NHL Power Rankings: Seattle Kraken coaching candidates

NHL Power Rankings
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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.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Five players looking for a fresh start in 2020

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The year is winding down and some people around the NHL will be happier to see it come to an end than others. 2019 was kind to players like Ryan O'Reilly, Nikita Kucherov and Mark Giordano, but there are others who are ready for a fresh start and a new year.

Who needs a new beginning?

Let’s take a look:

Andreas Athanasiou – Detroit Red Wings: 

Athanasiou put together his first 30-goal campaign last season, which increased expectations for him heading into 2019-20. But things haven’t gone nearly as well for him this year. The Red Wings forward has scored just five times in his first 32 games. And although the plus/minus stat is no longer as relevant as it used to be, it’s hard to ignore his league-worst minus-35 rating.

As difficult as this season has been for him, there would be no shortage of teams willing to trade for him if the Red Wings made him available. He’s fast, he can score and Detroit would be silly to give him away.

General manager Steve Yzerman wasn’t born yesterday, so he knows that players like Athanasiou don’t grow on trees. The rebuilding Wings should be as patient as they can be with their speedy winger, but he needs the calendar to turn to 2020 in a hurry.

•  Alex Galchenyuk – Pittsburgh Penguins: 

Since the start of 2018, Galchenyuk has played for three different teams and he’s been traded twice. He went from Montreal to Arizona and then from Arizona to Pittsburgh. That’s not a good sign for any player, let alone someone who is still relatively young and who’s scored 30 goals in the NHL before.

The Coyotes gave up Max Domi to get their hands on Galchenyuk, who they believed could be a full-time center in the NHL. Not only did he not last down the middle, but the ‘Yotes decided they had seen enough of him in just one year. They didn’t give him away, as he was part of a trade for Phil Kessel, but that’s probably not the scenario they had in mind when they acquired him.

Things haven’t gone much better for him in Pittsburgh, either. He’s battled through injuries and a lack of consistency that has seemed to plague him for a while now. Even with all the injuries the Penguins are going through, Galchenyuk remains on the team’s fourth line.

Galchenyuk’s had multiple changes of scenery and they haven’t worked out well for him. What’s next?

•  Shayne Gostisbehere – Philadelphia Flyers:

Gostisbehere is a prime “change of scenery” candidate heading into the new year. The 26-year-old struggled last season under head coaches Dave Hakstol and Scott Gordon, and not much has changed with Alain Vigneault behind the bench in 2019-20.

After scoring 65 points in 78 games in 2017-18, Gostisbehere managed to pick up 37 points in the same amount of contests last year. This season, things have gotten even worse offensively, as he’s amassed five goals and 11 points in 32 contests.

The Flyers defender was even made a healthy scratch in three consecutive games between Nov. 23-27. Yeah, that’s how bad things have been for him this season. Now that he’s put together back-to-back difficult seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Chuck Fletcher unload him before the trade deadline.

• Ilya Kovalchuk – Free Agent: 

Imagine signing a three-year, $18 million deal on July 1st 2018 and never even making it to the mid-way point of the contract. That’s exactly what happened to Kovalchuk in Los Angeles. The Kings were so fed up with the 36-year-old that they were willing to keep dead money on the cap this year and next year just to get rid of him.

The Russian winger put up respectable numbers last season when he scored 16 goals and 34 points in 64 games, but those didn’t justify the commitment they made to him two summers ago.

Now, Kovalchuk is reportedly willing to play for peanuts and he wants to be on a contender. The questions is, who is willing to take him on at this point?

If you pro-rate last year’s totals over 82 games, he was on pace to score 21 goals. You’d think that a team would be willing to take a shot at a 20-goal scorer if it were to cost them around $1 million. Will anyone do it? Is a general manager going to pull that trigger on that kind of deal?

