In a stunning turn of events, Dave Tippett and the Arizona Coyotes “parted ways” on the eve of the NHL entry draft on Thursday, initiating the Coyotes first coaching search since 2009.
With the opening of the free agency window just a week away on July 1st, hiring a new coach will be imperative if the team is aiming for a return to the playoffs next year.
After the shrewd moves made by John Chayka and the front office on Friday morning, Arizona has pieced together a promising roster, but will need to find the right man behind the bench to mesh their new pieces together.
With that in mind, let’s jump in and take an early look at who might be tabbed to come in and rescue a team traveling down an unknown path.
The man behind Sydney Crosby’s first Stanley Cup is out of a job this summer after being fired by the Buffalo Sabres. In 8 years as a head coach, however, the Michigan native is no stranger to tumultuous situations.
Bylsma took over in Pittsburgh in 2009 after Michel Therrien struggled to keep a young Penguins squad in the postseason picture. In just 25 games, Bylsma not only ensured a postseason appearance for the defending Eastern Conference champs, but guided them to a Stanley Cup.
That type of short notice experience is something the 2011 Jack Adams winner could fall back on to succeed in Arizona.
On the other hand, Bylsma failed to mold a young squad in Buffalo into a competitive team, despite having Jack Eichel at the top of an impressive list of prospects. In two seasons with him at the helm, Buffalo finished 7th and 8th in the Atlantic and won just 68 combined games.
The makeup of the Coyotes roster isn’t too dissimilar from the Sabres’, who at least had a clear option for first line center. He’s proven he can win with top end talent, but Bylsma would have plenty to prove if hired to finish Arizona’s rebuilding project.
While Bylsma’s name carries more recognition, Bob Hartley’s resume might be a perfect fit for what the Coyotes will need in their next head coach.
Since taking his first job with the Avalanche more than a decade ago, Hartley has collected 14 years of head coaching experience in the NHL, including a Stanley Cup of his own with Colorado in 2001.
His last NHL job was in Calgary, where he helped usher in a group of young talent that included Johnny Gaudreau, T.J. Brodie, Sam Bennett, and Sean Monahan, and guided the Flames to the playoffs in 2015, winning the Jack Adams award in the process.
Hartley also has dealt with the pressures of coaching in a relocation-threatened market before, having spent five years with the Atlanta Thrashers before their move to Winnipeg.
Most recently, Hartley has been at the helm of the Latvian National Team, but has been looking for a route back to the best league in the world.
Assuming I know what you're asking - Yes there is a theoretical chance that Hartley and Coyotes connect.— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) June 23, 2017
Turned down all his KHL offers, it's either going to be NHL or Latvian national team.— Aivis Kalniņš (@A_Kalnins) June 23, 2017
While some coaches might shy away due to the unpredictable nature of the Coyotes job, Hartley seems like a good candidate to deal with the franchise’s strains while focusing on developing young talent.
The longtime Buffalo Sabres coach is back on the market after being canned by Dallas this offseason.
Ruff has coached nearly 1500 NHL games across 19 seasons. 10 times he has made the playoffs and has reached the conference or Stanley Cup final on four occasions.
The 2006 coach of the year was sent packing by the Stars at the end of the 2016-17 season after failing to lead an injury-stricken squad back to the postseason. However, there are few available candidates in the game that have a track record of success like Ruff’s.
Before last season, he orchestrated three straight 40 win, 90 point seasons in Dallas, a run that climaxed in 2016 when his team won 50 games and looked like a serious Stanley Cup contender, before bowing out in the conference semifinals.
Unlike other Coyotes coaching targets, however, Ruff’s impressive resume ensures he won’t come cheap, and there is a fair chance he won’t want to risk blowing his last shot in the NHL with a seemingly directionless franchise.
Given the team’s well-documented and highly scrutinized situation, hiring a coach with NHL experience would be a prudent decision. However, if Andrew Barroway and company desire an up and comer, Nelson could be their man.
One name that will get attention for the ARIZ vacancy -- Todd Nelson of AHL champion Grand Rapids. We'll see where it goes.— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) June 23, 2017
While he has been an interim coach in the NHL before (Nelson coached the Oilers’ last 51 games in 2014-15), the former AHL journeyman has cut his teeth in the coaches ranks in the AHL.
Spending 6 combined seasons behind the bench in Oklahoma City and Grand Rapids, Nelson has never had a team miss the AHL playoffs, and won the Calder Cup with Detroit’s affiliate this spring.
Nelson’s coaching roots go back to his time as an assistant under Barry Trotz, when the current Capitals coach won a Calder Cup of his own with the Portland Pirates in 1994.
That defensively-focused style Nelson absorbed would play well in Arizona, where Tippett spent a near-decade preaching the same message.
Dealing with young players would also be right in the 48-year-old’s wheelhouse, making his candidacy one the Coyotes can’t ignore.
I know what you’re thinking…WHO?
For fans of a dark horse possibility, keep your eye on the current head coach of the University of Denver Pioneers. Montgomery, who played 122 NHL games for five teams in his anonymous NHL career, has become one of the bright stars in the junior and collegiate hockey world.
His first head coaching job came in 2010-11, when he led the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, an expansion team, to a Clark Cup. It didn’t take long for the Montreal-born coach to attract attention from NCAA teams, eventually being appointed by traditional power Denver in 2013.
With the Pioneers, Montgomery has won a conference title, reached the Frozen Four twice, and captured a national championship this year, their first since 2005.
Montgomery also was linked to some NHL jobs last summer before returning to the college ranks to win his title.
Recently, Philadelphia took a similar chance with former North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol, whom they hired in 2015. If the Coyotes are hunting for an outside of the box pick, Montgomery would be right up their alley.
Who do you think the Coyotes should hire as the new head coach?