Dear Abbey: Responding to Your New NHL Coaching Hot Takes
Welcome to another edition of Dear Abbey! I don't give life advice like the real Dear Abby, but I do talk about hockey.
NHL players are starting to leave their summer cottages and get back on the ice, making it a perfect time to check in with the members of the B/R hockey community to ask for their thoughts on the NHL offseason.
With 10 head coaching hires this summer, we asked readers to give us their predictions, opinions and overall thoughts on the moves made behind the benches. Before we get started with some scorching hot takes, let's recap all of the moves.
- The Boston Bruins fired coach Bruce Cassidy and hired former Dallas Stars coach Jim Montgomery. Cassidy was quickly hired to coach the Vegas Golden Knights.
- The Chicago Blackhawks replaced interim coach Derek King with Luke Richardson, a former Montreal Canadiens assistant coach.
- With his contract up, Rick Bowness stepped away from the Dallas Stars after the team was eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He was replaced by Peter DeBoer, who had recently been fired by the Vegas Golden Knights. Bowness went to the Winnipeg Jets to replace interim coach Dave Lowry.
- Steve Yzerman turned to a coach he worked with in Tampa Bay, tabbing former Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde to coach the Detroit Red Wings. Lalonde replaced Jeff Blashill, who failed to lead Detroit to a winning record outside of his first year with the team.
- The Habs took the interim tag off Martin St. Louis and gave him a three-year contract.
- The Florida Panthers replaced Jack Adams finalist Andrew Brunette with Paul Maurice. Brunette is now an assistant on Lindy Ruff's bench in New Jersey.
- The Edmonton Oilers took the interim tag off of Jay Woodcroft and extended him for three years.
- The San Jose Sharks replaced Bob Boughner with former New York Rangers coach David Quinn.
- The Philadelphia Flyers fired interim coach Mike Yeo and replaced him with John Tortorella.
- Elsewhere in the Metropolitan Division, the New York Islanders stunningly cut ties with Barry Trotz and promoted his longtime assistant, Lane Lambert.
With that out of the way, we checked with the fans to see how they felt about some of these moves. Also, shoutout to users Deke (@DekeGeek) and Pierson Wayne (@Pierson). They had quite a few takes, with many of them ranging from tepid to absolutely fiery. We love to see it!
DeBoer Has Been Here BeFoer
Peter DeBoer will take the Dallas Stars, a team capable of competing for the Stanley Cup, to the Conference Final or even all the way to the Stanley Cup Final only to lose disappointingly. Hmmm, where have we heard this story BeFoer? (@Pierson)
Well done with the play on his last name. DeBoer is known for having success in Year 1, and the Stars are only two years removed from the Stanley Cup Final in the bubble.
The 54-year-old DeBoer went to the 2012 Stanley Cup Final in his first season with the Devils and the 2016 Cup Final in his first season behind the San Jose Sharks bench. He also led the Golden Knights to the Western Conference Final in the 2020 Edmonton bubble.
However, defenseman John Klingberg, who would've been a perfect fit in DeBoer's system, joined the Anaheim Ducks in free agency. Meanwhile, Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are clearly on the downswing of their respective careers.
But the Stars do have some game-breaking young talent in defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who played in the Cup Final, forward Jason Robertson, and goalie Jake Oettinger, who had some of the best numbers of the 2022 postseason, albeit in a seven-game sample.
So could I see DeBoer taking the Stars to the Final in Year 1? Sure.
The Colorado Avalanche lost a few key players from their championship roster, and they could still lose Nazem Kadri. The Minnesota Wild didn't show much in the playoffs, while no one really knows how good the Los Angeles Kings will be next season. The St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers will be tough. No one knows what to expect from Vegas or the Nashville Predators,
The Stars should be a playoff team, and once you're into the postseason, anything can happen.
Could I see Dallas getting bounced out of the first round again? Also, yes. The defense corps is thin, though if Thomas Harley emerges, that could help. Scott Wedgewood is behind Oettinger, and it's tough to know if he's truly an NHL goalie.
General manager Jim Nill will likely have to do some maneuvering of his own to improve this roster.
Jetting to the Sunshine State
Paul Maurice will do wonders in Florida. Weaker group than last year but still an elite group, especially with Tkachuk. (@candyman22)
If we're being honest, I didn't quite understand this hire. Maurice is a good coach, but he only took the Jets past the second round once.
This felt like another recycling job: A coach who has been around but hasn't exactly accomplished a ton got a head job simply because he had one previously. This is very typical of the NHL, and sure, you could say the same of DeBoer, but he does have two Stanley Cup Final appearances on his resume.
However, teams did open up the gates a little bit and looked to some new faces this summer, so it's not like we haven't seen any progress on that front.
