In this week’s NHL Power Rankings we jump ahead to the 2021-22 season and take a look at potential candidates to be the first head coach of the Seattle Kraken.
General manager Ron Francis recently said in an interview with The Athletic that he is no rush to name a coach at this point because he still is not sure what type of team he is going to be able to draft. But there is still going to come a time where a coach has to be named, and there are some very interesting names still available right now.
Let us take a look at some of those candidates including some favorites, some coaching retreads to avoid, and some maybe off-the-wall suggestions.
Who all makes the list?
To this week’s NHL Power Rankings!
1. Gerard Gallant. Probably the name that will top every potential Seattle list. Gallant is an outstanding coach and obviously has some pretty significant experience working with a new franchise and helping to build it from the ground up. It is stunning he is even available at this point. Given his initial success in Vegas there would probably be an unrealistic expectation for the same thing to happen in Seattle, but Gallant does not strike me as the type of coach that would be bothered by that.
2. Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau has proven to be one of the best coaches in hockey, while the timing of his dismissal in Minnesota this past season was … odd. You can hold the lack of a Stanley Cup against him, you can accuse his teams of folding late in playoff series, but the guy wins and he consistently puts his teams in position to succeed. He should be coaching in the NHL somewhere.
3. Rikard Gronborg. Now we get interesting. It has been two decades since the NHL has had a European head coach, and it is time to change that. Gronborg, currently the head coach of Swiss team ZSC Lions as well as the Swedish National Team, has been a winner everywhere he has coached, is highly decorated and respected, and has his sights set on the NHL. His contract with Zurich expires after this season (so he would be available) and would be a refreshing change of pace and maybe bring some new ideas to a league that keeps recycling through the same coaches over and over again.
4. Todd Nelson. Nelson’s minor league resume is about as impressive as you can get. In 10 seasons as a head coach in the UHL and AHL he never missed the playoffs while winning championships in both leagues (most recently in 2016-17 as head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins). His only head coaching experience in the NHL was a half season with the 2014-15 Edmonton Oilers, where the team went 17-22-7 under his watch. That may not seem like much, until you consider that same roster went 7-22-7 in the games where he was not the head coach. He is currently an assistant with the Dallas Stars. He probably deserves another chance — a real chance — as an NHL boss.
[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agency Tracker]
5. John Stevens. Stevens would probably be a very “safe” hire, but not necessarily a bad one. He has an AHL championship on his coaching resume, has been a top assistant on multiple Stanley Cup Final teams (including this past season with the Dallas Stars), and was mostly successful during his time as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings. He was the fall-guy for being behind the bench when the Kings’ started to decline and rebuild.
6. Mike Babcock. You have to assume he is going to be discussed, and most people would probably consider him higher on a list like this because, well, he is Mike Babcock, and that is still a name that carries a lot of weight in the NHL. This is not the direction I would go. His recent track record with established, talented teams is not good at all (only one playoff series win in nine seasons) so I have a hard time seeing him molding a new franchise into something anytime soon.
7. Mike Vellucci. Now we start to get into the long shots. But let’s play connect the dots here. Vellucci, currently an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, has won championships in the OHL and AHL and has a prior history with Francis from their time in the Carolina Hurricanes organization. But would Seattle be willing to go with a rookie NHL head coach to begin its franchise?
8. Dan Bylsma. Or as I like to call him, a slightly better version of Mike Babcock who doesn’t have the luxury of Hockey Canada boosting his reputation. He’s a better coach than he gets credit for being. He might be the next coach of the Red Wings, however. Perhaps soon.
9. Mike Yeo. I include Yeo just because I feel like he is the type of coach that will keep getting chances in the NHL. A known commodity that has had success with two different teams. He will get a third team.
10. Dave Hakstol. His time in Philadelphia did not go as planned, but some coaches need to fail before they can succeed. Would a different roster and that experience help him in a second spot?
Other long shots worth keeping an eye on…
Rod Brind’Amour. All I am saying is his contract in Carolina expires after this season, he is an excellent coach, there is a connection with Francis. Is it likely? No. But is it crazy? Okay, maybe it is. But still … I am just saying.
Paul Maurice. At some point something is going to have to give with Maurice and the Jets, and he could be available if things do not work in Winnipeg this season.
Jim Montgomery. A second-chance opportunity perhaps. Montgomery was fired by the Stars early this season and eventually entered rehab for alcohol abuse in January. Now sober, he is back working behind the bench as an assistant with the St. Louis Blues.
Karl Taylor. Taylor is the reigning American Hockey League coach of the year and has NHL aspirations. He is 77-38-24 in his two years as the head coach of Nashville’s top AHL team in Milwaukee. Maybe an expansion team isn’t the best starting point. But still a name to consider.