Vegas Golden Knights’ general manager George McPhee must be feeling like a young John Goodman in front of a large craft services table right now. In what has been one of the most ruthless, surprising years for head coaching changes, the newly minted expansion team has some fantastic, experience-laden coaching options to choose from.
McPhee has already come out saying that he wants veteran coaching experience behind the bench during the Vegas squad’s early years. When you look at the experience, and successes, of the four NHL coaches that have been relieved of their duties thus far in the 2016-17 season, McPhee has some great options to choose from.
The first, and most surprising, firing of the year was back in November when the Florida Panthers let go of Gerard Gallant. In a strange move, the Panthers’ GM Tom Rowe fired Gallant after an away game and promoted…himself. A lot of speculation has surrounded the reasoning behind Gallant’s firing, but the general consensus has been that he didn’t see eye to eye with Rowe and owner Vinnie Viola’s vision for the team and reliance on heavy analytics.
Gallant was coming off coaching Florida to its best season in franchise history, in which it grabbed 103 points and finished 1st in the Atlantic Division on its way to a 1st round exit to the Islanders. Gallant was 96-64-25 in his two-plus seasons with the Panthers and he solidified himself as a very good coach, one who resonates with his players both young and old. In a situation where the Golden Knights will have a somewhat cobbled together squad especially in those first couple of years, a guy like Gallant who can get the most out of his young guys and veterans would be a good first.
Second to see the axe this season was the New York Islanders’ Jack Capuano. Fired in January, Capuano had led the team to a lackluster 17-17-8 start. However, it’s been stated by anyone and everyone who knows hockey that Cappy’s firing was more to cover the butt of GM Garth Snow, who has done a lousy job of running this team and let go of potential franchise players and gotten back skaters like Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, who haven’t done much to improve the Islanders.
Capuano, the league’s 4th longest tenured coach before his firing, had led the Islanders to the playoffs in three of the previous four seasons, while finishing with a record of 227-192-64.
You have to wonder if a guy with Capuano’s tenure is going to want to jump right back into an NHL head coaching job after so many years, but the Golden Knights will certainly be giving him a ring…in hopes he’ll help them get a ring.
We already knew that the St. Louis Blues’ Ken Hitchcock was on his way out, as the team had hired former Wild coach Mike Yeo as associate head coach in line to take over after the 16-17 season. However, the Blues were never really able to find their stride this season and Hitchcock was only able to lead the team to a record of 24-21-5 despite having a quality team that included the likes of Vladimir Tarasenko.
Hitch was already on his way out, but the team decided to let him go and usher in the Mike Yeo area a few months early. Overall, Hitchcock did a wonderful job in his six years with the franchise, leading the team to a 248-124-41 record. He led the Blues to the playoffs in all of his five full seasons and won the Jack Adams Award in 2012. The man can coach and he’ll coach again. Maybe it’ll be for the Vegas Golden Knights.
And just yesterday, February 7th, the Boston Bruins let go of 10-year coach Claude Julien. The head coach of Boston since 2007, Julien holds the franchise record for most wins with 419 and led the Bruins to a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010-11. However, over the past two seasons, the Bruins failed to make the playoffs and speculation about Julien’s job security began to form.
This season, Julien had led the Bruins to a 26-23-6 record and the franchise has been mired in frustration over this. Based on the team Julien was putting out on the ice every night, a team built around the likes of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, the Bruins should have been winning more in a somewhat weak Atlantic Division.
Julien won’t be waiting long to get another job and it’ll be up to George McPhee to make an early and aggressive push for one of the NHL’s top coaches of the past decade.
A quick hire of any of these four, veteran coaches would give the Golden Knights an immediate advantage as the team heads toward the expansion draft in July so expect to hear some new. A tenured, experienced coach will help McPhee make personnel decisions and give some insight into how to build a team that can start winning games as soon as it takes the ice.
No matter who Vegas decides to go with, assuming it’s even one of these four, the team has some fantastic options to choose from and we haven’t even finished the season yet.