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Who are the favorites for NHL’s coaching vacancies?

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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As the Tampa Bay Lightning showed this season, a new coach with the right philosophy can turn a franchise around in a hurry.

Yet scanning the latest scuttlebutt for the NHL's five current coaching vacancies, the early favorites aren't AHL darlings like Guy Boucher but NHL assistants and ex-NHL head coaches — including a few big names.

Here what the five teams searching for coaches have on their respective radars:

Minnesota Wild

Michael Russo of the Star Tribune reported on Friday that former Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish "has emerged as a strong candidate" for Todd Richards' old gig. From Russo:

According to multiple league sources, the former Edmonton Oilers coach has had a handful of conversations with Chuck Fletcher and was recently interviewed by the Wild general manager at a Toronto hotel. The 52-year-old MacTavish, who coached the Oilers from 2000 to '09, has been unwilling to talk about any of the NHL coaching vacancies other than to say he's "recharged" and ready to return to coaching.

According to Russo, Fletcher hasn't reached out to Ken Hitchcock, who is currently coaching the Wild's Cal Clutterbuck and Brent Burns at the World Championships in Slovakia.

Another name to consider: Mike Yeo, head coach of the AHL Houston Aeros, although it's odd to think Fletcher would go back to the AHL well so soon after Richards didn't work. Also, Minnesota's power play would stink. Ask a Penguins fan.

New Jersey Devils

There's only one name linked with the Devils, and it's a big one: Hitchcock, whom Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote last week is the coach GM Lou Lamoriello "intends to hire this summer."

From Brooks:

That makes perfect sense because the Devils general manager, who in the previous six summers since the lockout hired Larry Robinson, Claude Julien, Brent Sutter, Jacques Lemaire and John MacLean, has to go for the safe pick this time, has to go for a coach who will grab every one of his players' attention and command every one of his players' respect the moment he walks in the room the first day of training camp.

All of that is why an otherwise logical (and stellar) candidate like Montreal Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller wouldn't be the choice due to his lack of NHL head coaching experience.

Ken Hitchcock and the New Jersey Devils. What say you, Admiral Akbar?

Ottawa Senators

Mississauga St. Michael's Majors head coach Dave Cameron, who coached Canada at World Juniors, was discussed as the next Senators coach even before Cory Clouston packed up his desk. Cameron was asked about his future during the OHL finals, via the Journal Pioneer:

"The hockey world is a rumour world and, certainly, with my connection and having worked with Mr. Melnyk here in Toronto and in Binghamton, your name gets added to the rumour thing," Cameron said.

Eugene Melnyk owns both the Ottawa Senators and the Majors.

"I don't want it to be a distraction for my team," he said of the rumour mill. "Moving forward here, they have a lot at stake, so I've avoided it or downplayed it as best I can.

"But I'm no different than the players. I aspire to get to the National Hockey League. That's always been a dream of mine as a coach, but it's a hard league to get to. There are only 30 of those jobs in the world, and there are a lot of good coaches out there applying for them. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to get there, but at the end of the day I'm up to my neck here in some real good hockey and I'll address that one when my season is over."

And when he does, it won't surprise anyone to see him do so in front of a Centurian's head.

Dallas Stars

Please recall Pat Hickey of the Montreal Gazette basically declaring that Canadiens assistant Kirk Muller was Dallas-bound after the Habs were eliminated:

[GM Pierre] Gauthier ducked a question about assistant coach Kirk Muller, but he'll be moving to the Dallas Stars. His appointment as head coach is on hold while the team awaits a new group of owners.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News had front office sources saying it was less than that concrete, but clearly Muller is on the radar in Big D.

This week, speculation out of Montreal was that Muller could be a candidate to replace Bruce Boudreau in Washington, as he's a former teammate of GM George McPhee.

Florida Panthers

One name moved to the forefront quickly in Sunrise: John Torchetti, who was an assistant coach under GM Dale Tallon with the Chicago Blackhawks before moving over to the Atlanta Thrashers as an assistant coach under another former Blackhawks executive, GM Rick Dudley.

He was an interim coach for the Panthers in 2003-04, going 10-12-4 in 27 games. He served the same role with the Los Angeles Kings in 2005-06 for 12 games (5-7-0).

There was weirdness two weeks ago for the Panthers and Torch, as Dudley told the Star Tribune that Florida asked his permission to speak to the coach, but Panthers assistant GM Mike Santos denied it. From On Frozen Pond:

Santos added that those who think the Panthers are going to hire a guy with Chicago (Tallon) or Nashville (Santos) ties are "over-thinking things a bit.'' Santos said the Panthers are looking at all options. "We need the right personality that fits here,'' he said.

"And also a love of deep dish pizza and the Bears," he added (we think).

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