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Where could the NHL’s top free-agent coaches land?

Barry Trotz holds all the cards in what is a rather deep free-agent coaching market this summer. It’s been well publicized that he met with Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff already. The Jets have put on the full-court press to bring the Manitoba native home.

I believe he’s also spoken to varying degrees with Philadelphia, Vegas and Detroit. I also think Dallas has indicated it would like to speak with Trotz. I mean, if you’re an NHL team with a coaching opening, why aren’t you reaching out to Trotz?

But we also get the sense Trotz is taking his time with whatever decision he makes. Remember that the Islanders owe him $4 million for next season on his current contract, although if he signs on with a new team the Isles will likely be off the hook then. But the point is, Trotz can afford to take his time.

He has also indicated perhaps going into management one day. So there’s lots to digest here for him. His ultimate decision, either way, likely will have a domino effect on the coaching market.

In no particular order, let’s take a look at the many other free-agent coaches out there, only the guys who have been NHL head coaches before (not looking here at AHL coaches or NHL assistants):

Pete DeBoer

Speaking of prime free agents, how about a coach who has been to the Stanley Cup Final twice and made the conference finals five times in the last 10 years?

The Golden Knights still owe DeBoer another $3.25 million on his contract for next season, which is important to note because I think it affords DeBoer the chance to be picky with his next move and bide his time if he chooses to. Does he jump at a decent opportunity this summer or sit back and wait to see what happens next season?

He’s a big name. He’s well thought of. He holds a lot of cards, too.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s a mid-season hire next season when a contender stumbles and decides to make a coaching change. But he could also get an interesting offer or two this summer. I just feel like he’s going to take his time.

Claude Julien

A year ago, Gerard Gallant parlayed coaching Canada to gold at the men’s IIHF World Championship into a hire with the New York Rangers, although I think that hire was going to happen regardless.

Let’s see what kind of reception Julien gets after coaching Canada to silver at the worlds, losing in overtime in the gold medal game to host Finland. Pretty good performance for a young Canadian roster that wasn’t loaded.

Julien, 62, officially becomes a free agent at the end of June after his Habs contract paying him $5 million a season expires.

The 2011 Stanley Cup champion coach is ready to listen.

“You know what, I’m going to see where things go from here. When you’ve coached long enough in this league you hope that people know what you’re all about and how you coach and that stuff,” Julien told The Athletic this week. “I’m definitely waiting for the call versus chasing them. And I’ll go from there.

“Definitely if it’s the right situation, I would go back into coaching,” Julien added. “But it has to be a situation where there’s a good fit between me and upper management.”

Very much sounds like a guy who doesn’t desperately need to get back in but would welcome the opportunity if the right fit comes along.

Travis Green

Green screams of that coach that whichever team hires him will benefit from a second round behind an NHL bench, like we’ve often seen. Five years in Vancouver is a great learning curve. He was fired in early December but sounds refreshed now after needing to understandably de-compress.

“There has been a time of de-compression for sure,” Green told The Athletic this week. “Whenever you go through getting let go at your job, it’s never happened to me before. I love coaching. I loved coaching the Vancouver Canucks. It took a little time to get over it. You know I think there’s different stages of it after it happens. Major disappointment when it first happens. Down for a long period of time. Then I’ve had a long period of time to self-reflect, look back at the past five seasons in Vancouver and try to make improvements. As a coach, you do make mistakes, all coaches do. And you learn from those mistakes. That’s an important part of developing and getting better.”

Green coached the underdog Canucks to the second round of the playoffs in the bubble in 2020, a roster that probably shouldn’t have been there. He learned a lot from the ups and downs in a pressure-packed atmosphere in Vancouver.

He’s ready for the 2.0 chapter of his coaching career now.

“I love hockey, I love watching hockey, I watch a lot of it now and have been for a while,” Green said. “I’m passionate about coaching. I love it. It’s what I love to do and I’m looking forward to hopefully getting another chance.”

I feel like Dallas, Detroit or Vegas would be good spots for Green. What would appeal to me as an owner or GM of those teams is that experience in a crazy Canadian market like Vancouver has Green pretty much able to handle any kind of location now.

Jeff Blashill

Here’s another 2.0 candidate. Seven years in Detroit, through a teardown and a rebuild, Blashill learned a lot in his first NHL head coaching job.

“I would say unequivocally I’m a better coach today than I was seven years ago just because of the experience that I was able to gain through lots of different circumstances in Detroit,” Blashill told The Athletic this week. “I think when you go through the types of years that we went through, you either grow and, if you choose to, you can grow a lot.

“And I certainly felt like, and I feel today, that I gained a lot of knowledge through those experiences. So, I’m excited to see what the future holds, excited to see what opportunities are available. I love coaching. I love having an impact on teams, an impact on players. Just look forward to whatever the next opportunity is.”

I believe a few teams have put Blashill on their radar, perhaps not top of list, but I think he’s going to hear from some of them.

