In the last month, five NHL franchises have hired new head coaches. Some went for coaches with extensive previous NHL experience, others with promising hockey minds with little or no experience at the highest level.
Jacques Martin, who was removed as coach in April, 2008 and will remain with the team as General Manager. DeBoer was previously coach of the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League. Though he has never coached at the NHL level, DeBoer’s has earned his stripes with the Detroit Jr. Red Wings for two seasons, the Plymouth Whalers for four seasons, and the Kitchener Rangers for the past seven seasons. DeBoer was named the OHL Coach of the Year two years in a row with Plymouth in 1999 and 2000 and led Kitchener to the Memorial Cup in 2002-03 with future NHL’ers Mike Richards, Derek Roy and Steve Entminger among others. As impressive as DeBoer’s Junior pedigree is, he’ll need to pick it up a notch to help the struggling Panthers get back on track. The 40 year old is known for his emotional style and will need to infuse his intensity into the Panthers if they are to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2000.
San Jose Sharks. The negative on Wilson in San Jose was that while his teams had impressive records during the regular season, he couldn’t get them to perform when it counted – in the playoffs. Under Wilson, the Sharks have lost in the second round in each of the last three seasons. He’ll have his work cut out for him to turn around the Maple Leafs, the team that drafted him as a defenseman out of Providence College in 1975 and haven’t been to the Stanley Cup finals since 1967. Wilson replaces Paul Maurice, who was hired as the Maple Leafs coach in 2006. Wilson’s NHL experience has included stints with the Anaheim Ducks (I refuse to use their former name) from 1993-1997 and the Washington Capitals from 1997-2002 before joining the Sharks in 2002. Wilson, who comes from a family of hockey coaches, has 518 career victories and was the 11 th coach in NHL history to pass the 500 win milestone. All those wins aside, I think Wilson has a daunting task in front of him in turning around the Leafs.
Detroit Red Wings. McLellan spent the last three years leading Detroit’s potent power play unit to an impressive 20.1% success rate over that period. McLellan, like DeBoer, is another coach with zero head coaching experience at the NHL level. Also like DeBoer, McLellan has experienced significant success in the minors. He spent a number of years with the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL, one year with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the now defunct IHL, and four years leading the Houston Aeros (farm club of the Minnesota Wild prior to his assistant coaching sting with the Red Wings. During his time at the helm of the Aeros, McLellan led the team to the Calder Cup Championship in 2003. I’m not sure how McLellan will do with this already potent lineup, but it was time for new blood after Wilson’s inability to make the Sharks winners in the playoffs.
Minnesota North Stars, comes with a good deal of coaching experience at both the OHL and NHL levels. A year after his playing career ended with the North Stars, Hartsburg took a job as an assistant with his former team. Since then he has coached on 2 OHL teams (Guleph Storm and his most recent experience running the bench for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) and 3 other NHL teams (Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Anaheim Ducks). However, his greatest success as a coach has been behind the bench of the Canadian National Junior team, winning gold in each of the last two years. Hartsburg hopes to bring accountability to a team that desperately needs it. His experience helps, but will his success in the Junior ranks translate to leading players like Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza? And is step one getting rid of Ray Emery?
Joel Quenneville, whose departure one week after being swept from the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings was a “mutual decision”. A former all-star player who spent 13 years playing with the New York Rangers (drafted in the 6 th round of the 1982 NHL Entry Draft), Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, Granato knows the Colorado roster well and will bring a more up-tempo style of coaching to the bench. Granato takes over a roster that has a mix of age and experience in Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote and youth and promise in Paul Stastny, Jean-Michael Liles, and Jeff Finger among others. What he’ll be able to do with it in the always tough Northwest Division is another question. Maybe Cammi and Chicken Parm can help.
There are a number of experienced candidates out there for the Lightning, Kings, and Thrashers. However since these three teams have picks #1-3 in the upcoming 2008 NHL Entry Draft, I think their focus probably lies elsewhere for the time being.