MacTavish emerges in search for Wild coach

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 6, 2011 - 7:33 AM

The former NHL player and Oilers coach is known for being defensive-minded and shrewd at managing in-game situations.

Former Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish

Photo: Karl Deblaker, Associated Press

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With the Wild in the early stages of its deliberate search to find a replacement for Todd Richards, veteran coach Craig MacTavish has emerged as a strong candidate.

According to multiple league sources, the former Edmonton Oilers coach has had a handful of conversations with Chuck Fletcher and was recently interviewed by the Wild general manager at a Toronto hotel.

The 52-year-old MacTavish, who coached the Oilers from 2000 to '09, has been unwilling to talk about any of the NHL coaching vacancies other than to say he's "recharged" and ready to return to coaching.

"He's one of my favorites," Los Angeles Kings veteran forward Ryan Smyth, coached by MacTavish for six seasons, said in a phone interview Thursday. "He knows and understands the game very well and was exciting to play for. He understands the players very well. He knew me more than I did at times."

MacTavish, who guided the eighth-seeded Oilers to within one game of a Stanley Cup in 2006, would bring instant credibility to the Wild bench. He won four Stanley Cups in his 19-year playing career player -- three with Edmonton and one with the New York Rangers.

One of the great defensive centers, the well-spoken MacTavish brought that same acumen to his coaching. He's known as a defensive-oriented, technically sound coach, one who's a shrewd in-game bench manager and good communicator.

"He cares deeply for his players and their families," Smyth said. "He's all about the team. During that [2006] playoff, the speech he gave right from the get-go really emphasized, 'Don't let the highs get too high, the lows too low, stay even-keeled, enjoy it, seize the moment.'

"It made a big difference. You just wanted to play hard for him."

MacTavish works as a studio analyst for Canada's TSN. He went 301-252-103 behind Edmonton's bench. He was 19-17 in the playoffs, making the postseason in three of eight seasons in a market that before the 2004-05 lockout was not spending on par with others.

He has been battling cancer the past few years but told TSN's Darren Dreger last month, "I'm healthy and I'm feeling good and have a very good prognosis."

Fletcher was not available for comment Thursday. Two years ago, he concluded his first coaching search by opting for Richards, whose previous NHL experience was one year as an assistant with San Jose. The thought this time is Fletcher will look for a more experienced coach, although he has indicated NHL head-coaching experience is not a prerequisite.

One experienced coach Fletcher has not yet reached out to is Ken Hitchcock, who is currently in Slovakia coaching unbeaten Canada in the world championships. Hitchcock, who has coached Dallas, Philadelphia and Columbus, ranks 13th all-time with 533 regular-season victories. He has won another 66 in the playoffs, including a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999.

Wild defenseman Brent Burns thrived under Hitchcock at the 2008 world championships, and Burns and Cal Clutterbuck have been rocks for Canada this go-around. Hitchcock is expected to be a frontrunner for the New Jersey Devils' vacancy.

Former Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins coach Michel Therrien, who scouted for the Wild last season, is said to be interested in the Wild vacancy.

The Wild is also believed to be interested in speaking with Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, former Florida coach Pete DeBoer and Atlanta Thrashers associate coach John Torchetti.

Fletcher is also expected to strongly consider Houston Aeros coach Mike Yeo, who has the Wild's chief minor league affiliate in the second round of the American Hockey League playoffs. Yeo spent five seasons as a top assistant in Pittsburgh, winning a Stanley Cup in 2009 one year after going to the Stanley Cup Finals. Many believe Yeo is a future NHL head coach, so the thought is if the Wild doesn't hire him now, it could risk losing out on him.

There also has been much scuttlebutt that Washington coach Bruce Boudreau is on thin ice after the Capitals, the Eastern Conference's top seed this postseason, were swept by Tampa Bay in the second round. But Caps GM George McPhee said Thursday he anticipates Boudreau returning.

Wild, goalie prospect squabbling

The Wild's in the midst of a contract squabble with goaltender Darcy Kuemper.

The 2009 sixth-round pick is seeking close to the '09 max on an entry-level deal after his stellar season with Red Deer of the Western Hockey League. Named WHL Player of the Year and Goaltender of the Year, Kuemper led the league with 45 wins, a 1.86 goals-against average, .933 save percentage and 13 shutouts.

Kuemper, Kris Foucault ('09 fourth-rounder) and Jere Sallinen ('09 sixth-rounder) can all re-enter the draft if the Wild doesn't sign them by June 1.

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