Joel Quenneville

The sense is that Quenneville would like to return behind an NHL bench after stepping down in Florida earlier this season in the wake of the Kyle Beach scandal. That return, however, requires the approval from commissioner Gary Bettman. So at some point, Quenneville and Bettman will need to have not just one conversation, but I figure a few talks. So it’s not clear at this point whether Quenneville will be an option or not for NHL clubs but I suspect Vegas and Dallas are among the organizations that could have interest if and when the veteran coach gets clearance from Bettman. Which again, isn’t a slam dunk.

Rick Bowness

The sense I got all year long was that Bowness, 67, would maybe retire after the season. Instead, when Bowness announced two weeks ago he was stepping down as Stars head coach (his contract was expiring), he made it clear he would leave the door open to a possible return elsewhere.

An NHL coaching return for Bowness would have to be with a team that has a chance to win, otherwise, maybe it is in fact the end, which I think he’s comfortable with.

“I think the most important thing is if it’s something that comes along that’s of interest,” Bowness told The Athletic this week. “Am I going to pursue anything? No. But I’ll be open to something that might be of interest, yes. …And I can walk away if I have to.”

Rick Tocchet

The TNT hockey panelist loves his TV gig, but I’m told he would absolutely like another crack behind an NHL bench. I believe Vegas has him on their list of coaching candidates.

Winnipeg and Philadelphia could also be possibilities but I haven’t confirmed either club reaching out directly yet. Tocchet interviewed with the Rangers, the Blue Jackets and the Kraken last offseason so he’s well versed in the process.

david quinn

My sense is the former Rangers head coach does hope to return behind an NHL bench and he hopes to do so for next season. I believe he’s already heard from a few NHL teams. So we’ll see where that goes for him. Like Travis Green and Jeff Blashill, getting Quinn on his second round behind an NHL bench might really benefit whoever hires him. He learned a lot from his experience in New York.

Jim Montgomery

I’m hearing that the former Stars head coach and current Blues assistant coach has gotten calls from at least three teams the last few weeks about their head coach vacancy. Whether or not it leads him back to being a head coach remains to be seen. But what a story that would be given his exit from Dallas in December 2019 and his honesty in dealing with it.

Paul Maurice

The former Winnipeg Jets head coach is not actively searching out his next opportunity but if the right fit came along, he would listen. Or as one source put it this week, his phone is on but he’s not eagerly checking his messages. Maurice, just as he said when he stepped down as Jets coach earlier this season, needed a break after 26 straight years of coaching. Eventually, the bug to coach will return and I think we’ll see him one day behind an NHL bench again. But in the short term, I don’t think we see him any time soon.

John Tortorella

Torts has already interviewed with the Flyers, Kevin Weekes first reported last week. He politely turned down my interview request when I reached out this week. He turns 64 next month but after a year away from the NHL coaching grind, Tortorella appears ready to get back into things. Whether or not that happens, we shall see.

Dave Tippett

We’ve probably seen the last of Tippett behind an NHL bench. Tippett has always had real estate business projects on the go so he’s busy with that. And don’t forget that before being lured to coach in Edmonton, he was actually working on the business side in management with expansion Seattle and was enjoying that new side of things.

Either way, Tippett, who turns 61 in August, is probably done with NHL coaching.

“I haven’t ruled out working in hockey or private business, just don’t see myself coaching anymore,” Tippett said via text message this week.

Coaching is a grind, I don’t blame any of these veteran guys for saying that’s enough.

mike babcock

It is unlikely that Babcock returns behind an NHL bench unless the fit is near perfect for both him and the team in question. The Capitals did interview him a few years ago before hiring Peter Laviolette. A few other teams have called since then. But nothing serious has materialized. He’s not out there reaching out to teams. Babcock is still owed another year at a $5.8 million salary from the Maple Leafs — his contract expires on June 30, 2023. He will be 60 then. He’s made plenty of money.

Some teams may also see him as a bit toxic still and may worry about that part of it in hiring him. But there are other clubs who have shown interest the last few years and keep in touch with him.

Still, I would say it’s 90 percent he doesn’t coach again in the NHL.

Alain Vigneault

The Flyers still owe Vigneault north of $5 million a year the next two seasons, so through June 2024. He will be 63 when that contract expires. I would never say never with these guys because they’re so competitive. Remember when Darryl Sutter announced his retirement from coaching in June 2018? Of course Calgary was a unique opportunity for him. My point is, you never know. But I would say that Vigneault is not chasing it at all right now. He’s had a heck of a coaching career. Odds are we don’t see him being behind an NHL bench again, but don’t hold me to it.


Alain Vigneault. (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

Guy Boucher

The former Tampa Bay Lightning and Ottawa Senators head coach hasn’t been behind an NHL bench since he was let go by the Sens in March 2019. He’s been doing work with French-language RDS the last few years.

But it’s not from a lack of interest. Sources say Boucher had teams call the last few years, both for head coach and associate coach opportunities, but he told those teams he was unavailable, deciding to focus on a family situation.

Now, Boucher is ready to come back and talk to NHL teams. He could be an intriguing candidate.

(Top photo of Barry Trotz: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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