Much like free agent goalies, it seemed like there were quite a few more worthy candidates then there were available jobs in the NHL coaching ranks this summer. If Kirk Muller (who opted to coach the Norfolk Admirals) and Craig MacTavish are any indication, coaches don’t share the same distaste for using the AHL as a backup plan, though.
TSN reports that MacTavish is on the verge of taking a head coaching job with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves. The Wolves were once the AHL affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers, but now that the Winnipeg Jets are using the Manitoba Moose, the Wolves became the farm team for the Vancouver Canucks. (This might strike some as odd because of the boiling rivalry that is building between the Canucks and Chicago’s NHL team, the Blackhawks.)
It’s probably accurate to call this AHL assignment a “Plan B” (or worse) for MacTavish, who was rumored to be a top candidate for the Minnesota Wild gig that eventually went to Mike Yeo. That being said, a successful run with the Wolves could be the best way for MacTavish to make his way back into the NHL; the hot trend in coach hiring is for franchises to scoop up the hottest minor league coaches when they have a vacancy.
The one big difference is that MacTavish already has plenty of NHL coaching experience. After spending three seasons as an assistant coach for the New York Rangers (from 1997-98 to 99-00), MacTavish was the Edmonton Oilers’ head coach for eight seasons. The Oilers made the playoffs three times in that span, including that Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2005-06.
He hasn’t been able to land an NHL head coaching job since. Instead, he’s been an analyst for TSN. Of course, hockey fans knew him by his face from his playing days as well; MacTavish owns the impeccably manly distinction of being the last NHLer to play without a helmet.
MacTavish probably hopes that one NHL GM uses his head and makes him their head coach next summer.