NHL Seattle professional scout Ulf Samuelsson admittedly took the job last fall in order to get his feet back into the league ahead of seeking new coaching opportunities.
So, it wasn’t all that shocking to see Samuelsson, 55, depart Monday for Leksands IF in the Swedish Hockey League, where as its new head coach he’ll try to help his onetime pro club stave off relegation to a lower division by avoiding the bottom two places in the standings its final 14 games. Samuelsson was contacted about the job late last week, soon after making his debut local appearance at a “Science of Scouting” event at Seattle Center.
His son, Philip, a second round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, plays on the Leksands team.
NHL Seattle general manager Ron Francis said Sunday, ahead of the move being officially announced, that he’d fully endorsed it and won’t replace Samuelsson’s position with only a few months to go in the current season. Instead, he’ll have others double up on some of Samuelsson’s prior Pacific Division work and leave a door open for his onetime teammate and roommate to rejoin NHL Seattle down the road.
Samuelsson was never intending to stay in scouting very long. One of the more despised players in NHL history — amassing more tha 2,400 penalty minutes and several controversial hits — over 16 seasons with five clubs, the two-time Stanley Cup champion had reinvented himself as a communicative “player’s coach” at the pro level the past decade both in his native Sweden and the U.S..
In an interview prior to last week’s scouting event, he talked at length about how the experience this season has familiarized him with NHL players again and kept him in touch with the league enough to pursue future coaching opportunities.
“Now I’m up to speed with, not every player but most players in the league,” he said. “And even more than before because when you’re a coach, you’re going hard after the next team, going through every detail, but then as soon as your game’s over you move on to the next team. And you forget about that team that you just played. So scouting, it’s maybe a little more detailed, a little more intense than coaching. I now have a better grip of the league as a whole than I think I’ve ever had.”
He’d spent several seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers, then became head coach of Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate under GM Francis before joining the Chicago Blackhawks as an assistant and winning a Stanley Cup with them before coach Joel Quenneville’s staff was let go last year.
The Blackhawks are still paying part of Samuelsson’s salary, so they had to be consulted first about letting him go overseas.
If Samuelsson is to return to Seattle, it could potentially be on the team’s coaching staff. Much would depend on who gets hired as head coach — something that could happen this summer.