The successes of some former National Hockey League coaches at the major-junior level has inspired the Vancouver Giants to change head coaches.
It is believed the Giants will soon announce the hiring of Don Hay for the 2004-05 Western Hockey League season after Vancouver owner Ron Toigo declined to exercise the option year in the contract of Dean Evason.
Evason, who played 13 seasons in the NHL with five different teams, took the Giants to the playoffs in each of his two seasons behind the bench of the three-year-old expansion team.
But Toigo and his management group sought a higher-profile coach because the Giants would be the top team in the local market if the NHL shuts down after its collective agreement with the players ends on Sept. 15.
"Dean did a good job, taking us to the next level," Toigo told a Vancouver radio station yesterday.
"We just wanted to bring in somebody with a lot more experience," he said.
Former NHL head coaches Kevin Constantine (San Jose, Pittsburgh, New Jersey) and Greg Gilbert (Calgary) have done well with major-junior teams this season.
Gilbert has the Mississauga IceDogs in the Ontario Hockey League championship final, while Constantine guided the Everett Silvertips, an expansion team, to Game 7 in the Western Conference final in the WHL playoffs.
It's believed some CHL head coaches are earning nearly $250,000 a season, a huge increase in salaries in recent years.
"We've got our guy," said Giants general manager Scott Bonner. "We're still in the final stages of [negotiating]his contract.
"With the potential of an NHL lockout, we've got to put our best product forward.
"We hope this next guy makes us a contender."
Hay was a head coach twice in the NHL, with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Calgary Flames.
He also coached the Canadian national junior team to a gold medal in the world tournament and won a Memorial Cup title with the Kamloops Blazers.
In addition, Hay once was the head coach of the WHL's Tri-City Americans.
It was the franchise Toigo operated before becoming owner of the Giants, who play out of the Pacific Coliseum, the home arena of the Vancouver Canucks before the NHL team moved downtown to General Motors Place.
Hay was not immediately available to confirm his new position because he moved from Salt Lake City on the weekend, where he had been head coach of the Utah Grizzlies for three seasons.
The Dallas Stars were the parent team of the Grizzlies and ended their affiliation last month after Utah failed to make the American Hockey League playoffs. Hay had a 104-115-16-15 coaching record in Utah.
The past season had been particularly difficult, with the Grizzlies struggling to score goals. During one stretch, Utah went nearly three games (170 minutes) without scoring a goal.
Toigo indicated that a new coach would not be in place until next week because contract language was still being worked out.
Milan Dragicevic was the first coach of the Giants in 2001-02, before Evason took over after three years in Kamloops.
"I really believe it's a case of they think they've got a better person to do the job," Evason said. "I don't think it's anything we did as a coaching staff."
Evason had a 59-61-14-10 regular season record with the Giants. Vancouver lost two of three playoff series in which Evason coached, including a six-game upset loss against Everett in the second round.
Evason thought the team made huge strides this past season, especially in the development of emerging star Gilbert Brule, 17, considered by many scouts to be the second-best prospect in the country, for his age, behind Sidney Crosby.
Toigo has been an aggressive owner since launching the Giants. He bid on this year's Memorial Cup tournament, losing out on the final ballot to the Kelowna Rockets. Later he was successful in having Vancouver chosen host city for the world junior tournament, starting in late December of 2005.