P.K. Subban – New Jersey Devils:

Expectations around the New Jersey Devils increased once they acquired Subban from the Nashville Predators on Day 2 of the 2019 NHL Draft. Instead of taking them to another level, the veteran has struggled mightily. He’s accumulated just two goals and three assists in 33 games this season and he’s failed to pick up a point in 21 straight games.

The 30-year-old has two years remaining on his contract that comes with a cap hit of $9 million. That means that he’ll probably have to work through his current issues in New Jersey, as it would be shocking to see anyone trade for him at this point.

Subban has dealt with a couple of different injuries over the last few seasons, including a back ailment he had to fight through over the last few seasons. Is that what’s slowing him down right now?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches

When Kevin Hayes got off to a slow start with the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t need to talk to him.

Assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien took care of that. Because each had been an NHL head coach before, Vigneault encourages that direct communication.

“There’s a confidence factor with AV knowing that if we’re going to talk to a player, what we’re saying would be the same message that he would be delivering to that player,” Yeo said. “He wanted people that were comfortable and confident to go up to players, whether it’s correcting, whether it’s reinforcing, whether it’s patting somebody on the back. He wants us to be proactive about that.”

It’s not just Yeo and Therrien. Anyone interested in firing a coach this season is in trouble without a successor lined up because almost every potential candidate already has a job.

Of 31 teams, 20 have a former NHL head coach as an assistant and six have more than one. Concerns about having too many cooks in the kitchen are no match for the benefit of having experience dealing with players, handling game situations and scouting opponents.

“There’s nothing but positives,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got guys that understand exactly what I’m going through and understand exactly what I mean as far as feedback. Nobody understands a head coach better than a former head coach.”

Philadelphia’s three-headed monster is bested only by the Dallas Stars having ex-head coaches John Stevens, Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson on Jim Montgomery’s staff. Unlike Vigneault, who carries with him the gravitas of taking two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, Montgomery is a first-time head coach and isn’t at all bothered by having guys directly reporting to him who have done his job before.

“I’m a guy that wants information from other people,” said Montgomery, who’s in his second season as Stars coach. “As much information they can give me before I talk to the team, the better knowledge I’m imparting to the team so that we can have quicker points and get right to what we think’s going to help us win hockey games.”

Four of the NHL-tested assistants – Detroit’s Dan Bylsma, Chicago’s Marc Crawford, Anaheim adviser Darryl Sutter and St. Louis part-timer Larry Robinson – have won the Stanley Cup as a head coach, and Sutter did it twice. Many more have connections to championship teams or won in the minors.

“There’s a lot of little fires that coaches have to go through – head coaches – and I think when you have a staff with experience, they can put those fires out before they get to you,” said Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who has Phil Housley and John MacLean on his staff.

Often, a personal connection is enough to create instant chemistry on a staff. Montgomery and Stevens played together in the American Hockey League and won the Calder Cup in 1998, while Vigneault and Therrien have known each other for two decades.

Washington’s Todd Reirden in his first head NHL job wanted an assistant with similar experience and hired Scott Arniel without knowing him. After being on a Pittsburgh Penguins staff under Bylsma with former head coaches Tony Granato and Jacques Martin as fellow assistants, Reirden understands the importance of leaning on someone who’s been there before.

“I think I had had 10 or 11 years of assistant or associate coach (experience),” said Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when the Capitals won the Cup in 2018. “But not being a full-time head coach in this league, and I thought it was important to have someone like Scott that had gone through the same type of thing: Good things that worked for him, in the same breath things that he wished he could do over and positives and negatives we could work on together.”

Settling in to life as a lieutenant isn’t always easy for former head coaches.

Therrien hadn’t been an assistant since his first job in junior in the early 1990s, while Stevens is coming off being fired by the Los Angeles Kings less than a year ago.

“When you’re the head coach, you’re used to speaking all the time,” said Stevens, who has coached the Flyers and Kings and won the Cup twice as an assistant with Los Angeles. “As an assistant coach, you’ve got to listen and speak at the right time. … A coaching staff functions like a team. I think you put egos aside.”

