The NHL coaching carousel is constantly spinning. This season, it’s going at warp speed.
There are currently four teams that will be reading applications for their vacant positions, including the NHL’s newest team. The Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers have all fired their coaches in the past couple weeks and Seattle is still looking for their first ever coach.
A lot of proven hockey minds are waiting in the wings for another chance to lead a team. There are also a lot of teams who could be on the verge of moving on from their current bench boss.
Here is a list of some coaches currently available and where they could end up.
The NHL’s Coaching Carousel and Where They May Go
When the news broke that Tortorella would not return to the Blue Jackets next season, rumours started kicking up about a potential return to the Big Apple. The last six seasons have had a lot of highs and lows for Torts in Columbus as he won the Jack Adams in 2016-17 and led the team to their first playoff game and series wins. The end of his tenure has ben less than spectacular following an explosive spat and eventual trade of former franchise centre Pierre Luc Dubois.
There has yet to be a star scorer that Tortorella has worked well alongside and that trend continues through his fourth NHL club. Of the teams looking for a coach, there isn’t a great fit. If he were to go back to the Rangers, I am sure Artemi Panarin would request a trade. The only real option is the Buffalo Sabres who currently employ Don Granato and need a massive culture change. Granato is a great mind but Torts would demand respect and try to right the ship of a team that has been lost in the wind for years.
Quinn was a casualty of a sudden culture change throughout the Rangers organization following the Tom Wilson incident in early May. In only three years of NHL coaching Quinn appeared to be on the right path with his young Rangers team. This season was not a great step forward for the team as their young stars Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko performed below expectations. But again this was a young squad that should have given Quinn some more runway on his New York tenure.
He has a proven track record with young stars as he led the NCAA’s Boston Terriers to four straight appearances in the NCAA tournament and had a 105-68-21 record over five seasons at the college level. Quinn likely won’t be out of a job for long whether it is at the NHL or the NCAA level. In the national league there are some ties with the Sabres as he coached Jack Eichel in his college days. There are a lot of questions about if Eichel will remain with the club that took him 2nd overall in 2015. If Eichel goes, it will be hard to convince anyone to join Buffalo.
Jack Eichel: “I’ve been a bit upset about the ways things have been handled since I’ve been hurt. There’s been a bit of a disconnect between myself and the organization. The most important thing now is to get healthy and be ready to play hockey next year, wherever that might be.”
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 10, 2021
Besides a return to the college level, the Vancouver Canucks would be a great landing spot for the 54-year-old if (and likely when) they move on from Travis Green. Their young core of Elias Pettersson, Quinn Hughes and captain Bo Horvat could benefit from the change of pace that Quinn could provide.
Rick Tocchet has had two unsuccessful head coaching stints in the NHL now as his Coyotes tenure comes to an end. He was never able to get the ball rolling in Arizona as the Coyotes were only able to make the playoffs when the NHL expanded their playoff eligibility last season. Tocchet’s greatest success came as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins on their route to back-to-back cups. He was able to work flawlessly alongside higher maintenance stars like Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel and unleash their best game.
I don’t want to demote a guy but going back into an assistant coaching role may be a good idea for Tocchet. He could gain back some good grace in the eyes of the hockey world. But I think he should still garner a head coaching role and would be a fit with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets as a franchise have yet to retain a franchise player since they joined the NHL as an expansion team. They have guys like Max Domi and Patrik Laine who need their potential unleashed if the team is going to be successful. Tocchet may be the guy who can get them to want to stay there and perform to their best abilities.
The bench boss for the most successful expansion franchise in professional sport history has long been rumoured to try and help the NHL’s newest club have the same success. Ever since Gerard Gallant was shockingly fired in January of 2020, he has been loosely tied to the Kraken.
Gallant is a players’ coach and has shown how successful using the motivation of being outcasts on an expansion team is. I am not sure what the expectations are for Seattle and how they plan to start their franchise. But if they want to be successful immediately like the Vegas Golden Knights, why not take the guy that led them to that success. It seems almost destined for Gallant to be behind the bench for the Seattle Kraken for their first game.
There is no such thing as being allowed to struggling for the Montreal Canadiens and the writing was quickly on the wall for Claude Julien to be let go in February, It is 11 seasons removed from Julien’s Cup win with the 2010-11 Boston Bruins but he is still highly regarded league wide and has a chance to once again represent Canada on the bench at the 2022 Olympics.
His veteran voice and large presence behind the bench would fill-in nicely with the Arizona Coyotes as they replace their Rick Tocchet sized hole.
He’s a fit for the Coyotes because he will be able to straighten out a team that seems extremely lost right now both on and off the ice. More so with the Bruins, Julien was known as a strong teacher for the young Bruin stars. He makes sure each player is fully responsible defensively and makes known that careless play is simply not accepted. Julien also looks players in the eye and tells them what he thinks. He is not an autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway kind of coach who makes his players fear him.
Julien simply wants his players to know both what he expects and what he thinks of them. He could assess what the Coyotes have and try to bring the franchise some long desired success.
After what could be considered one of the most difficult seasons in NHL history, Travis Green will likely want a change of pace. Four years with the Vancouver Canucks has generated little success beyond last season’s playoff run. They are a strong young team and look to have a lot of potential. But there just seems to be something missing in Vancouver with Green at the helm. Now he is a fantastic coach for young players and has done a lot with the ‘makeshift’ roster he has had in Vancouver. It simply might just be time to move on and change things up. This isn’t speculation either as Green’s contract expires at the end of the season and there has yet to be an agreement between him and Vancouver.
Another team chalked full of young stars looking to return to relevancy that Green could slip right into is the New York Rangers. He is an aggressive head coach who looks for high levels of play from his young players. He has a strong willingness to put young players in a position to succeed. Green put Elias Pettersson at centre in his rookie season and matched up Quinn Hughes against McDavid in his first game. He challenges his young stars. And that is exactly what the Rangers need as they make their way out of their rebuilding stage.
When his name is mentioned, it’s often the negative that Mike Babcock is known for nowadays. Not to say that isn’t a good thing because he did some scummy stuff while he was a head coach. The hockey world can be a pretty forgiving one; especially when it’s someone like Babcock who has a Cup and a pedigree for winning. When the Babcock era ended in Toronto in 2019 it was hard to find anything good to come from that five year time.
But what Babcock brought to Toronto was a sense of trust and the idea of a safe environment for his players. He wanted Toronto players to feel safe returning to play at home. His foundation of trust obviously worked as the Maple Leafs were able to eventually attract John Tavares to signing there.
If Babcock can bring that same foundation of trust and comfort to a team like the Buffalo Sabres, it could turn that sinking ship around. It would be ironic to see him behind the bench in Buffalo as it was rumoured he would be before he signed the largest coaching deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Sabres could move past Babcock’s dark past, they could turn things around quick. It would not only help make the franchise relevant again, but it may help keep Eichel in Western New York.
Coaches Still Employed
As the playoffs are underway and these coaching positions remain vacant, there could be moves that can’t even happen yet. A team like the Winnipeg Jets or the Nashville Predators could make a move after their teams get eliminated.
There is still a lot of time before next season and a lot of worthy candidates to search through. When the puck drops in September, there will be some great coaches watching from a couch instead of behind a bench… and the NHL coaching carousel keeps on spinning.