Since the San Jose Sharks are sticking with their current management, it is general manager Doug Wilson that will find a new coach. There are no shortage of qualified candidates out there, and more may follow as teams like the St. Louis Blues have seen another first-round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs Sunday, April 26.
Ken Hitchcock was not among the 14 outlined by the San Jose Mercury News outlined Saturday, perhaps because his team was still in. He is on zoomdune.com’s list of best pictured options to replace Todd McLellan that is half as long, with the caption summaries of their qualifications examined further below. All would be a good fit for the puck-possession, north-south style the roster is built for.
The thought that the Blues could fire Hitchcock might seem odd given his track record—more series wins (14) than losses (12), four conference finals appearances, two Stanley Cup finals and a title, albeit based on tired officials looking for justification to call the game. He only twice lost in the first round before coaching this team with only a victory over the equally-underachieving Sharks to show for their postseasons since his arrival behind the bench.
Whoever is to blame, his message is not reaching St. Louis. San Jose was having the same problem with McLellan, whose very public declarations of what the team’s problems were being repeated regularly. Maybe they could trade teams and find more success with the other squad.
Both probably deserve better, but there is enough talent on one roster and enough potential on the other to entice. The Sharks also have the benefit of Hasso Palttner’s deep pockets to lure top candidates. If they feel they needed a change from McLellan, Hitchcock would qualify—someone with head coaching experience from the start with more edge, leaning toward more demands and less teaching.
Then again, that may not be the right choice for a team making a transition to younger players. While McLellan was too reliant on veterans in the lineup, his style may have been more conducive to development of a young roster had San Jose been able to keep him.
Wilson would surely like to steal the eminently-qualified Mike Babcock from the Detroit Red Wings, but why would he leave a team with a 23-year postseason run for a team further behind in its rebuild and with less championship mettle among its veteran core? Any offer for him is almost certain to be matched, so one might presume he would seek a distinctly different challenge or a team closer to winning a Stanley Cup.
He might be too unlikely to examine further, but another current coach likely to move on would be an excellent choice: Claude Julien has a Stanley Cup championship and would likely increase the team’s toughness and accountability, though he is used to a team that relies more on size than speed to win.
Could the Sharks take a flyer on someone without NHL head coaching experience like they did with McLellan? Absolutely, but they are more likely to go for someone that will command the room more. If there are problems with veterans buying in, it better be someone with cache or someone they otherwise trust replacing the best coach in franchise history.
Trent Yawney is probably the only inexperienced coach truly worth examining. He was an assistant for McLellan’s first three years and should have a rapport with the team and Wilson. He also will be helpful in developing young players and probably less reluctant to play them. He would not do much to change the culture of a dressing room that continually wilts in the hottest of moments, however.
Tony Granato could be an option since he has a significant history in San Jose even though he has little experience as head coach. He played with the kind of edge this team often lacks and shares a background with the Wisconsin Badgers with the team’s true captain, Joe Pavelski. Whether he would he command the respect of deposed captains Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau remains to be seen.
However, there are three candidates that are head-and-shoulders above the rest because they have edge and Stanley Cup-championship resumes. They are also already available instead of having to wait to find out if they stay where they currently are.
John Tortorella would be much tougher on players. There would be no complacency with leads or against bad teams allowed. There would be no more “57-minute team in a 60-minute league” and ice time would start to shrink even for veterans if the production is not there.
Tortorella has also worn out his welcome in two hockey cities. The New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks essentially traded coaches before the 2013-14 NHL season, and Alain Vigneault’s new team went further than the previous year while his former team missed the Stanley Cup playoffs entirely.
San Jose could appeal to Tortorella because he might be given more room to operate, but his condescending attitude toward the media and basically everyone not as great as he (thinks he) is would not go over well in a dressing room that is already fragile. Even if that helped toughen the team up, the friction and his impatience would probably not be good for the development of young talent.
Dan Bylsma has also been mentioned as a candidate for good reason. He was very successful with the Pittsburgh Penguins and thus has experience winning with questionable blue-line talent like that of the Sharks. His instructional style could be quite good to development and as a young coach that was given his first chance and succeeded, he would likely be good for the development of young talent.
What Bylsma may lack is what McLellan did—an ability to go to the whip when the team does not respond to being instructed. Then again, that may not be a problem in two more years.
An ability to be tough on players is something Randy Carlyle does not lack. He is a tough guy and transmits that to his teams. A former defenseman himself, he could help with the shaky blue line and the development of its youth.
He has not had a lot of success in this decade, having won the Stanley Cup in 2007 but has just one series win since. However, Carlyle’s rosters have been rather borderline in the seasons that followed with the Anaheim Ducks losing Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger.
Carlyle had even less talent after taking over for the Toronto Maple Leafs, doing well to get them one postseason appearance. He was fired 40 games into the 2014-15 NHL season when the team had 45 points, and they had 23 in the last 42 games without him.
Having edge and championship experience represents enough of a change from McLellan to think the results on the ice might change. That makes Carlyle the most suitable of San Jose’s likely candidates to be the new bench boss.