You need look no further than the painstaking naming process to understand how patient the Vegas Golden Knights have been in building their franchise. The front office, centered on GM George McPhee, was carefully constructed, the team has brought in experts to advise on the salary cap and expansion draft process and the goal has always been for the Golden Knights to hit the ground running, assembling a roster that can compete right out of the gate.
With the way the franchise has seemingly paid attention to detail, though, it’s puzzling why owner Bill Foley told the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s Steve Carp that there’s a “50-50” chance the Golden Knights could have their coach in place before the end of the season.
When McPhee was hired, he had pointed out that it was going to take until 2017 for the franchise to name its first head coach, and his reasoning at the time was sound. Throughout the course of the season, he said, there are experienced coaches who get shown the door, and that’s been exactly the case this season. Gerard Gallant, who led the Panthers to their best regular season in franchise history in 2015-16, was let go by Florida after a mediocre start to the season, and the struggling New York Islanders canned Jack Capuano midway through the current campaign, with his firing coming after the franchise’s first post-season series victory in more than two decades.
Gallant was almost immediately considered one of the frontrunners for the Golden Knights gig upon his firing and the same can be said for Capuano. But just because two experienced coaches have already been let go this season doesn’t mean Vegas should be pushing up its decision. If there was ever a time where the team would be best served to exercise some patience, it’s when it comes to the coaching search.
Say what you will for hiring the right GM or choosing the right front office staff, but aside from the 20-plus players pulling on a jersey every night, a skilled coach can be the most impactful member of an organization.
Look at the Toronto Maple Leafs, for instance. The turnaround in Toronto over two short seasons under Mike Babcock has been impressive, and while it has been helped along by some skillful young players, Babcock’s impact on the possession game was immediate for the Maple Leafs. And in Detroit, the loss of Babcock has been felt almost immediately in the other direction. The Minnesota Wild are also feeling the effects of making the right hire, leading the Central Division with Bruce Boudreau at the helm. And while it might not be fair to pile on the Avalanche, coach Jared Bednar was thrust into the job and it hasn’t paid off for Colorado.
With that in mind, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense for the Golden Knights to pursue one of Gallant or Capuano right now when there could be more options — potentially better options — come the end of the season.
In Boston right now, the Bruins have fallen out of a playoff spot and face the prospect of missing the playoffs for the third-straight year under Claude Julien. Not all the shortcomings in Boston can fall on Julien, but it would seem a near guarantee that he’s not sticking around with the Bruins should they miss the post-season again. In fact, anything short of an Eastern Conference final could be enough for Julien to see his time in Boston come to a close.
With all due respect to Gallant and Capuano, who have respective .518 and .536 career points percentages, they don’t really hold a candle to Julien on either an experience or impact level. Julien has nearly 1,000 games behind the bench to his name, more than 100 playoff games under his belt and a Stanley Cup. What he’s been able to do with a mediocre Bruins roster in the past two seasons is more than many coaches would have been able to, and he has Boston playing good hockey that’s simply not resulting in wins thanks in large part to struggling shooters.
There’s also questions about Ken Hitchcock. The Blues coach is in line to hand the reins over to Mike Yeo at the end of the season, and it had been reported this would be his final season coaching. However, he told TSN’s Darren Dreger back in September that he might revisit the idea of retirement come the end of the campaign. If Hitchcock is available, he’s one of the best coaching candidates for any team looking to hire.
And what about Willie Desjardins in Vancouver? He seemed to be on the hot seat early on, but has gotten the Canucks into a wild-card spot with less than half the season remaining. That said, does the axe fall if Vancouver slips out of playoff contention? He doesn’t have the success of Julien, but he’s done well with an aging roster in the midst of a turnover.
Don’t discount the potential for a few surprising firings, either. Gallant being let go was a shocker, and the same goes for Patrick Roy’s departure from the Avalanche. Any other big league coaches getting the gate would give Vegas yet another potential option behind the bench.
If Vegas truly believes they’ve found the right coach for the job, one who can lead them from expansion franchise to post-season contender in a few short seasons as Foley has hoped, then there’s no reason they won’t go ahead with the hiring. From the outside looking in, though, the Golden Knights would be wise to continue their pattern of patience. The right coach today might not be the best candidate tomorrow, and there’s no knowing who could be available by the time the regular season comes to a close.
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