Fired almost exactly a year ago as Blues coach – St. Louis went on to win the Cup with replacement Craig Berube – Yeo still sees the game as a head coach but changes his messaging from talking directly to players to whispering down the line to Therrien so Vigneault gets the gist.

It could be disconcerting for a young coach to look over his shoulder at one or more potential replacements. But some, like Montgomery, New York Rangers coach David Quinn with Lindy Ruff and new Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe with Dave Hakstol could do their jobs even better with some extra experience.

Vigneault felt that way during his first job in Montreal in the mid-1990s when he hired Dave King as an assistant. As the CEO behind the bench, he thinks it’s smart for coaches of all ages to take whatever experience they can get.

“As a young coach, it was real beneficial to me,” Vigneault said. “With my experience now, I can probably use them even better than I did when I started.”

Coaching carousel: Sabres Krueger fine with being unknown

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Ralph Krueger doesn’t care if you have never heard of him.

Having just turned 60, the Buffalo Sabres’ new coach leans on the benefit of his vast experience – in hockey, soccer, and life as a father, husband, author and motivational speaker – to have stopped worrying a long time ago about how others view him and whether he might have something to prove returning to the NHL following a six-year absence.

”I don’t care about that at all. Not one second, not even a millisecond do I care about my popularity here,” Krueger emphatically told The Associated Press earlier this month.

”I have zero fear in this job because I have nothing to prove to anybody other than I want this team to be successful and give back to the city,” he added. ”But it’s not that I’m out to prove to people that I was an out-of-the-box hire.”

This offseason’s NHL coaching carousel featured seven changes. While it had the Florida Panthers landing the most highly-prized candidate in three-time Stanley Cup champion Joel Quenneville, the Sabres took the most intriguing approach in hiring Krueger to turn things around. The other changes have Dallas Eakins in Anaheim, Dave Tippett in Edmonton, Todd McLellan in Los Angeles, D.J. Smith in Ottawa and Alain Vigneault in Philadelphia.

In Buffalo, the Sabres essentially split the middle in choosing between hiring a so-called retread versus a first-timer by luring Krueger back to hockey after he spent the past five years running soccer’s Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

From Winnipeg, Manitoba, Krueger is not exactly a fresh new face though he is highly respected for the quarter-century spent in hockey on both sides of the Atlantic. He has coached Switzerland’s national team, led Team Europe to a second-place finish at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and was as a consultant for Canada’s gold-medal team at the 2014 Winter Games.

He’s also not exactly a recycled entity either, despite having spent 2012-13 coaching the Edmonton Oilers before being fired – via Skype of all things – following a 19-22-7 finish.

If Quenneville benefits from having instant recognition when walking into a locker room, Krueger focused on making a good impression on a Sabres lineup featuring a majority of players who weren’t in the NHL when he was in Edmonton.

He began by reaching out to players by phone or personally, such as visiting with captain Jack Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart in Slovakia, where they competed at the world championships in May. And Krueger then gripped his players’ attention during a pre-camp-opening speech which forward Kyle Okposo said was so impassioned several of his teammates were ready to run through a wall afterward.

”He’s got that presence about him,” Okposo said ”I’ve been around a lot of coaches, a lot of people, and I would say he’s an alpha.”

Krueger regarded Okposo’s impression of him as a compliment and believed it referred to the open line of communication he’s established with players.

Though Krueger prides himself for being always upbeat, that doesn’t mean he’ll avoid being critical.

”I’m not a smiley, friendly guy,” he said. ”Positive isn’t always friendly. Positive is constructive. Positive is working toward solutions. So if a player gets sent down, there’s an opportunity for him, too. And we’ll be clear on why and what has to be worked on.”

Krueger spent his time away from hockey developing on-ice strategies, some of which he experimented with while coaching Team Europe. He emphasizes simplicity in allowing players to play to their strengths, and speed in always being focused on attacking the opposing zone.

