Editor’s note: 1500 ESPN hockey writers Dan Myers and Jess Myers (no relation) recently had a brainstorm on who will be the next coach of the Minnesota Wild, if there’s a new coach holding the whistle when training camp starts on September 22. Here are their thoughts:
DAN: Perhaps the most important decision the Wild will make this offseason revolves around who will take over full-time head coaching duties after the club fired Mike Yeo in February and promoted John Torchetti on an interim basis.
I’m on record endorsing Torchetti as the pick, if that’s the direction GM Chuck Fletcher would go in, but there is certainly no shortage of coaches available if the Wild chooses to go in a different direction. It’s the quality of the candidates that has me concerned if I’m a Wild fan.
JESS: Keep in mind, Craig Leipold’s teams don’t change coaches often. In nearly two decades as an NHL owner, Leipold has employed just three full-time head coaches (and one interim for the past two-plus months), so the most likely play for him, based on his track record, is to keep Torchetti.
But this is a franchise and a fan base looking for consistency. They had it until about January 15, then the wheels fell off, and Yeo’s head rolled a month later. Yes, they made the playoffs under Torchetti, but they were a model of inconsistency in the process, playing two months of streaky hockey that was just barely good enough for an eighth-place finish in the West.
The final game of their brief playoff run perfectly exemplified the hockey the Wild produced under Torchetti — 15 minutes of hard-nosed, high-flying excitement, preceded by 45 minutes of barely watchable crap. And the end result was not good enough.
So who’s next? Who knows. But here is some speculation anyway…
JESS’S LIST (in alphabetical order)
JESS: In his first NHL head coaching job, in his first season, Boucher led the Tampa Bay Lightning all the way to the third round of the playoffs, where they fell to the eventual champion Bruins. The next season his Lightning missed the playoffs, mostly due to a lack of defense, and the season after that he was fired after 31 games.
Boucher intrigues me, as he drew high praise immediately, and had the results to prove it, then faded out just as quickly. Are we dealing with the NHL’s version of Glen Mason here? He’s young and has had success, although his record coaching in Europe since leaving the NHL isn’t too noteworthy. Still, I think another NHL team will take a chance on him, and it would be fun to see what he will do with this collection of talent in Minnesota
DAN: While the job Boucher did in Tampa is admirable, they’ve actually gotten better since he left, under the tutelage of Jon Cooper, one of my favorite coaches in the NHL.
Boucher did nothing of note while coaching in Switzerland and was fired last fall with his team in ninth place.
JESS: Local hero, prep star, long-time NHL standout, well-known name in the Twin Cities (his wife is a Minnesota State Senator), successful NHL assistant coach. Housley — currently an assistant coach for the Nashville Predators — seems to check all the boxes for someone who would be a perfect hire for the Wild.
The knock I’ve heard on him is that in his longest foray as a head coach — with Stillwater High School — his teams could never get to the state tournament. Although as a head coach on the international level, he led Team USA to the gold medal at the 2013 World Juniors, so he knows some modicum of success.
The North Stars hired another local hero, Herb Brooks, as their head coach and then fired him after one injury-messy season. Here’s thinking that the local NHL club would have a better fate with Housley.
DAN: For me, it’s not that Housley’s teams at Stillwater couldn’t make the state tournament. It’s that Housley’s teams couldn’t make the state tournament with him, then became a state power as soon as he left.
That said, I’ve always thought Housley would be a better college/professional coach than a high school coach. There’s just something about his demeanor and hockey IQ that translates more with older players. Perhaps that’s why he had success leading the United States to the gold medal in the world juniors a couple of years ago.
Still, the Herb Brooks comparison might be a little haughty.
JESS: If the Hakstol Effect is real, then Leaman will be a head coach in the NHL soon, and this would be as good a landing spot as any. He built Union College into a powerhouse, then left with the Dutchmen on the brink of greatness. Indeed, Leaman was a spectator two years ago when the program he built beat the Gophers for the 2014 NCAA title.
Leaman didn’t sulk. Instead, a year later, he guided Providence to its first NCAA crown, and had the Friars back in the NCAA playoffs this season as a No. 1 seed. He’s a hot property and is going to be a successful pro coach someday. I think he might be better off starting in the Midwest.
DAN: Can’t object too much here, as I think the world of Leaman as a coach. You can’t argue with the results either; the guy has turned two middle-of-the-road programs into national powers, both in a short amount of time.
He’s not my first NCAA choice (see below), but he’d probably be a close second.
JESS: Forever known as the guy picked after Mario Lemiuex in the 1984 draft, Muller had a great career as a player and has shown promise as a head coach. He got two-plus seasons with an undermanned Carolina team and finished exactly .500 (80-80-27). Muller’s reputation is that of a players’ coach, relating well to young players and veterans alike.
If the alleged rift in the Wild locker room between the kids and the veterans is real, Muller would be a perfect voice to try to bridge that gap.
DAN: Can’t argue with his credentials as a former player that suited up more than 1,300 times in the NHL. And one of the reasons he got canned in Carolina was because general manager Ron Francis was hired and wanted to bring in his own guy.
Undermanned or not, Muller lost 27 more games than he won with the Hurricanes. While he’s not the worst re-tread on the market, I think the Wild can do better.
JESS: Before last season’s Wild training camp began, Oates came to town to work with Zach Parise and a few notable others to provide some tips on how to run a more effective power play. It was a controversial move, and was seen by many as a shot at Yeo and his control over the team. That’s bad. Here’s what’s good: It totally worked, at least for a time, showing some that Oates knows how to get the most out of this team, at least on special teams.
