LAS VEGAS – When Barry Trotz coached the Nashville Predators, he could have pushed a more rigid defensive system in the team’s early years after expansion.
This may have led to more wins, but Trotz knew it wouldn’t attract more fans as the Predators tried to cement themselves in a non-traditional hockey market.
"As a coaching staff two things – one we have to make it entertaining and we had to be hardworking. I think people will recognize that you’re giving your best. They buy into that,” Trotz said. “When everybody was trapping, we sent two guys into the zone because we had to create some offense.”
The NHL’s newly announced Las Vegas expansion franchise doesn’t have a name, an identity or a hockey operations staff. That’s something that will be worked on in the coming months before the team starts play in 2017-18.
Foley said he had an assistant general manager in mind, and that would be his first hire before a GM or coach.
“We have a really good guy we lined up who we really like that has good experience particularly on the scouting side as assistant GM,” Foley said.
The NHL has promised the franchise the deepest expansion player pool since the league started adding multiple new teams in the early 90s. But this group may struggle without the right type of coach.
Foley knows what type of style he wants. He now needs to find the right type of guy to push the group in this direction.
“We should be able to field a very competitive team in Year One and we’ll make the playoffs as fast as we can,” Foley said. “We’re going to be dedicated, we’re going to be focused. We’re going to take no prisoners and we expect to be successful early.”
Coaching hires for recent NHL expansion teams can be a mixed bag. Trotz turned into a franchise icon and stayed with the Predators from their first year in 1998-99 through 2013-14 when he was fired.
Jacques Lemaire guided the Minnesota Wild to the Western Conference Final in his third year.
Terry Crisp made subtle gains with the Tampa Bay Lightning before the bottom fell out in his sixth year with the team.
Roger Neilson spent two years with the Florida Panthers before being fired. Same with George Kingston with the San Jose Sharks. Dave King made it 40 games into his third season with the Columbus Blue Jackets before being fired.
Ron Wilson was fired after his fourth season when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made the playoffs for the first time.
Two of the coaches who had shorter tenures – Neilson and Wilson – were considered some of the better bench bosses of their era.
Over the next several weeks Foley will get several opinions from a lot of people but ultimately he may have to go with his gut.
That move worked with longtime Nashville general manager David Poile when he hired Trotz.
“David took the biggest risk,” Trotz said. “When I got hired everybody he talked to said ‘get the most established, veteran guy that you can because he's seen it all.’ He went out and hired me, a rookie head coach in a non-traditional market. When I finally took the job I had that moment of, 'What did I just get myself into?' then I took a deep breath and said, 'If you're ever going to be in this game for any length of time, there's no bigger challenge than an expansion team in a non-traditional market.”
The new coach won’t have the same precedent to lean on. The last era of expansion came before the salary cap and teams weren’t allowed the same amount of depth Las Vegas will be allowed to select in the expansion draft.
“You have to have lots of patience,” said Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant, who was part of the early Blue Jackets coaching staffs. “Dave King was our head coach in Columbus when that happened and I think he did an outstanding job. But I think it sounds like expansions is going to be a little different here. I don’t know what the rules are going to be, I’m hearing different rumors but I think they’re going to get more talented players than what we got back in the time with Columbus. We got a bunch of guys who worked hard and competed hard every night and played as a group and I think Dave King did an outstanding job that time in Columbus.”
The coach will also need to work with a general manager to figure out how the team will play. If both aren’t on the same page it could be difficult for the team to find its footing early on.
“I think the coach’s biggest job is deciding which style will make you most effective as a team with the players you end up drafting,” said Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff. “I would argue the team will be competitive. The pool’s that deep that you’ll be able to compete right off the bat. This is a league where already the top’s going down and the bottom’s going up. It’ll be a competitive team. I don’t think it will be any less than that.”
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