Weeks of #TrotzWatch were all for naught. So — who else is on the radar?
Trotz’s Turndown a Crushing Blow
On Friday afternoon, Darren Dreger confirmed that Barry Trotz — the biggest fish in the pond of available coaches — will not make an immediate jump back into coaching after being unceremoniously fired by the New York Islanders in early May.
Friday’s news was a undeniable blow to the True North organization, who put all their eggs into the “get Trotz” basket. For a while, it seemed they had the inside track on the pride of the nearby Dauphin, Manitoba.
As the Vegas Golden Knights, Philadelphia Flyers, and Dallas Stars filled their vacancies with other available coaches, (Bruce Cassidy, John Tortorella, and Pete DeBoer, respectively) excitement only increased that Trotz could be coming home.
But in the end, he said “thanks, but no thanks” to everyone.
“If I’d said I’ll take the job, I think I would have done any team a little bit of a disservice and myself a disservice because to be a coach in the NHL, it is demanding and it requires your all. It just does, emotionally it just does, mentally it just does. So I couldn’t go down that path,” Trotz told NHL.com.
Trotz — who has more than 1700 games of head coaching experience, 877 wins, and a Stanley Cup ring — would have been a perfect fit behind the bench in Winnipeg and the best man to take on the massive challenge of turning around a talented but underperforming team in turmoil. GGM Kevin Cheveldayoff and company worked hard to convince him to come on board.
There’s no other way to view the Trotz turndown than as hugely disappointing. Hiring him would have been like signing a prized free agent and would have reenergized the whole organization, which is barely containing a free fall, and given the fan base something to hope for.
The Jets can’t sit around and sulk, though: they still have no head coach. Unfortunately, while they wined and dined Trotz, some of the best candidates were snapped up. However, as The Athletic’s Murat Ates put it: “there are options that don’t involve blowing it up or hiring a rookie.”
The Jets will have to dust themselves off and make a hire soon: they need someone in place before the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in less than two weeks and Free Agent Frenzy on July 13. Here, we’ll take a look at four of the best remaining candidates for next head coach.
1) Jim Montgomery
Montgomery has been widely seen as “Plan B” for the Jets. The 52 year old currently serves as an assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues and has held that position for the past two seasons.
A former centre, Montgomery finished his pro hockey career in 2004-05, playing 122 NHL games and 451 AHL games, including one season for the Manitoba Moose 1.0. After retiring, he coached the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints for three seasons before spending five behind the bench of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s Denver Pioneers.
He landed his first NHL head coaching position with the Dallas Stars prior to the 2018–19 season; under his leadership, the Stars qualified for the playoffs with a 43-32-7 record, but lost in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues.
31 games into the 2019-20 season, Montgomery was suddenly fired due to “unprofessional conduct,” with Stars’ GM Jim Nill saying “it was determined that there was a material act of unprofessionalism contrarian to the values and standards held by the Dallas Stars organization.”
Soon after being let go, Montgomery opened up about his struggles with alcoholism, calling his dismissal “appropriate,” and apologizing to the organization. He voluntarily entered a recovery program, and told The Sporting News he was attending intensive therapy in Dallas and following a daily program.
That autumn, the team that ousted his in the playoffs gave him a fresh start, and he’s made good on it. Under head coach Craig Berube and Montgomery, the Blues play a well-rounded game and qualified for the postseason in both 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Montgomery’s past personal struggles should not be held against him; anyone can fall victim to addiction and it should not be a life sentence. He’s found success everywhere he’s been, winning two Clark Cups with the Fighting Saints, an NCAA championship at the University of Denver, and leading the Stars to a 61-43-10 record during his tenure. He deserves a second chance at head coaching, and Winnipeg is as good a place as any to give it to him.
2) Andrew Brunette
It sure would make for an interesting story if the man who lost his job to the Jets’ former coach then came to Winnipeg.
Andrew Brunette — despite being a Jack Adams Award Finalist and leading the Florida Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy, was replaced behind the bench a few days ago with Paul Maurice — the man who resigned from the Jets last December citing burnout and an inability to get through to his players.