Hiring Oates would be a signal that veterans like Parise and Ryan Suter have a lot of control over this franchise. But with nine years each left on their contracts, Parise and Suter will likely be here longer than the next coach, and the one after that, so why pretend they’re not at least helping run the show?
DAN: Besides the public relations disaster this would be, this hire would basically admit that Fletcher has handed the reigns of the franchise to his two star players. Not exactly the best message to send to the rest of the group.
That, and Oates reportedly has no interest in getting back behind the bench. No, thanks.
DAN’S LIST (in alphabetical order)
DAN: The No. 1 candidate for me, and it’s not close.
Boudreau checks almost all the boxes for the Wild: He’s experienced, he’s a winner, he’s developed young talent, he’s worked well with veteran stars. And selfishly, he’s great with the media.
The knock on him is that he can’t win big games. The Ducks have lost their past four Game 7s, but in order to get to Game 7s, you have to make the playoffs consistently. Few have done that as well as Boudreau, who became the fastest NHL coach in history to 400 career victories earlier this season (663 games).
A guy like that doesn’t have that kind of regular season success and fail in the postseason forever, does he? Eventually he’s due to win, and if I’m Fletcher, I’d do everything I can to lock him up … yesterday.
JESS: Boudreau is a rock-solid choice, and a likely candidate here if a change is made. Unlike Yeo and Todd Richards, he is a cagey veteran and a far cry from the “young, hungry guy in his first NHL job.”
In my dealings with Boudreau, he’s been fantastic, and friends who worked and played for him in other places say great things. The rub is his struggles in the playoffs. In nine full seasons as a head coach, his teams have won their division eight times, and he’s been to the third round once.
If the Wild were to make the playoffs after a solid regular season and actually host their first game, that would be a nice change of pace. Just getting there is not going to be enough for the Minnesota fan base. Having games in June is going to be the expectation, and Boudreau has yet to prove he knows how to make that happen.
DAN: A Stanley Cup winner with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, Carlyle brings the type of fiery personality that could be needed inside the Wild’s veteran locker room.
Experienced coaches with their names on the Stanley Cup are few and far between, especially in the current marketplace. And although his tenure in Toronto ended with a dismissal 40 games into the 2014-15 season, he actually had a winning record when he got the axe (21-16-3).
My main concerns: Carlyle-led clubs have advanced past the first round of the playoffs once since he led the Ducks to the championship. Between losing in the first round (three times), missing the playoffs altogether (three times) and being fired midseason (twice), Carlyle hasn’t done much in almost a decade.
JESS: I was a Winnipeg Jets fan as a kid, so Carlyle will always have a soft spot in my hockey heart. But in him I see a kind of “Boudreau light.” He won a Cup in Anaheim with a team much more talented than this one. With average-level talent, he’s produced average-level results.
DAN: Another former NHLer, Green played in 970 games with the Maple Leafs, Ducks, Islanders, Coyotes and Bruins.
Since becoming a head coach in 2012, the 45-year old Green has won a championship with the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League in 2012-13 and served three seasons as head coach of the Utica Comets of the American Hockey League, where the Comets lost in the Calder Cup championship in 2015.
His resume is a little thin, but Green is considered by many in hockey circles as one of the best up-and-comers in the industry.
JESS: Impressive resume, I just don’t see the Wild giving another AHL guy his first NHL head coaching job.
DAN: One of the most respected assistant coaches in the NHL, Kitchen has worked side-by-side with Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville since 2010, essentially taking over the assistant’s post vacated by Torchetti after Chicago’s first run to the Stanley Cup.
Kitchen has been a part of two championship teams in Chicago and was an assistant to Quenneville when the St. Louis Blues won the President’s Trophy in 2000. He’s worked continuously in the NHL since 1990, when he began his coaching career as an assistant with the Maple Leafs.
Kitchen has been an assistant for nearly that entire time; he took over for Quenneville in St. Louis when he was fired midseason in 2003-04, coached one full season there, then was fired after a 7-17-0 start in 2006-07.
His lone stint as a head coach went poorly, but he’s been learning from one of the best in the history of the NHL for the last half-decade.
JESS: Kitchen has a household name. (Sorry, too easy). By all accounts he’s an excellent assistant coach. But his NHL record as a head coach is rough.
DAN: A true dark horse, who knows if Motzko would even be interested. But the fact remains that Motzko has one of the brightest power-play minds in all of hockey. He always has.
The statistics don’t lie: Teams that excel on special teams are always among the very best in the NHL.
Motzko’s teams at SCSU are always some of the best in the country with the man-advantage. The Huskies finished second nationally on the power play last season, fifth the year before and fourth the year before that.
He’s done a marvelous job of turning a middle-of-the-road program into an annual contender. As the coach of a college program, Motzko has experience developing young talent.
He’s certainly an unorthodox choice; he’s never played or coached at the professional level, but he’s coached several NHLers in his time as a college assistant and as a head coach in the USHL and at SCSU.
JESS: The Wild hiring Motzko would show me that Dave Hakstol is more powerful than we thought. Since Hakstol, the former North Dakota head coach, helped guide the Philadelphia Flyers to the playoffs this season, there could be a run on college coaches by NHL teams (see above).
I personally would love this hire, having known Motzko for a long time. And yes, his power play is a true thing of beauty. It helped the Gophers to a pair of NCAA titles when he was Don Lucia’s assistant coach, and he’s helped the Huskies to a few conference crowns and their first Frozen Four trip as a result.
I endorse this idea fully, but I wonder if Motzko would offer a Jack Parker if offered the job. Parker, the legendary Boston University coach, reportedly was offered full control of the Bruins on at least one occasion and offered a polite no thank you, instead retiring as a college hockey legend.