The Calgary Flames will almost certainly hire a coach with a wealth of NHL experience to replace Glen Gulutzan, who was fired Tuesday.
Even with the likes of Matthew Tkachuk and Mark Jankowski making great strides this year, there has to be concern that other young players haven't rounded out their two-way games the past couple of seasons. Sean Monahan, for example, is a premier finisher who has averaged close to 30 goals and 60 points through five NHL seasons and is still just 23. But for him to become a top-flight No. 1 center, he'll need to sharpen his play in his own zone. A veteran coach can help him get there. And what became of Sam Bennett? The fourth overall pick in 2014 played with more focus in his rookie season under Bob Hartley than he did the past two seasons under Gulutzan, when Bennett looked absolutely miserable at times.
Gulutzan did bring some positive elements to the table – the Flames are demons from a puck possession perspective – but Calgary was regularly out-coached in a variety of levels and venues.
Here's a list of experienced NHL coaches who deserve consideration for the Calgary coaching job.
• Bill Peters, 53. The Carolina coach has an out-clause in his Hurricanes contract until Friday. He's a native of Three Hills, Alta., and has a previous working relationship with Flames GM Brad Treliving. In Peters' four seasons coaching Carolina, the Hurricanes failed to make the playoffs, but the team's goaltending and save percentage was never close to being league average any of those seasons. He's a possession-style coach similar to Gulutzan, but is reputed to hold his players more accountable. Peters had a winning track record in both the WHL and AHL prior to joining Carolina and will coach Canada at this year's World Championship. Kris Versteeg and Troy Brouwer have played under Peters. The timing of Gulutzan's dismissal dovetails nicely with the window of opportunity for Peters.
• Dave Tippett, 56. The long-time Coyotes coach has an extensive history with Treliving in Arizona. The Coyotes made the playoffs just three seasons in Tippett's eight years there, but the small-budget team rarely had big-ticket stars to carry the load. The Saskatchewan native has a reputation of working well with younger players and he's known for his shutdown systems. Mike Smith and Michael Stone each played six seasons under Tippett in Arizona.
• Darryl Sutter, 59. It's been 14 years since Sutter coached the Flames to a Game 7 Stanley Cup loss to Tampa Bay. Of course, Sutter went on to victory twice in Los Angeles using a puck possession approach and focus on defensive hockey. He's been near the family's beef cattle operation in Viking, Alta., the past year.
• Alain Vigneault, 56. Recently fired by the New York Rangers, Vigneault has 20 years experience in the NHL, 16 of them as a head coach in Montreal, Vancouver and New York.
• Lindy Ruff, 58. The Warburg, Alta., native spent this season as an assistant to Vigneault in New York. But prior to that, he guided Buffalo for 15 seasons and Dallas for another four. He ranks sixth in all-time NHL coaching wins.
It's unlikely recently retired Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock comes out of retirement at 66 for the opportunity to coach in his native province, but you never know. There's also speculation the Flames would be interested in Manitoba native Barry Trotz should he part ways with the Washington Capitals, but it's hard to believe Treliving is holding out for that to happen. Saskatchewan native Todd McLellan may also be on the ropes in Edmonton.
There are several up-and-coming coaches at the AHL and major junior level, such as Sheldon Keefe in Toronto or Tim Hunter in Moose Jaw, but don't expect the Flames to go the greenhorn route again. They'd prefer a coach who can get them to the next level rather than one who may have some seasons of growing pains.
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