By Darren Eliot
June 16, 2008

The awards ceremony last week and the draft this week provide an interesting backdrop to all of the coaching changes going on around the league.

On the one hand, you have the established stars of the league being honored and on the other you have the future stars entering the league. And coaches have to be able to relate to both groups.

Take new Ottawa Senators bench boss Craig Hartsburg, for instance. His plan of action is to ensure accountability across the board next season. He will begin that process by meeting with select players, beginning with captain Daniel Alfredsson, who Hartsburg termed "the leader of the team." Thus begins the process of a new coach looking for buy-in from the core of existing players, of which the Sens have a notable, established group.

Yet when it comes to hiring, and firing, coaches, the mandate this spring seems to be "we need a guy who can work with young players." Look at the case of the delayed dismissal of Marc Crawford in Los Angeles, where the reason given by president and general manager Dean Lombardi was that the team was going to continue to go with a younger roster.

"It just comes down to, I guess, fit, and there's no doubt we're committed to the way we're going after my meeting with ownership this week," Lombardi told the Los Angeles Times. "It's more evident than ever that they're committed to building a young core, for lack of a better term, the old-fashioned way."

Well, no kidding.

The NHL in general and the Kings specifically have been headed this way for awhile: the league due to the natural evolution of rosters as it moves further away from expansion (now eight seasons past), and the Kings because of several years of high first-round picks such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alex Frolov. Management had little confidence that Crawford's intense, demanding style was working with such a young crew, one that requires the more evenhanded, patient, and encouraging approach of a teacher.

That is where the upcoming draft comes in. More and more, teams are looking at a player's potential to step into the NHL immediately. Yes, upside and development remain essential elements when evaluating a player, but immediate impact is now a critical part of the matrix. Rushing a player is no longer a fear; it is a reality of operating in a salary cap era. Teenagers as NHL players is a growing trend, and using the Pittsburgh Penguins as a prime example, youngsters now are put in positions of prominence more quickly. Thus, Steve Stamkos, Drew Doughty, Zach Bogosian, Luke Schenn and others will find themselves jumping directly from the ranks of junior hockey to the NHL after their first round selections on Friday.

Which brings us back to the coaches selected over the past couple of weeks.

Hartsburg returns to the NHL after a five-year junior stint, including two gold medals at the helm of the Canadian Junior team. His assistant on those teams, Pete DeBoer, is geting his first NHL chance with the Florida Panthers after a lifetime in juniors. Todd McLellan, heading to San Jose to replace Ron Wilson, had a five-year run of success on the western Canadian junior circuit before moving to the NHL as an assistant, most recently on Mike Babcock's Stanley Cup-winning staff in Detroit. Even Wilson's move to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs had something to do with his willingness to insert young players into key roles with the Sharks.

It makes sense. These new coaches have all recently worked with young players and succeeded. They fit the emerging NHL model and if they can win in their new jobs, they may come to define it.

Former NHL goaltender Darren Eliot is TV analyst and hockey development liaison for the Atlanta Thrashers.

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