Though he has no regrets leaving hockey, the hiatus gave him time to realize how much he missed the game and dealing directly with players.

”My kids, when they saw me at the World Cup of Hockey said, ‘Dad, that was the happiest period you’ve had in the last five years,”’ he said. ”They didn’t mean I wasn’t happy, but it was more in my job, the energy, and that stuck with me.”

The joy to be back behind a bench is reflected in messages he sends to his family in Switzerland.

”The nicest thing I’m telling them is I really feel at home,” Krueger said.

NEW FACES

Dallas Eakins, Anaheim.

NHL coaching record: 36-63-14 (Edmonton, 2013-15)

Replaces: Ducks GM Bob Murray, who finished season as interim coach after Randy Carlyle was fired.

What they’re saying: ”You can already see it and feel it around the room that guys are ready to go, and guys are ready to turn that page,” forward Adam Henrique said of Eakins, who spent past three years coaching the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego. ”It’s a lot of fun coming to the rink. He’s here to work.”

Ralph Krueger, Buffalo.

NHL coaching record: 19-22-7 (Edmonton, 2012-13)

Replaces: Phil Housley, who was fired after two seasons.

What they’re saying: ”I think the thing that sticks out is the personality. He’s somebody you want to be around, you want to be a better person around,” captain Jack Eichel said. ”He’s very calculated, very smart. He knows what he wants.”

Todd McLellan, Los Angeles.

NHL coaching record: 434-282-90 (San Jose, 2008-15, Edmonton, 2015-19)

Replaces: Willie Desjardins, who wasn’t retained after replacing John Stevens early in the season.

What they’re saying: ”He’s just honest person. He said he don’t care what you did before. He said you just have to show up and show everybody what you can,” said forward Ilya Kovalchuk.

Joel Quenneville, Florida.

NHL coaching record: 890-532-137-77 (St. Louis, 1997-2004, Colorado, 2005-2008, Chicago, 2008-2018)

Replaces: Bob Boughner, who was fired after two seasons.

What they’re saying: ”It’s fantastic for him to coach again. It’s the right situation with his relationship with Dale,” Devils GM Ray Shero said, referring to Panthers GM Dale Tallon, who worked with Quenneville in Chicago. ”It’s not cheap to get a guy like that. But you know what, it’s an important market and they want to win.”

—-

D.J. Smith, Ottawa.

NHL coaching record: None.

Replaces: Interim coach Marc Crawford, who finished season after Guy Boucher was fired.

What they’re saying: ”D.J. did a really good job for us,” said Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, quoted in The Toronto Sun, referring to his former assistant. ”We talked about this when he first interviewed with me five years ago that he would have an opportunity like this. He sent me a really nice text the other day about feeling really prepared and confident.”

—-

Dave Tippett, Edmonton.

NHL coaching record: 553-413-120-28 (Dallas, 2002-09, Arizona, 2009-17)

Replaces: McLellan, who was fired after four seasons.

What they’re saying: ”He’s a big structure guys with his systems and I think that’s going to be big for us because I think in the past, when things start going bad for us, we kind of abandon our structure and then things get worse and worse,” forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. ”When things start to go wrong, I think Tipp’s going to be able to keep us within that structure.”

Alain Vigneault, Philadelphia.

NHL coaching record: 648-435-98-35 (Montreal, 1997-2000, Vancouver, 2006-2013, New York Rangers, 2013-2018)

Replaces: interim coach Scott Gordon, who took over in December after Dave Hakstol was fired.

What they’re saying: ”It was obviously a huge reason why I decided to go there,” said trade acquisition forward Kevin Hayes, who played for Vigneault in New York. ”He was a big contributor to my game changing in the NHL, from being kind of just offensive to a 200-foot player that I believe that I am today.”

