Monday, May 25, 2009

Next Coyotes Coach?

So if Wayne Gretzky is not part of the organization moving forward, who will coach the Coyotes?

This post isn't intended as a referendum on that issue. Any Gretzky decision will be made by the incoming owners of the team. Much has been speculated that he is in with some potential owners and out with others.

I'll be content to let others decide that. If he leaves the organization or accepts a reduced role, a new coach will need to be located. It's likely that Don Maloney will be making that decision and if he is called to do so, here are some of the options that he will be looking at.

The requisites for the job will be good with young players, proven winner and (likely) NHL experience. This is a team that needs to move from playoff contender to playoff participant. The margin for error here is very small. A relationship and history with Don Maloney probably wouldn't hurt either.

All signs point to one logical candidate -- Tom Renney. Renney coached the New York Rangers from 2004 until this spring and made the playoffs in each of his three full seasons with the Rangers. He's cerebral, very patient and worked closely with Maloney when both were with the Rangers.

Of course, Renney is also a prime candidate for other coaching vacancies. The Edmonton Oilers have reportedly asked for permission to interview him for their open position. By the time the Coyotes situation is clarified, his availability could be moot.

There are other potential NHL coaches who could be recycled in Phoenix. Peter Laviolette won a Stanley Cup three years ago in Carolina. He's an intense coach who may not be the best match for a young team. Bob Hartley also won a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche but struggled when he was hired to right the Atlanta Thrashers. Marc Crawford is another former Cup winner in Colorado but he couldn't get a young Los Angeles Kings team moving before he was dismissed after last season. Craig MacTavish spent eight years in Edmonton and had a great playoff run in 2006 but he could only get in the playoffs three times in eight years. The Coyotes need better than that.

One intriguing former NHL coach could be Pat Quinn. Quinn never has had a great reputation with young players but this year he addressed that issue head on by winning the World Junior Championship with Canada's best young talent. He's 66 but he also has a long history of building competitive teams. In 19 seasons as an NHL coach he has only missed the playoffs twice and some of those teams had no business making the playoffs. He's also colorful and could help raise the profile of the Coyotes.

With the success of Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh and Bruce Boudreau in Washington, hiring coaches from the American Hockey League may prove to be a new vogue in the NHL. If Maloney chose to go with a proven minor league coach, two current and two former AHL coaches could emerge.

Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was the coach of the year in the A and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the open Edmonton position. Kevin Dineen has coached the top prospects for both the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks in Portland, ME and his name pops up whenever there is an NHL opening.

Two Former AHL coaches; Randy Cunneyworth and Don Lever also could merit consideration. Cunneyworth spent several years coaching the Rochester Americans before joining the Atlanta Thrashers as an assistant this year. He's been considered a prime NHL coaching prospect while developing many of the Sabres young players. Lever spent 10 years as Lindy Ruff's assistant in Buffalo and won a Calder Cup in Hamilton (delicious irony there!) with the Montreal Canadiens prospects. He just completed the season as an assistant to Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey for the Habs and is considered a head coaching candidate in Montreal. His age, 57, may work against him as a first time NHL coach.

Maloney is a prepared and measured manager. No doubt he has already thought about this possibility and built a short list of candidates that he feels can move the team forward. Much like general managers scout players, they are always looking at coaching talent along the way. Many of these names are likely on his list. So are others known only to him.

Coaching changes happen more often in hockey than any other major sport. This year. three of the four teams in the conference finals changed coaches during this season. The average life of an NHL bench boss is less than three years. Should Don Maloney have to change coaches this off-season it will no doubt be the most critical change he will make in the organization this summer and will have a profound impact on the future of the franchise. He is no doubt prepared and may get a chance to make the most important hire of his career.

Update Monday 12:05PM -- TSN is reporting that Pat Quinn has been named the new head coach of the Edmonton Oilers and Tom Renney will join him in Edmonton as associate head coach . While Renney could still be a candidate to be head coach in Phoenix, it is much less likely under this scenario.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this blog. I have been trying to follow both the bankrupcy issue as well as the coyotes off-season hockey operations. Very well written and well researched