The recently fired — and highly coveted — three-time Stanley Cup champion coach Joel Quenneville might be the perfect fit for a Seattle team where his teammate of seven years, former Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, is taking an executive role.
Inside the NHL
An interesting development on the National Hockey League coaching front last week could impact this city’s future franchise.
The Chicago Blackhawks fired head coach Joel Quenneville, whose 890 career victories are second on the NHL career coaching list. One of hockey’s worst-kept secrets for years has been the ongoing differences between Quenneville, 60, and Chicago general manager Stan Bowman, son of Blackhawks octogenarian special adviser Scotty Bowman, who happens to sit No. 1 in NHL career coaching victories.
Anyhow, Quenneville is being paid $6 million annually through next season. Which means he can take some well-compensated time off, re-energize from that Blackhawks rift and survey the future employment landscape – including here in Seattle for an expansion team that won’t become official for three more weeks.
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But from what I’ve heard, he won’t be grabbing anything quick. And that leaves an opening for NHL Seattle to secure a marquee name.
Quenneville is just 3½ years removed from coaching the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup in six seasons after they’d gone a half-century without one. Just two seasons ago, he coached Chicago to 50 victories and the NHL’s third-highest point total before being upset in the playoffs by eventual Cup finalist Nashville.
So, his stuff still works.
And he has a clear tie within NHL Seattle, where his former Hartford Whalers teammate of seven seasons, Dave Tippett, is a senior adviser. Tippett recently had been mulling a return to coaching – having previously coached the Dallas Stars and Arizona Coyotes – but has decided he’ll remain in the new Seattle team’s front office rather than seek its bench job.
“I really like what I’m doing right now,’’ Tippett told me last week.
The team will announce Tippett’s new executive role sometime soon. For now, the focus is on getting the team’s business side operational for when a franchise is awarded by the NHL Board of Governors in Sea Island, Ga., next month.
From there, the team will seek out a general manager and head coach, with the goal of hiring both by later next year.
That gives Quenneville time to mull over his future away from the daily NHL grind, much as Tippett had since leaving the Coyotes last year. Tippett and Quenneville remain friends and met up in Chicago the week before the firing when Tippett toured the Blackhawks practice facility for ideas to use here.
Tippett also said he doesn’t think Quenneville will grab a new job right away. Asked about Quenneville fitting here, all he’d say was: “He’s a really good coach.’’
Yes, he is — with instant credibility this coming NHL team wants and needs. There is nothing small-time about the $700 million KeyArena renovation, the planned $70 million Northgate Mall practice facility or the David Bonderman-Jerry Bruckheimer ownership group.
So, don’t expect some anonymous first-timer behind the bench. This won’t be a rookie-laden squad, or five-year rebuilding project requiring a soft hand.
The Vegas Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup final their first season, and the Seattle franchise – benefiting from the same expansion draft rules – will want to be competitive right away.
So, Quenneville should top any coaching candidates list.
Naturally, a GM wants final say in their coach, so that comes first and likely not until this season ends.
If the Seattle team goes after former Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, 53, he’s still under contract there as a senior adviser through this season. Also, his future might depend on whether GM Ken Holland serves out his Detroit contract through 2019-20 or leaves early to create a vacancy former Red Wings captain Yzerman could fill.
Likewise, if the Seattle team seeks to promote an NHL assistant GM – such as Kelly McCrimmon of the Golden Knights – they’d need permission to talk to him first, and that’s unlikely while the season is ongoing. McCrimmon, 58, is widely considered a top GM candidate and knows the expansion draft from going through it with the Golden Knights last year.
But regardless of who becomes the new GM, having a front-office ally in former teammate Tippett might look enticing to Quenneville after what he went through in Chicago. It would also make the incoming GM’s job easier by giving him an executive-level ally in Tippett to help communications with the veteran coach.
And let’s face it: Whether the new GM is already seasoned or a highly-touted first-timer, it’s almost certainly a veteran coach he’ll be dealing with.
There is too much money being spent on expansion franchises and a speedier need to gain a market foothold for their on-ice fates to be placed in an inexperienced coach’s hands.
The Golden Knights tabbed former six-year Columbus head coach Gerard Gallant last year.
NHL Seattle CEO Tod Leiweke was president of the expansion Minnesota Wild in 2000 when they hired longtime former Cup-winning New Jersey coach Jacques Lemaire. The Wild under Lemaire made the conference final in only its third season.
The last rookie expansion team coach was Curt Fraser with the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999. Fraser went 64-169-31-15 over 3½ seasons before being fired, and the franchise, which never took hold, relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.
Barry Trotz had more lasting success after starting as a rookie coach with the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998, winning more than 500 games there over 14 seasons. But even he endured five losing seasons before his first playoff appearance.
Nowadays, expansion teams likely wouldn’t have the patience to lose that long.
Seattle’s owners will want somebody who can win quickly to start offsetting their $650 million franchise fee. Quenneville is still considered the best NHL coach out there at any age and offering him a new expansion coaching challenge simply makes sense.
Whether he’d accept it is another story. But the longer Quenneville chooses to remain unemployed, the greater the chances he lands here.