The Barry Trotz Sweepstakes picked up some momentum this week and given the latest playoff meltdown by the San Jose Sharks, it could pop into overdrive in the next few days.
The Barry Trotz Sweepstakes is the annual coaching derby in the NHL, in which the teams that ended the shortest shelf life in sports, that of their head coach, go looking for their next victim. This year, we’re calling it the Barry Trotz Sweepstakes in honour of the newly former Nashville Predators head coach, who is by far the most prized bauble in the contest. None of the other candidates should expect their dominoes to fall until Trotz decides which of his suitors he will reward.
This is a busier year than some, with three official vacancies and as many as five more coming, depending on what happens in the playoffs and with at least one general-manager vacancy. The Predators, the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers are the other NHL teams officially looking for a head coach. The Caps need a GM, too, as George McPhee was dusted along with head coach Adam Oates. Also in the hunt for a GM is new Vancouver Canucks president Trevor Linden.
A coach will be on Linden’s list as well, according to TSN. The network reported Linden will fire John Tortorella on Thursday, bringing the official openings to four. Still twisting in the wind are Kirk Muller of the Carolina Hurricanes, who got a new boss when Ron Francis took over as GM on Monday, and Randy Carlyle of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who needs GM David Nonis to convince new president Brendan Shanahan to keep him around.
In the near future, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan could join the list of job-seekers along with his GM, Doug Wilson. Both might be shown the door after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead to the Los Angeles Kings, capping the disgrace with a 5-1 loss in Game 7 Wednesday night. The first-round exit is the nadir in more than a decade of under-achievement in the playoffs for the Sharks under Wilson, so a double firing in San Jose would not be a surprise.
Still not out of the woods is Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His team helped him out by hanging on to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round but Bylsma may need a trip to the Stanley Cup final to stay employed past the summer.
The one fellow who can re-jig the jobs race is McLellan. He is right there with Trotz when it comes to respect from NHL GMs and would run neck-and-neck with the former Predators coach if he is available.
This being the NHL, of course, where GMs are too concerned about their own security to make many daring hires, the biggest employment pool consists of coaches who were fired by other NHL teams. There was an infatuation with graduating American Hockey League coaches in the last few years but that seems to have run its course, judging by the favourites list for the various openings. Dallas Eakins’ struggles in his first season with the Edmonton Oilers may have something to do with that.
At this point, the AHL head coach with the best chance of moving up might actually be the Oilers’ guy. Todd Nelson coaches the Oklahoma City Barons, the Oiler farm team and he is one of just a few AHLers getting multiple mentions.
Trotz appears to be the apple of Panthers GM Dale Tallon’s eye, but he has far too many options to consider being the 13th head coach in the team’s sorry 21-season history. That plum job may fall to Carlyle if the Leafs let him go, as he and Tallon are long-time friends.
The other candidates in the fired-coaches pool include Peter Laviolette, who was dumped by the Philadelphia Flyers after the first three games of this season, Kings assistant coach John Stevens and former Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who is working in the Swiss league. Tortorella would usually be a member of this group but considering his adventures in Vancouver and New York over the last couple years, he would benefit with a sabbatical in broadcasting for at least a year.
If you’re looking for a wild card here, try Mike Keenan. He just became the first coach to have a Stanley Cup win and a Gagarin Cup on his resume by leading Metallurg Magnitogorsk to the Continental Hockey League title. Yes, his NHL days appear behind him but some GM just might think he needs to light a fire under his team.