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Mailbag: NHL's best available coaches

12/2/2011
Randy Carlyle could find himself with another NHL team before too long. Jeff Vinnick/NHLI/Getty Images

In compiling questions for our Friday mailbag, I was asked to name my top five coaches in the NHL. But considering the turnover we've seen this week, as well as the likelihood that more changes could be coming, a look at the five best available coaches might be more useful. So for all the fans hoping their team makes a change behind the bench, here are the top five experienced candidates:

1. Randy Carlyle -- Bruce Boudreau got snapped up in less than a week, so it's hard to imagine Carlyle lasting long on the open market. The Ducks would be more than happy to grant permission to anyone interested in hiring Carlyle, who signed an extension in August that lasts through the 2013-14 season. The budget-conscious Ducks would welcome help in paying that deal.

But most importantly, Carlyle deserves the opportunity. He led the Ducks to a Stanley Cup and is among the most respected coaches in the game. It's a natural to connect him to Brian Burke in Toronto, but Ron Wilson has that team in position to make the playoffs. Burke himself got out front of the story with his tweet, "Sad to hear about Randy Carlyle. But our coach isn't going anywhere!" It'll be interesting to see if that comment from Burke is enough to quiet Carlyle rumors if the Leafs string together a few losses. A Ron Wilson contract extension would go a long way toward ending rumors in Toronto.

2. Craig MacTavish -- MacTavish's Chicago Wolves haven't exactly set the world on fire in the AHL, where they went 9-7-2 in his first 18 games behind the bench. But MacTavish has a strong resume, including eight seasons as coach of the Edmonton Oilers, where he led the Oilers to more than 300 wins, including a trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006.

3. Bob Hartley -- Hartley signed a two-year deal to coach the Zurich Lions in Switzerland and politely declined to disclose the details of his contract and whether or not he could pursue NHL jobs during the season. But he did mention he's thoroughly enjoying coaching in Switzerland. "Things are great in Zurich," Hartley wrote in an email. "I'm working with a great bunch of guys."

Like Carlyle, Hartley guided a team to a Stanley Cup, and his ability to lead the Thrashers to the playoffs looks more and more impressive in hindsight. If the hiring and success of Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis is an indication that teams will favor experience in future hires, Hartley's stay in Switzerland won't be too long. He's close with GM Jay Feaster in Calgary and would be a natural in Montreal. Garth Snow nearly hired him for the Islanders opening that was ultimately filled by Scott Gordon.

4. Paul Maurice -- For his age, he certainly has a lot of experience. He's still just 44 and should get another shot behind the bench. During his two stints in Carolina, he guided the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.

5. Michel Therrien -- Colleague Pierre LeBrun caught up with Therrien this week. It's now been more than three years since Therrien guided a young Penguins team to the Stanley Cup finals, and he's ready for another NHL job. "It's a luxury to coach in the NHL," he told LeBrun. "The more you're out, the more you realize it."

And now, on to the weekly mailbag:

What d-man will the Chicago Blackhawks go after near the trade deadline? --Don, Columbus, Ohio

There's no urgency to make a move in Chicago, but the Blackhawks could use some help on defense. Nick Leddy has shown great strides, but come playoff time, veteran depth on the back end would go a long way for the Blackhawks.

Chicago fans have eyed the Nashville defensive stars as potential targets, but that's not realistic. Instead, look to Carolina, where GM Jim Rutherford has depth on defense and could be willing to make a move, especially if he's convinced some of his talented young defensemen are ready for more ice time. He'd be more than willing to move Tomas Kaberle, although I'm not sure that's a fit in Chicago. Tim Gleason is an unrestricted free agent after this season and makes a very reasonable $2.75 million, which will make him a commodity if Rutherford decides to deal him.

What would the San Jose Sharks be able to get in a trade for Antero Niittymaki? --Mitchell Blomseth, @mitchblomseth

He's back at practice as he continues to move closer to a return from offseason hip surgery. He told CSNBayArea.com that he hopes to be ready to rejoin the Sharks lineup in two weeks.

The Sharks really like Thomas Greiss, who has played well behind Antti Niemi, so someone is going to have to go. With Niittymaki scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1, he's the best candidate. Ideally, the Sharks can showcase Niittymaki for a few games to show he's healthy, because teams might be hesitant to trade for a goalie fresh off of surgery. The trade return depends on how many teams are interested. I'd look to the Dwayne Roloson deal last season as an indication of what the Sharks could expect. The Lightning sent minor leaguer Ty Wishart to the Islanders to land Roloson.

Regarding realignment, explain to me why Winnipeg and Nashville switching divisions isn't considered the simplest option, as opposed to reinventing the wheel? --Eric, Los Angeles

It'd be a tough sell to put Nashville in the East when there would still be two teams (Columbus and Detroit) in the Western Conference who are currently in the eastern time zone. Not to mention that Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has said on multiple occasions that the Red Wings were promised a move to the East if realignment was ever on the table.

Nashville has developed strong rivalries in the Central and I think they'd be interested in staying with teams like Detroit and Chicago rather than trying to re-establish rivalries in the Southeast. If you're looking for simple solutions, what about Detroit to the Southeast and Winnipeg to the Central? The bottom line is this: A couple of owners aren't going to be thrilled with the solution regardless of the outcome.

I've heard rumors that teams like the Blue Jackets were inquiring about Tuukka Rask. Should Boston consider trading him? What kind of package would it receive in return? --John C., Connecticut

I know the Rask camp had internal discussions as to whether or not he should request a trade this summer, and Rask was adamant that he didn't want to go anywhere. He's handled Tim Thomas' success with class and has been very patient in sharing time with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. When I spoke to Peter Chiarelli about the situation during the summer, he said the two goalies are very aware that there is a succession plan that will take place at some point. "It's been discussed with Tim and Tuukka," Chiarelli said.

If I'm the Bruins, I'm not trading Rask.

How long do you think it will be before Sidney Crosby takes over the points lead, and do you think there is a chance that James Neal and Crosby finish one-two in the scoring race? --Joe, Pittsburgh

Crosby has 11 points in the six games since he's returned from his concussion recovery. That would put him at a pace of 150 points over an 82-game season, so I think it's safe to say he'll slow down a bit. He showed signs that he's still not quite 100 percent in the win over the Capitals last night. Not only was he held without a point, he struggled to win faceoffs. My top three candidates right now to win the points race would be 1) Daniel Sedin, 2) Claude Giroux and 3) Steven Stamkos.