to the bench. His seasons with the Nashville Predators saw five-straight playoff berths including a Cup Final, but no hardware. Prior to that, he made the Stanley Cup Final with the Philadelphia Flyers, and then way back in 2006 with the Carolina Hurricanes, hoisting the Cup on that occasion. Having made the Finals with three separate teams puts Laviolette in rare company.
But a common theme noticed when examining his record is regression. After the Hurricanes went the distance, they proceeded to miss the playoffs for the remainder of his time there.
His Flyers team made the Final in the season he was hired, but never got past the second round after that point. One has to question if his systems were fully in place in his most successful season.
The Predators have not looked the same since their Final’s loss, a fact that likely weighed heavily in his termination this past season. So, we move to another candidate whose record may not be as impressive at first glance, but whose methods seem to fit the Kraken’s needs.
Rough Beginnings With the Blue Jackets
Okay, the man’s first foray into the head coaching business wasn’t great. Though roster composition likely played a role, when Gallant took the reins in Columbus partway through the 2003-04 season, he managed only 16 wins in 45 games.
The following season wasn’t a whole lot better when he posted a record of 35-43-0-4. His firing early in 2006-07 was justified, but it’s pretty clear that the experience inspired him to hone his trade. Spending the next six seasons in the minor leagues (with the Saint John Sea Dogs) or assistant coaching roles with the New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens, when he finally resurfaced in the NHL, the difference was plain as day.
Hitting His Head Coaching Stride
Looking back at the Vegas Golden Knights’ journey from theoretical franchise to cup contender, there are two key dates that stick out. First in most people’s minds, comes the expansion draft on June 17, 2017, where the Knights hoodwinked general manager after general manager, obtaining roster players and future picks to avoid other unprotected players.
The team still grabbed top-six forwards or solid defensemen off many opposing rosters with the selections they did make. The other, arguably more important date was a little over two months prior, on April 13, 2017, when they named Gallant the first head coach in Vegas franchise history.
Gallant, whose ignoble treatment at the end of his tenure with the Florida Panthers has been paid back many times over in karma, took over of as coach of the Golden Knights and managed to mold a team of castoffs, cap sacrifices and under-utilized prospects into one of the top teams in the Western Conference. There is little doubt that he had a say in the players Vegas selected off the other NHL rosters, so while it might be debatable which date is the more important of the two, none can argue with the results.
A record of 51-24-0-7, a winning percentage of 66.5 and a berth in the Stanley Cup Final would be the culmination of the Knights’ first season. Only a loaded Washington Capitals team with a determined Alex Ovechkin, the greatest goal scorer since Wayne Gretzky, kept them from capturing the championship.
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The decision to name him the winner of the Jack Adams Award, given each year to the best coach in the NHL by the National Hockey League Broadcasters Association, was obvious. Inexplicably, he would be let go a little over a year later, his team hovering around .500 a quarter of the way into the season. But the Golden Knight’s error can be the Kraken’s gain.
There may be a good reason that he’s been let go twice by teams despite his rosters having been consistently competitive, showing up night after night, and substituting will where skill is lacking. It’s possible that Gallant is similar to John Tortorella, and he has an expiration date as a coach where he loses the room, or it could be that he’s stubborn and difficult for a general manager to work with. All of this is possible, but his teams find success consistently.
The Kraken should hire Gallant and ride the wave, making changes in year two or three if that’s how things fall out. They should make the move soon so that they can benefit from his expertise in player selection in the upcoming expansion draft.