Friday, July 17, 2009

Life After Wayne -- Who Will Coach The Coyotes?

It seems to be an accepted fact that Wayne Gretzky will not be the coach of the Coyotes next season.

On one hand, that's sad. Gretzky has put in a lot of time and work learning the coaching ropes. It hasn't been easy but even the most casual observers believe he has improved in his approach and performance. His teams have been short on talent but never seemed to lack for effort. He wants to stay and has made it clear he'll take a lot less money from the new ownership to keep his job.

Conversely, few can argue that a change is not in the cards. Wayne's had four kicks at the can and hasn't been able to get the Coyotes into the playoffs. In each of the last two seasons, the team faded badly in the last third of the season. Coyote special teams are annually among the worst in the league. And while the personnel hasn't been the best, the results have been underwhelming. There's nothing harder than watching an icon lose a part of their identity.

So if new ownership decides to make a change, then what?

The biggest issue the Coyotes may face is not who is available but who will take the job. There's still a lot of uncertainty going into the new season. We assume Don Maloney will be the key player in making that decision. But Maloney is entering the third year of a five year contract and he too will be under the scrutiny of new owners. Perhaps, not today, but soon enough. Any coach Maloney tries to hire may think twice that a new GM might want his own coach. How much and how many years will also be a problem. And there's also the little matter of the talent on hand -- this ain't exactly a team people will be picking to win the Stanley Cup.

If you are a Dave Tippett or Peter Laviolette do you jump into this job or wait to see if someone like John Stevens gets tuned in Philadelphia? 7 NHL coaches were whacked during the past NHL season. Among the replacements, three (Joel Quenville, Dan Bylsma and Paul Maurice) got their teams to the conference finals and Blysma ended up winning the Stanley Cup. That's a good argument to wait and see what happens once the puck drops. There's a good chance a better job may eventually come open. And keep in mind that Tippett and Laviolette are still being paid by their previous employers.

Tippett would be an excellent choice. He is highly thought of around the league by both executives and players. Trained by current St. Louis Blues coach Andy Murray, he is known to be even handed and well respected. His special teams are always among the best in the league. And he has history with Maloney, Ulf Samuelson and Doug Sulliman as a teammate in Hartford. On top of everything else, he has gotten the most out of modestly talented teams.

Laviolette has a Cup on his resume but he's also missed the playoffs in his four other full NHL seasons. A coach who loves to attack, Laviolette is known as a players coach who has trouble holding players accountable and may not be enough of a change from Gretzky.

There are plenty of talented and aspiring minor league coaches. The success of Bylsma in Pittsburgh and Bruce Boudreau in Washington has given new life to hiring minor league coaches. The best of the current bunch are AHL bosses Scott Arniel of Manitoba and Portland's Kevin Dineen.

And if just taking an assistant's job in Edmonton doesn't close the door, former New York Ranger bench boss Tom Renney might still be the odds on favorite for the position.

Don't know which way this one will fall. I think Tippett is head and shoulders above the other candidates but I'm not sure He'll jump into this job. The odds are good he will have a chance to get a prime position when another coach bites the dust this season. Arneil has a lot of buzz and he would work cheap. And I wouldn't discount others like Randy Cunneyworth (currently an assistant in Atlanta) and Kevin Constantine (currently coaching junior in Everett, WA, formerly San Jose Sharks)

And one wild card to consider. If and when Tony Tavares takes over as either a part owner or major player in the Coyotes organization, expect that he will have a large say in what happens. Unlike Jerry Reinsdorf and John Kaites, Tavares has a background in hockey and plenty of contacts in the game. That changes the selection dynamic and it means that others will have a voice in the process. Don't be surprised if new ownership decides to make a mini splash by spending some money and possibly hiring someone none of us have suspected.

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