The Best Landing Spots for 5 Unemployed NHL Coaches
With the 2021 NHL playoffs slated to end by no later than July 15, the offseason is on the horizon. Five former NHL head coaches could land jobs with new teams by then.
Gerard Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 2017-18 for turning the Vegas Golden Knights into a playoff team during their inaugural season. He's coaching Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship in Riga, Latvia.
Claude Julien took home the Adams in 2009 and won the Stanley Cup two years later with the Boston Bruins. John Tortorella is a two-time Adams winner who guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004.
Bruce Boudreau won the Adams in 2007-08 with the Washington Capitals and had degrees of success with the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild. Rick Tocchet won two Stanley Cups as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins and spent four seasons as head coach of the Arizona Coyotes.
Five NHL teams—the Arizona Coyotes, Buffalo Sabres, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers and Seattle Kraken—are in the market for new bench bosses. Here's a look at the best landing spots for these unemployed NHL head coaches.
Arizona Coyotes: John Tortorella
The Arizona Coyotes appeared to be heading in the right direction last year after reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2012. But after finishing fifth this season in the Honda West Division, general manager Bill Armstrong and head coach Rick Tocchet mutually agreed to part ways.
Armstrong took over as general manager in September. After a season of evaluating the Coyotes, he felt the club needed a new voice in the dressing room.
John Tortorella could be that voice. Despite a reputation as a demanding coach, he has a record of success throughout his NHL career. He guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2004 Stanley Cup. He also coached the New York Rangers to the 2012 Eastern Conference Final, and the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first playoff series victory in 2019.
The Coyotes have a good core of talent for Tortorella to worth with. They include young players such as Clayton Keller, Jakob Chychrun and Conor Garland, as well as veterans like goaltender Darcy Kuemper and blueliner Oliver Ekman-Larsson. They could be ready to embrace his team-first, aggressive forechecking system.
Buffalo Sabres: Bruce Boudreau
Bruce Boudreau spent 13 seasons as an NHL head coach with the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild. Now a TV analyst with NHL Network, he appears ready to step behind the bench again. On May 20, The Buffalo News' Lance Lysowki reported the former Jack Adams Award winner is interested in the position.
The Sabres are a mess. It's been a decade since they last qualified for the playoffs. They have gone through seven head coaches in that time.
Team captain Jack Eichel complained about a disconnect between himself and the team over treatment for his injured neck. Center Sam Reinhart is a restricted free agent this summer but was noncommittal about his future with the club. On May 10, The Athletic's John Vogl reported defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen said he wouldn't object to a trade, though he also added he's fine with staying.
Boudreau would face a significant task reversing the fortunes of this moribund franchise. Lysowski also noted he hasn't worked with a young roster since his early days with the Washington Capitals. Nevertheless, the fact that this experienced head coach is up for the challenge could make him a worthwhile hire for the Sabres.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Claude Julien
This season saw the Columbus Blue Jackets take a step backward. After upsetting the Tampa Bay Lightning for their first-ever playoff series win in 2019 and beating the Toronto Maple Leafs in last year's qualifying round, the Jackets finished last in the Discover Central Division.
The Jackets agreed to mutually part company with head coach John Tortorella at season's end, leaving them searching for a new bench boss. They could be poised for a rebuild. Defenseman Seth Jones is likely to be traded this summer after informing them of his intention to test next summer's free-agent market.
Claude Julien could be a good option here. He has had a long NHL coaching career, including two tours with the Montreal Canadiens and one season with the New Jersey Devils. His most successful gig was his nearly 10-year tenure with the Boston Bruins.
Julien has experience working with rebuilding teams in Montreal and Boston. His ability to work well with veterans and develop young players could make him the right coach to get the Jackets back on track.
New York Rangers: Rick Tocchet
Rick Tocchet parted ways with the Arizona Coyotes in May following four years as their head coach. His experience as a head coach and assistant coach, as well as his 18 seasons as an NHL player before that, could make him a good fit with the New York Rangers.
After firing coach David Quinn at the end of the regular season, general manager Chris Drury is seeking a more experienced NHL bench boss. On May 25, the New York Post reported Tocchet was interviewed by the Blueshirts. On Wednesday, Arizona Sports 98.7 FM's John Gambadoro reported he had a second interview last week.
Tocchet did a good job with a young roster under difficult circumstances with the Coyotes during last year's front-office shake-up. They reached the playoffs last year for the first time since 2012 by upsetting the Nashville Predators in the qualifying round.
The Rangers could give Tocchet consideration because of his experience working with younger players on the Penguins and Coyotes. With a lineup containing promising talent such as Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko and K'Andre Miller, he could help those youngsters reach their potential.
Seattle Kraken: Gerard Gallant
On May 14, TSN's Darren Dreger reported the New York Rangers were granted permission from the Vegas Golden Knights to interview Gerard Gallant before he headed to Europe to coach Team Canada at the World Championship. He's considered among their top candidates for that job, but the Seattle Kraken could be his likely landing spot if the Rangers hire someone else.
Joining the Kraken would be an obvious choice for Gallant. After all, he has plenty of experience coaching an expansion team. Under his guidance, the Golden Knights reached the playoffs in their inaugural campaign, marching to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
Those efforts earned Gallant the Jack Adams Award. However, he already had a solid coaching background before then, spending six seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers.
Gallant might prefer joining an established team for his next coaching job, perhaps one like the Rangers with a promising young roster. However, no one else among the unemployed NHL bench bosses has more experience in helping to build and coach a team from the ground up.