With the 2022-23 NHL season nearing an end, it’s almost time for the annual cycle of coaching candidates being hired and the old guard being fired. As of writing, five teams are actively looking for a new bench boss: the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, and Washington Capitals.
As of May 12, 2023, here are the top available NHL coaching candidates.
NHL teams love bouncing around the coaching carousel, using the same coaches over and over again whether or not they were ultimately successful in winning a Cup. For better or worse, front offices seem to think going with a known asset is better than taking a swing on someone with lesser experience.
Regarding the Rangers job, there’s been a ton of steam around Joel Quenneville. While I’m personally opposed to this move given Quenneville’s role in covering up the sexual assault of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach, I can certainly see why New York would be interested.
Quenneville has the second-most head coaching wins in NHL history at 969, and won three Stanley Cups as a head coach with Chicago; he also won as an assistant coach with the Colorado Avalanche. The Rangers have a roster ready to win a Cup, and while it would be a public relations nightmare to hire Coach Q, he’s certainly got the most qualified on-ice resume.
On a much less controversial side, Peter Laviolette was let go from the Washington Capitals following the 2023 season. He’s also previously worked with the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, and Nashville Predators.
Laviolette ranks eighth in all-time coaching wins and is the fourth coach to lead three different franchises to the Stanley Cup Finals (with Carolina, Philadelphia, and Nashville, winning with the Hurricanes).
Finally, while this option isn’t as likely, Bruce Boudreau is still available should a team pick up the phone Boudreau is one of the most beloved coaches around the league by players and fans alike. He won the Jack Adams award in 2007-08 while coaching the Washington Capitals, and he has the second-highest win percentage among coaches with at least 900 games behind the bench.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) December 7, 2021
Boudreau’s departure from the Canucks this season may have soured his disposition towards taking another coaching job, and he’s been excellent as an analyst with the NHL. Either way, the league needs to keep Boudreau around the game in some capacity.
New Jersey Devils assistant coach Andrew Brunette seemed to be in line for the Florida job after Quenneville was dismissed, having led the Panthers to a President’s Trophy last season. However, he was passed up in favor of Paul Maurice. A DUI incident this season could be a reason for teams to stay away, though I don’t think that will continue to disqualify him from head coaching opportunities long-term.
Spencer Carbery of the Toronto Maple Leafs is also headed for a head coaching gig in the near future. Carbery’s resume includes earning an ECHL head coach position with the South Carolina Stingrays at age 29, making him the youngest head coach in the league at the time. He quickly moved through the ranks and took an AHL job with the Hershey Bears, winning the AHL title and the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award as the league’s most outstanding coach.
There have also been reports of teams reaching out to Tampa Bay Lightning assistant Jeff Halpern for their coaching vacancies. Halpern has been with the Bolts since 2018, helping bring two Stanley Cup wins and three Cup appearances since then. I think he’d be a great fit for the Capitals gig as both a former player and a native of Potomac, MD.
Minor League Coaching Candidates
Like Carbery, Todd Nelson of the Hershey Bears is also on a great track for another head coaching job. While he technically could be classified as a “retread,” given his one partial season as interim head coach with the Edmonton Oilers, I think this category is more appropriate given the interim title was never removed. His coaching duties in the 2014-15 season also involved Edmonton tanking for Connor McDavid, so Nelson was virtually set up to fail in that regard.
However, Nelson’s minor league resume is quite impressive. He won the Calder Cup with the Grand Rapids Griffins in the 2016-17 season and also won two Colonial Cups with the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the IHL in 2004 and 2005. Hershey is currently in the Division Finals of the AHL playoffs, so discussions of Nelson’s future are likely on hold for now.
Rounding out the coaching candidates list is Mitch Love of the Calgary Wranglers. Love has only been with the Wranglers for two seasons (Calgary was the Stockton Heat at the time Love took the job) but they’ve both been impressive.
Calgary finished with the second-best regular season record this year and is playing in the Division Final series with the Coachella Valley Firebirds (who finished at the top of the AHL standings). Stockton’s season ended in the Division Finals last season.
Before that, Love was an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips, helping the team finish with the lowest GAA in three consecutive seasons. He also led the Saskatoon Blades to a playoff appearance in his first season as head coach in the 2018-19 season.
Love’s work to develop Dustin Wolf will also get the eyes of any team with good goaltending and defensive prospects in their system. It may take one more season before he gets there, but Love will be an NHL head coach soon.
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