Just six months before taking the Florida job, Maurice said he was burnt out and needed to step away from coaching. However, talking to general manager Bill Zito reinvigorated him. Maybe a new challenge was exactly what the 55-year-old needed.
It's a top roster with Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad. Forward Anton Lundell also had a breakout rookie season.
Maurice is known to distribute minutes in a way that keeps the legs of his top-six fresh, and he can do that with a roster like this one, though the defense takes a hit without MacKenzie Weegar, who went with Jonathan Huberdeau to the Calgary Flames in the trade for Tkachuk.
Most of their top players are locked up through the next few years, so he'll have time to implement his systems, but the time for the Panthers is now. The club believes they are ready to contend for a Stanley Cup immediately, and they believe Maurice is a coach who can capitalize on that window.
Shipping Up to Boston
The Cassidy firing would've made some sense if they hired a different type of coach. But with the Montgomery hiring, it's like replacing A with a lesser B. (@DekeGeek)
There was some discussion in the app as to why, exactly, the Boston Bruins got rid of Cassidy. Cassidy thought he had some job security, only to find out later that was not the case.
Fans were quick to say he was a scapegoat for general manager Don Sweeney, and some of the Boston columnists felt the same. There were questions about how Cassidy handled the development of young players, and there were rumors that the veterans had tuned him out.
So, in comes Montgomery, who had been wanting another crack at a head job. His tenure with the Stars came to an abrupt end in December of 2019 when the club dismissed him for "unprofessional conduct", and he subsequently entered an alcohol treatment program. He then spent two seasons on Craig Berube's bench in St. Louis.
I can see why the Bruins this hire. He comes from a college background, having coached at the University of Denver.
Boston is not only a town where college hockey is part of the culture, but the organization takes a lot of college free agents. Of course, the club also interviewed Quinn, the former Boston University coach, but ultimately decided that Montgomery, an affable yet demanding players' coach, was a better fit.
To say that Montgomery is a lesser coach than Cassidy is probably fair, but maybe only based on NHL resume alone. He won championships at the USHL and NCAA levels and took the Stars to the playoffs in 2019.
But Cassidy took the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2019, so I wasn't surprised to see that Boston fans wanted a more established coach.
The Bruins will probably be a playoff team next season now that Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci announced their returns, but this club could be looking at a rebuild in another two years. Sure, they got the band back together, but how long can they keep playing?
Maybe this is when Montgomery finally establishes himself at the NHL level.
Torts and Gritty in the Same City
I don't know what the Flyers are doing. You're not competitive, why did you bring in Torts? (@DRW1AJN)
John "Torts" Tortorella, a blue-collar, passionate, demanding, often obstinate head coach meets these horrendous Philadelphia Flyers, a blue-collar, passionate, demanding, often obstinate fanbase. So what's the worst that can happen? (@Pierson)
Torts is a great fit for the Flyers. He's just four years too early. (@DekeGeek)
I have long thought that Tortorella would be a great fit in Philadelphia for many of the reasons mentioned above. He's great at holding players accountable but also protecting them from harsh criticism from the media and a demanding fanbase.
When general manager Chuck Fletcher made the hire in June, he made it with the intent to compete next season. He talked about an "aggressive retool" and made moves (though not good ones) to lock up players like Rasmus Ristolainen in anticipation of a return to the postseason.
Had Johnny Gaudreau come home to Philadelphia, the Flyers probably could have been a playoff team. But oddly enough, it was moves like that Ristolainen extension that precluded the Flyers from signing a hometown hero. The club couldn't make it work with the salary cap and failed to move James van Riemsdyk, another South New Jersey native, just like Gaudreau.
Even funnier, had the Flyers not brought in another native of the Garden State, defenseman Tony DeAngelo, the cap space for Gaudreau might have worked. DeAngelo, an all-offense, no-defense blueliner, has a long history of disciplinary issues as well. There is a possibility he could clash with a demanding coach like Tortorella.
Of course, anyone can clash with Tortorella. He's sort of a firebrand, but he does have a reputation for being a very caring individual underneath the rough exterior.
Four years from now, the Flyers should still be in the midst of a rebuild, and they might have a new general manager. Who knows if Torts will be around for that or not?
I don't understand the Martin St. Louis extension, unless they plan on rebuilding for his whole three-year contract. Which would make it an excellent hire. (@DekeGeek)
I had a chance to talk to some Habs about St. Louis toward the end of the regular season. He's not that far removed from his playing career, having retired following the 2014-15 season, so he can relate well and communicate effectively.
As our friend Deke mentioned in another comment, he did worlds for Cole Caufield's development. The Habs' 2019 first-round pick had been demoted to the AHL to find his scoring stride. But in 37 NHL games under St. Louis, he scored 22 goals and assisted on 13, shooting at a 19.3 percent clip. Compare that to just one goal and a paltry 1.4 percent shooting rate and the change is evident.
