SEATTLE — Now that the Seattle Kraken are full-fledged members of the NHL, general manager Ron Francis can start his wheeling and dealing.
Signing players? That started this week with the addition of 21-year-old Luke Henman. Trades and some of those side deals that Vegas negotiated during the last NHL expansion draft? Absolutely.
But along with wondering when the opening date will be for its training center and its new arena, and who Seattle may take in the expansion draft, there is one major question still hanging over Francis.
Who’s going to be the coach?
“As we get closer to the second quarter of this year we should be pretty set in what we want to do,” Francis said this week.
The framework for the Kraken’s first season will take shape over the next two months as the NHL goes through the Stanley Cup playoffs and moves toward the July 21 expansion draft, when the bulk of Seattle’s roster will be established.
Meantime, Francis is being methodical about picking a coach, even as rumors swirl about the likely candidates.
All Francis has offered is the “second quarter,” which likely means June. It’s just in time for the new boss to get acquainted with the franchise before the expansion draft.
But waiting also allows Francis time to survey the fallout from the NHL season and most of the playoffs to see if any unlikely candidates suddenly become available.
Francis noted last month he’s been keeping a spreadsheet of names.
“You look at guys who are currently out there without jobs, you look at guys who are currently working and maybe have expiring contracts, you look at other situations that maybe are looking to make a change,” Francis said in April. “You’re not really going to know all that until the next month or two.”
Most speculation has centered on Gerard Gallant since he was fired by Vegas halfway through the 2019-20 season. His experience with the Golden Knights through their expansion season in 2017-18 and in leading them to the Stanley Cup Finals made him an obvious candidate the longer he went without another NHL gig.
There could be a complication with him, however. Gallant will be the head coach for Canada at the IIHF World Championships that start this month in Latvia.
There are plenty of other names floating about, like Bruce Boudreau, Claude Julien, Todd Nelson and John Stevens.
There’s also the possibility of a current coach leaving his team in the coming weeks and providing an option for Seattle.
In that vein, Rod Brind’Amour in Carolina has long been rumored because of his history with Francis, though he appears to be near a contract extension with the Hurricanes. Travis Green in Vancouver is another name regularly mentioned should his time with the Canucks be coming to an end.
John Tortorella, Rick Tocchet and David Quinn also recently became available.
Whoever ends up getting the job will be in a rush to get ready for the start of the 2021-22 season, expected to begin in mid-October. Between putting together a staff, the expansion draft, free agency and training camp, it will be a jampacked 2½ months before play begins.
“We’re patient. We think we’re prepared,” Francis said. “When we get to that point to zero in and talk to the people we want to talk to we’ll make that decision.”