Brunette’s Panthers were swept in the second round by the Tampa Bay Lightning and looked more vulnerable than they did in the regular season, when their high-octane offence ran roughshod over just about everyone. Brunette stepped in on an interim basis after Joel Quenneville resigned in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault scandal and coached the team to a 51-18-6 record. It was widely thought he’d get the “interim” tag removed and that he’d done an excellent job in difficult circumstances.
Brunette, 48, is short on head coaching experience, but has knowledge of the Central Division from his time as an assistant coach and assistant GM with the Minnesota Wild, and likely a big chip on his shoulder. As a former star player with 1110 NHL games under his belt, he could relate to players in the way coaches such as Maurice can’t, and Cheveldayoff should definitely get him on the phone if he hasn’t already.
3) Rich Tocchet
The best thing for True North, even if they’re loath to do it, could be to hire a head coach with no prior connection to the organization.
Someone with an outside perspective — who is able to come in and assess the mess honestly without having to pull any punches or be afraid of offending old friends — could be just what they need to get the team to reach its potential.
Going outside their bubble is not something True North is particularly comfortable with, as they’ve been loyal even to their own detriment to insiders. However, Sportsnet’s Ken Wiebe reported that Tocchet — who is currently a studio analyst for NHL on NBC — and Cheveldayoff spoke during the Western Conference Final, so he’s definitely in the mix.
Tocchet, 58, has six years of head coaching experience, spending two seasons (2008-2010) coaching the Lightning and four seasons (2017-2021) coaching the Arizona Coyotes.
While his head coaching record isn’t the best (178-200-60 and only one playoff appearance) he’s had great success as an assistant coach, winning two Stanley Cups as part of the Pittsburgh Penguins coaching staff in 2016 and 2017.
The Jets would be the most talented team on paper Tocchet has ever coached, and the four-time NHL All-Star and the gritty-yet-talented veteran of 1,144 NHL games could make them quite tough to play against.
In an assessment from 2017, a Coyotes pundit wrote that Tocchet’s philosophy is based on good puck movement at speed — good for a team like the Jets with many dynamic offensive players — and on forming relationships with players other coaches have perceived as “troublemakers.” There are a few egos on the Jets that need to be cut down (hello Scheifele and Wheeler) if the poor locker room culture and lack of identity issues are going to be solved.
4) Kirk Muller
Kirk Muller is another man with a long resume and no connection to True North. Most recently, he’s been a part of the Calgary Flames’ turnaround, acting as associate coach under Darryl Sutter and helping the Flames reach the top of the Pacific Division standings in 2021-22.
Muller, a veteran of 1349 NHL games over 19 seasons and a 1993 Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens, has two-and-a-half years of head coaching experience. He took over the Carolina Hurricanes after Paul Maurice was fired the 2011-12 season and coached there through 2013-14, amassing an 80-80-27 record.
Muller’s first professional coaching job came back in 2006, when he was named assistant coach of the Canadiens. After five seasons in Montreal, he became the head coach of the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, but spent only 17 games with the team, before joining the Hurricanes.
He spent 2014-16 as an associate coach with the Blues, before returning to the Canadiens as an associate/assistant coach from 2016-17 through 2020-21. He was let go during the organizational house cleaning that saw Claude Julien fired in February 2021 and replaced by Dominique Ducharme. He quickly found a new job with the Flames.
THW’s Colton Pankiw wrote that Muller’s playing experience “is something that guys respect a lot. It’s always easier to trust what’s being said to you if it’s a guy that has walked the walk before.”
Of his style, Muller has said, “I think the biggest thing is to dig right in with the guys. I think it’s important in today’s game. You’ve got to have them believe that you’re in their corner. You’ve got to put the time in and work with them.”
Muller is known as an affable and enthusiastic sort, less abrasive than Sutter, which makes the pair a good match. Perhaps Muller’s personality could rub off on the Jets’ ultra-serious leadership core and change the team for the better. Hockey’s supposed to be fun, after all.
Other possibilities: Scott Arniel, Travis Green, Derek Lalonde, Alain Vigneault, Pascal Vincent