Flyers counting on new coach Vigneault to lead them to title

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PHILADELPHIA — The parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers has spent the weeks leading up to the season unveiling the team’s best offseason acquisitions.

There are $25 tickets at a refurbished standing-room-only area at the highest point inside the Wells Fargo Center. Too far away for a good view? No worries, Comcast Spectacor installed a Kinetic 4K center-hung scoreboard that makes Gritty look like Godzilla on the big screen. There’s even a sports book for fans who want to place a wager on the home team while they’re sipping a craft cocktail called ”The Sexy Franklin .”

But the $265 million overhaul to the arena the Flyers share with the 76ers hasn’t exactly trickled down to the roster. The top-shelf amenities, fireplaces and artwork serve as nothing more than posh diversions from the action on the ice. The Flyers are +3600 to win it all and there isn’t an arena upgrade that can save that number.

The Flyers haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1974 and 1975, currently the fourth-longest drought in the NHL. The Flyers missed the playoffs for the fourth time in seven seasons, haven’t made it to the second round since 2012 and will hit 10 years this season since their last Stanley Cup Final appearance.

The new addition the Flyers are really counting is the one on the bench.

Alain Vigneault, known for quick fixes and who led Vancouver and the New York Rangers to the Stanley Cup Final, was hired as the latest coach. Vigneault certainly boasts the credentials that prove he’s capable of turning the Flyers into winners. He has coached 16 NHL seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, Canucks and Rangers and his teams have made the playoffs 11 times.

”He’s a coach that knows what it takes to go far in the playoffs and win,” Flyers center Sean Couturier said.

The Flyers’ gamble on college coach Dave Hakstol backfired and so did their commitment to former general manager Ron Hextall when he laid out a long-term rebuilding plan that was short on immediate playoff results. The Flyers hired Chuck Fletcher last December in hopes he can resuscitate the franchise and make the orange-and-black again known for more than their googly-eyed mascot.

The champion St. Louis Blues showed it could be done – they were the worst team in the NHL in January.

The Flyers hope their hectic early season travel schedule doesn’t derail their efforts: Philadelphia plays a final preseason game in Switzerland, opens the season in the Czech Republic, plays one home game on Oct. 9 and then heads to Western Canada for three games in five days. Did someone say jet lag?

WHO’S HERE

Vigneault. F Kevin Hayes, D Matt Niskanen, D Justin Braun. Hayes signed a $50 million, seven-year contract that’s worth $7.14 million a season. Hayes became the Flyers’ third-highest paid player behind captain Claude Giroux and winger Jakub Voracek and steps in as their new No. 2 center behind Couturier. He’s coming off a career-high 55 points last season with the Rangers and Jets.

WHO’S NOT

Kate Smith. Don’t laugh. Smith’s connection with the Flyers started in 1969 and her rendition of ”God Bless America” was a popular ritual through the years. She even had a statue across the street from the stadium in the sports complex. But the statue was yanked amid allegations of racism against the 1930s star and her video recording will not be played again. D Radko Gudas, C Jori Lehtera and D Andrew MacDonald are among the notable departures.

KEY PLAYERS

All eyes are the 21-year-old Hart, who is expected to steady one of the shakiest positions throughout most of the franchise’s history. He stopped his first 25 shots in preseason action and looks capable of becoming a top-tier goalie. The Flyers used an NHL-record eight goalies last season, but Carter was by far the best and showed enough flashes of promise that he could possibly steal a playoff spot for the Flyers.

OUTLOOK

The Flyers are trying to shift from building to trying to contend for a title. Hextall’s regime was about drafting and developing, and Fletcher is turning his attention to making Philadelphia a playoff contender again. The Flyers should at least contend for one of the final playoff spots in the East and could snag one if once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick play to their potential.

PREDICTION

Gritty will entertain the heck out of sports fans like no other mascot. As such, Gritty will continue to be must-see – but his postseason debut will have to wait at least one more season.