More than just the usual suspects gaining head-coaching jobs
The NHL coaching makeup typically has been rife with retreads. But the philosophy of hiring proven commodities is slowly going by the wayside as teams are willing to test out young, fresh blood.
The Capitals' Bruce Boudreau, who paid so many dues coaching in several pro minor leagues that he should have been granted a lifetime membership card of the school of hard knocks, on Thursday was named the winner of the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's coach of the year.
Earlier that day, San Jose hired energetic and self-assured Todd McLellan, the Red Wings assistant who won an AHL title as a head coach of the Houston Aeros in 2003 and was less than a week removed from the Stanley Cup celebration in Detroit.
During the Western Conference finals in Dallas, I caught McLellan heading to the visiting dressing room after a morning skate and talked with him about his head-coaching aspirations.
"I think right now there are a number of young coaches who have come up from the American [Hockey] League and have done a good job," McLellan said, "and I consider myself one of those."
At the time, he added that Wings GM Ken Holland "has always told me it's important to build a good résumé before you go off into it on your own. I feel I've done that. I do feel I'm ready and have the confidence to do it."
The Sharks and GM Doug Wilson agreed.
• Boudreau and McLellan have entered the recycling pool, because to get into the recycling pool, you have to get that first break. Boudreau got his at age 52 when he moved up from the AHL's Hershey Bears and took over for Glen Hanlon last fall, and McLellan was hired at age 40.
• The Capitals' and Sharks' choices could be the leading edge of a trend, as recycling becomes less fashionable and NHL organizations give more consideration to "inexperienced" candidates coming from head-coaching jobs in major junior or minor league pro, or from assistant jobs in the NHL. McLellan had all three of those lines on his résumé. He served as the head coach of the Swift Current in the Western League and of the International League Cleveland Lumberjacks and the AHL's Aeros before he joined the Wings. In Detroit, he oversaw the team's power play, among other things.
You know how it has worked so often in the past.
When an NHL coaching position opens, it has been almost as if everyone adheres to what Captain Renault says in the final scene of "Casablanca." That line sounds similar to: "Coach Strasser has been fired. Round up the usual suspects."
If other former NHL head coaches aren't mentioned as the front-runners or as the guys on the way to town for job interviews, they're at least tossed into the speculation.
It's a mandatory cover-your-posterior passage that begins with something along the lines of, "Other possible candidates include "
They have "included" Mike Keenan, Bob Hartley, Dave Lewis, Paul Maurice, Mike Keenan, Marc Crawford, Ken Hitchcock, Mike Keenan, Jacques Martin, Pat Burns, Andy Murray, Claude Julien, Mike Keenan, Larry Robinson, Ted Nolan, Michel Therrien, Joel Quenneville, Mike Keenan, John Tortorella, Craig Hartsburg and
(I didn't forget Mike Keenan, did I?)
Those names are tossed out because of the game's precedents and protocol. All those men -- most of whom coached at the major junior level at one point in their careers -- got their first NHL "breaks" with someone. Barring complete ineptitude in the first chance, or, as with Eddie Olczyk, being tossed behind a Pittsburgh bench as a sacrificial lamb in an unstable and rebuilding situation, the new names are in the pool.
Pro sports were into recycling before it was considered green.
The NHL is as good at it as anyone, and it seems even more noticeable at times because of the high turnover. The NFL has the "hot coordinator" phenomenon, wherein the coordinators of successful teams -- and especially ones that are considered "young" -- often have their pick of head-coaching openings. In hockey, serving behind the bench (and on much smaller staffs than in the NFL, which now has position coaches for holders and dime-package defensive backs) for winners hasn't been that sort of automatic validation. Coaching winning teams on the minor league level hasn't necessarily worked, either, in part because of the perception -- and one that's not entirely unreasonable -- that AHL coaches are at the mercy of their NHL organization's whims and stocking philosophy.
After the four remaining NHL openings have been filled -- at Tampa Bay, Florida, Los Angeles and Atlanta -- the head coaches in the middle of the seniority pack at their current jobs will be the Flyers' John Stevens and the Blue Jackets' Hitchcock. Appropriately enough, to illustrate the quick recycling turnaround, Stevens took over for Hitchcock, and Hitchcock was back behind a bench at Columbus a month later.
That was less than two years ago. Stevens became Philadelphia's coach on Oct. 22, 2006. Hitchcock got the job at Columbus exactly a month later.
Or to put it another way, the Coyotes' Wayne Gretzky -- named coach on Aug. 8, 2005 -- is 10th in seniority, behind only Lindy Ruff, Barry Trotz, Jacques Lemaire, Craig MacTavish, Dave Tippett, Peter Laviolette, Tom Renney, Mike Babcock and Randy Carlyle.
Only those 10 men held their current positions when the puck dropped after the lockout ended.
That is at the heart of the reason I won't unconditionally knock the recycling phenomenon. The NHL's coaching instability, which so often involves "scapegoating" and a lack of linking together the fates of GMs and their coaching choices, often is laughable. So when coaches are fired in what amounts to self-fulfilling prophecies (among other things, their voices get "stale" because players, fans and media members are conditioned to believe it), it would be ridiculous to write them off for other openings. Tortorella, Hartley, Crawford, Maurice and Quenneville are proven commodities, depending on the situations. In fact, the first three all have Stanley Cup championships in their coaching profiles.
The NHL, as most sports do now, essentially operates under term limits. At times, I think it would be more interesting if it were to be formalized: All coaches get three-year contracts that can't be renewed.
But at the same time, it's healthy when more GMs are open-minded in the search process. McLellan even spoke of his relative "inexperience" as a point in his favor when introduced as the Sharks' coach Thursday, meaning he was stepping behind the bench as the No. 1 man with a fresh slate and fresh ideas, and those could help.
He might be right.
Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."
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