- Craig Custance
Coaching hires in the NHL seem to run in trends. Dan Bylsma wins a Stanley Cup, and teams scramble to promote the next Bylsma from the AHL. Guy Boucher takes the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference final and the search is on to find another young coach trying to revolutionize the game.
Lately, it’s been about experience. The evolved veteran. Joel Quenneville, Claude Julien and Darryl Sutter win Stanley Cups, and that’s the guy you want. The guy with all kinds of experience under his belt who has changed his style just enough to work in today’s game and with today’s player. Suddenly, Ken Hitchcock, Bob Hartley, Michel Therrien, Lindy Ruff and Peter Laviolette are hot commodities, and in most cases good hires.
The experienced head coach with hundreds of games on his résumé is in demand right now. Barry Trotz won’t stay unemployed long, and names like Marc Crawford and even Mike Keenan have resurfaced as options. If the Pittsburgh Penguins don’t survive the New York Rangers and Dan Bylsma is fired, he won’t stay unemployed more than a few weeks.
The trend that’s not particularly hot? Hiring an assistant coach.
At the management level, teams are finding the value in promoting an executive who has learned the trade as an assistant GM. It’s a sound strategy and why Tim Murray, Jim Nill, Brad Treliving and other promoted assistants will make good general managers.
Right now, that strategy hasn’t trickled down to the coach.
One guy in particular could change that. If the Rangers complete their comeback against the Penguins, the stock of Rangers assistant Ulf Samuelsson will continue to rise. His name has entered the coaching circulation, in large part because of his connection to Ron Francis and the opening in Carolina.