PHILADELPHIA – The NHL coaching carousel tossed another one off the ride Monday. For those keeping score at home, there are now six head coach openings in the league. And don't be surprised if when it's all said and done the ride will continue with nothing but a reshuffling of the deck.
The firing of Ron Wilson in San Jose isn't a surprise considering the team he coached lost in the second round of the playoffs for three years in a row. And wouldn't the Toronto Maple Leafs like to be able to boast that? It can be argued that Wilson was more a victim of the new formula in sports management: same voice + same results = fire coach.
The irony is, Wilson didn't forget how to coach overnight, he in fact got better at it this season. He toned down some of his sniping at players in the press to get the message across, instead explaining exactly what was right and wrong with the team and he commanded more respect and cooperation in return.
But it wasn't enough, even though the team's news release Monday read more like an apology than a firing.
Wilson is described as leaving the franchise as the team's all-time coaching leader in wins and winning percentage. In four-plus seasons Wilson guided the Sharks to two Pacific Division titles during a time Anaheim and Dallas were very competitive in their own rights. Wilson is the franchise leader in postseason games, one of only a handful in league history to coach 1,000 games.
It will take Wilson all of five minutes to get another job offer. In fact, he probably already has one. There sure are enough openings.
And the Sharks didn't say it, but they probably also did Wilson a favor by not dragging out the decision-making process like they did last year. This way Wilson can pursue any and all openings before anything is filled.
Wilson has competition, no doubt, and it might be a buyer's market for clubs in the hunt for a new bench boss. There is definitely quality from which to choose. Wilson is joined by Paul Maurice and Joel Quenneville as the recently let-go.
Here's a look at which teams have decisions to make and what they might be thinking.
Toronto Maple Leafs: The Original Six team is the only one without both a general manager and coach. Cliff Fletcher remains interim GM, but the thought is the team would prefer to lure someone else to the post. The Maple Leafs came close but ultimately failed to secure Scotty Bowman last summer because top management wouldn't relinquish as much control as the 10-time Stanley Cup winner was craving. Toronto would love to hire Brian Burke, but he's working on an extension to remain in Anaheim. The Sharks denied Toronto's wishes to talk to Doug Wilson. So the Leafs are still searching, although word is they might be in the mood to hire a number of experienced front-office personnel to beef up the hockey department in addition to putting one person in charge.
Ottawa Senators: GM Bryan Murray has been quiet since the team got swept in the first round of the playoffs after his move to replace coach John Paddock with himself failed to reverse the team's late-season fold. Candidates must be salivating between this opening and the one in San Jose, two deep and young rosters that don't need much change for both to be considered Cup contenders again next season. Maybe Murray is waiting to see if anyone else becomes available, or maybe he has an eye on an assistant coach on a team that's still playing. He's not going to continue to keep both jobs, that's for sure.
Atlanta Thrashers: Like Murray in Ottawa, GM/coach Don Waddell hasn't made a move to replace himself behind the bench, although that is his intention. And everything was going along just swimmingly with that thought, too, until reports surfaced last week that maybe Waddell isn't on as solid ground as he thought. If it's his call, look for Wilson to slide from San Jose to behind the Thrashers' bench, which would be an easy sell in Atlanta. He'd provide the team with a successful coach who stresses a much-needed defense-first approach and Wilson isn't so far removed from coaching in the Southeast Division (remember, Wilson's last job was in Washington). It's also close to his offseason home in Hilton Head, S.C.
Los Angeles Kings: Ah, why are they on this list? Well, think about it. Wilson was hired by Dean Lombardi, who probably should DO SOMETHING with his team. Marc Crawford is there, under contract, but Wilson would give the Kings more credibility, he knows the most talented division rival inside-and-out, has a track record with the current GM in L.A. and stays in the Pacific. It's not that much of a stretch, considering too that Wilson's first grandchild lives in nearby Orange County. These things can come into effect.
San Jose Sharks: OK, so you've fired the coach, who are you going to get that's better? Or different? That's the key here as the Sharks are looking for a different voice. Don't expect that to be a softer voice, however. The team has been looking for more accountability, more consistent efforts in both how they play and the attitude they display. So it must be a taskmaster they're after. Scratch Quenneville off the list. Maurice? Well, Doug Wilson and former Leafs GM John Ferguson Jr. are very close (don't think his joining the Sharks' front office is out of the realm of possibility), and Ferguson might help Wilson decide on Maurice, who deserved a better roster and better fate for his patient time in Toronto. Doug Wilson has not hired a coach in the NHL so there is no track record, no history. He's an ex-Blackhawk (does he look at ex-Chicago coach Craig Hartsburg?), but Wilson admires what they do in both Montreal and Ottawa. Want a name out of left field? How about Pat Burns, who has fought back from cancer and is very interested in coaching again.
Colorado Avalanche: The hot rumor making the rounds over the weekend was the possibility of Patrick Roy making the leap from junior hockey coaching to the NHL – Canadian media types connecting the dots between former top-boss Pierre Lacroix in Colorado and his favorite ex-goalie. It's a quantum leap for Roy, who is said to be very excited about the prospects of coaching two sons next year for the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and is just five years removed from his playing days. It's probably a long shot, but don't forget about Tony Granato in this scenario. He was the Avs coach for a short time and has gained significant experience since relinquishing the reigns to Quenneville, who has to end up somewhere.
Florida Panthers Jacques Martin is solely the GM now, but he hasn't made a hire to replace himself behind the bench, a move ordered by ownership. Any of the recently fired coaches would work there, but it's rumored Martin might have interest in an assistant off a team that's still playing … that wears black and gold.
We do know there won't be change in Nashville (Barry Trotz extended), Washington (Bruce Boudreau likewise) and Minnesota (Jacques Lemaire will return), but there could still be movement in other spots.
Is Tom Renney safe with the Rangers, Alain Vigneault with a new GM calling the shots in Vancouver or John Tortorella virtually a goner in Tampa Bay?
Looks like the carousel is just starting to warm up.
- Ron Wilson
- Doug Wilson