It's a whole new ballgame in Montreal right now with Jeff Gorton and Kent Johnson running things in hockey ops and Chantal Machabée in public relations. There is less pressure on Caufield to be something he isn't. The team is aware of the rebuilding efforts. Without a captain, St. Louis' leadership will be crucial. And a three-year contract is on par with what most coaches in this position would receive. Montreal got better over the summer, and it can continue to make strides over the next two years and put it all together to hopefully return to the postseason in his third.
A New Lane on the Turnpike
Lane Lambert was the right decision for Long Island. (@h_mock)
I would agree with that sentiment. Lambert has been an assistant on the rise for a few years now, probably going back to 2018 when he helped Trotz guide the Washington Capitals to a Stanley Cup championship.
Being a Trotz disciple, Lambert will likely keep much of the same staunch defensive system in place. If he can open up some more room for offensive and for Mathew Barzal to create offense, then the Islanders will be back in the postseason. This team was decimated by COVID-19 and an extra-long road trip because of the opening of the new UBS Arena last fall. They struggled offensively due to injuries to players like Kyle Palmieri.
Lou Lamoriello's decision to fire Trotz was an unpopular one. He doesn't quite have the same amount of fan goodwill that he had in New Jersey, when he was known to fire coaches out of nowhere but was also winning championships.
Could signing free agent center Nazem Kadri buy him a little more? The Isles have reportedly made him an offer, but it's not like they're in need of a center so I'm not sure it would be a fit. However, they were unable to land Gaudreau and Lamoriello had to pivot, so here we are.
The only other real acquisition he made this summer was to trade a first-round pick to Montreal for defenseman Alexander Romanov, who has not yet shown that he's an everyday NHL player.
The best decision Lamoriello has made so far this summer was to promote the 57-year-old Lambert and retain goaltending coach Mitch Korn, who helped Ilya Sorokin put up the second-best save percentage of the regular season last year (.925). John MacLean was also added to the staff recently, giving Lambert an experienced NHL coach to draw from.
A New Era in Motown
New head coach Derek Lalonde may be unproven in the NHL, but so are his Detroit Red Wings hatchlings, and I think he's the best hire of the offseason. (@Pierson)
When Trotz became available, many wondered if general manager and former Red Wings great Steve Yzerman would snap him up to help expedite the rebuilding process. Yzerman keeps his thoughts and processes very private, but when Blashill was fired it was the first indication that he was ready to take the next step.
And it was clear in the way he revamped the roster that he is, in fact, ready for Detroit to take the next step. He signed free agent center Andrew Copp to a five-year deal, made a nice acquisition to boost the top-six with David Perron, traded for defenseman Ben Chiarot and solidified the goaltending tandem with a trade for Ville Husso.
Now it's up to Lalonde to put it all together. Jon Cooper's former assistant has now coached in three straight Stanley Cup Finals and helped Cooper capture two championships. Yzerman, as you may remember, hired Cooper in Tampa, so Lalonde had been connected to Detroit before the postseason even started. It's clear that Yzerman has an eye for talent, and if the 49-year-old Lalonde turns out to be half as good as Cooper then it would be considered a success.
We Don't Talk About Bruno
Devils won the coaching carousel, getting Brunette and McGill to join Ruff. The players wanted Ruff so they gave Ruff a staff. (@DekeGeek)
It's been quite a year for the coach they call Bruno. He took over for Joel Quenneville in Florida on an interim basis when Quenneville stepped down amid the fallout of the sexual assault allegations made by Kyle Beach against an ex-Blackhawks video coach. The Panthers won the President's Trophy, but lost to their cross-state rivals, the Lightning, in the second round of the playoffs.
Brunette's inexperience showed in the postseason and he said he looked back on some coaching decisions and recognized that he should have done a few things differently following the conclusion of the Panthers' run. The team never removed Brunette's interim tag and hired Maurice. Brunette had little incentive to stay in Sunrise, so he went north to join his former teammate Tom Fitzgerald in New Jersey.
Jack Hughes has been a vocal supporter of coach Lindy Ruff, despite two losing seasons in Newark. The decision to give Ruff another chance stemmed from the injuries to the goaltenders, Hughes and Dougie Hamilton last season. The Devils were expected to compete for a playoff spot last season, but when Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier both went down with injuries, it started to fall apart.
The Devils added Brunette and Ryan McGill to Ruff's staff in July. It's a great situation. If the 62-year-old Ruff decides to retire following this season, Brunette could be ready to take his spot. If not, he gets another year of experience as an assistant that he can use to prep for a potential head job.
Now, the Devils just have to hope that everyone stays healthy, otherwise, they're looking at the 11th straight year of rebuilding efforts.