Before Florida Panthers GM Dale Tallon adds veterans to his young lineup, there is a more pressing task on the to-do list: find a coach.
With a set goal — more like an implied ultimatum — to win, Florida is expected to bring in a coach who boasts significant NHL experience. Success at the NHL or international level is likely a requirement as well.
This coaching search, unlike ones which produced up-and-comers such as Pete DeBoer or Kevin Dineen from the junior and minor coaching ranks, respectively, should produce a name even the casual hockey fan in Florida is likely to know.
As more coaching dominoes fall — firings, contract expirations or teams being eliminated from the postseason — more candidates may surface. A decision is expected to come well before the NHL Draft in late June, especially with the Panthers holding the No. 1 pick. Making sure the pick or pieces Florida receives in return fit the new coach’s system will be essential.
But the Panthers needs to move quick, especially since the Nashville Predators signed Peter Laviolette on Tuesday. The U.S. Men’s National team coach, who won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, was believed to be among potential candidates.
So who is among the list of possible job seekers to stand behind Florida’s bench in the fall?
Trotz’s 15 years as an NHL head coach have all been with Nashville until he was let go in April. He guided the Predators to the postseason in seven of those seasons, including four consecutive appearances from 2003-2008. But success in the playoffs eluded his Predators, who never got past the second round during his tenure. Internationally, Trotz served as an assistant coach for Team Canada at the 2002, 2003 and 2009 World Championships. He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2010. The most significant quality about Trotz is his ability to produce results through team-centric focus despite budget constraints. He’s been forced to be patient with youth, while coaxing strong performances out of underrated veterans. Given the coaching and system similarities between Horachek and Trotz, the latter could bring a smooth transition to Florida.
Since capturing the Jack Adams Award in his first season as an NHL coach with the Quebec Nordiques in 1995 and leading the Colorado Avalanche to a Stanley Cup victory the following summer, Crawford has yet to match the pinnacle of his early days. During a six-year tenure with the Vancouver Canucks, Crawford turned around the franchise through a blossoming offense. Yet getting deep into the postseason always proved difficult for Crawford’s Canucks, in large part because of goaltending. (Ironically, two months after Vancouver fired Crawford, it traded for Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo.) After two failed two-year stints with the Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars, he packed up for Switzerland to coach the ZSC Lions. Under Crawford, the Zurich-based franchise captured the National League A Championship title in dominating fashion, posting 20 more points than second-place Fribourg, and sweeping the final playoff series. It will be hard for any NHL team to look past such success.
Tallon has strong ties to American hockey circles, and so does Wilson, who coached the U.S. Olympic team in 1998 and 2010 and led the Americans to a World Cup of Hockey title in 1996. After sitting out a season, Wilson is reportedly interested in getting behind a bench again. Until his stint with the dysfunctional Toronto Maple Leafs from 2008-11, Wilson had led each of his teams to at least one playoff appearance during his respective tenure. He guided the Washington Capitals to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1998 and the San Jose Sharks to the Western Conference Championship in 2004. In his 17 years of coaching, his teams have finished among the top two in their division nine times.
An assistant with the Carolina Hurricanes until Monday morning, Lewis boasts an intriguing resume, but a curious one as well. He was an assistant under Scotty Bowman when the Detroit Red Wings won Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002. Lewis took over as the franchise’s head coach when Bowman retired in 2002 and guided Detroit to two Central Division titles and a Presidents Trophy. But in his two seasons with the Red Wings, Detroit never moved past the second round. In 2006, Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli hired and then fired Lewis after an erratic year. Lewis has since served as an assistant for the Los Angeles Kings and Hurricanes and briefly coached the Ukrainian National Team, never staying in one place for too long. It is hard to overlook Lewis’ record — even as an assistant — and but his job stability is hard to ignore as well.
Considering how well Patrick Roy worked out for the Avalanche, is it possible the Panthers may consider a former player as well? Unlikely, especially since few — if any — have coaching experience. If Florida is outbid by other teams for a well-known name or unable to find the right fit, Madden wouldn’t be a terrible choice. He served as an assistant with the Panthers under Horachek and received positive reviews from his peers and players. Madden may not have much to his credit as a coach, but as a player, he logged 898 games, won the Selke Trophy in 2001 (and finished as a runner-up three times) and won three Stanley Cups. There could be worse options for Tallon in a dire scenario.