MacTavish visits Wild, remains top candidate

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2011 - 6:24 AM

The former Oilers coach had a second interview with GM Chuck Fletcher and could be the front-runner.

Seven weeks after being the first candidate to be interviewed for the Wild's coaching vacancy, Craig MacTavish continues to intrigue the franchise.

The longtime former Edmonton Oilers coach still is considered a strong candidate -- if not the leading one.

According to multiple sources, "MacT" spent part of last week in the Twin Cities. He had his second formal interview with the Wild and toured Xcel Energy Center and the team's locker-room facilities.

MacTavish has had numerous conversations with Chuck Fletcher during the general manager's two-month search for the third coach in team history. With the Stanley Cup Finals set to conclude Monday or Wednesday and the NHL draft in St. Paul on June 24 and 25, Fletcher's decision could be days away.

Former Montreal and Pittsburgh coach Michel Therrien, who coached the Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, and former Dallas Stars, Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock, who won a Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999, also are candidates, although it doesn't appear either has had second interviews.

Houston coach Mike Yeo -- Therrien's former assistant in Pittsburgh who coached the Aeros to the AHL's Calder Cup Finals during his first season -- was interviewed Friday and continues to be an appealing choice. He won a Stanley Cup as Dan Bylsma's assistant in Pittsburgh in 2009, and if the Wild doesn't hire Yeo now, he'll be a future hot commodity in the NHL.

Because MacTavish spent eight seasons in one city -- a rarity in pro sports, let alone the NHL -- Fletcher could be looking at MacTavish as the option that provides the most stability.

Known as a players' coach and strong communicator, MacTavish began coaching the Oilers in 2000 and didn't leave until a mutual departure in 2009. He went 301-252-103 during the regular season, made the playoffs three times and coached the Oilers to within one victory of the 2006 Stanley Cup before losing to Carolina in Game 7.

One of the great defensive forwards of his time (he won three Stanley Cups as a player with Edmonton, one with the New York Rangers), MacTavish is known as a defensive-oriented coach. But he played with enough offensive stars (Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and others) and checked enough of them to know he has to open things up offensively as well.

He's also known as a strong in-game bench manager who can adjust to his opponent. For example, in 2006, MacTavish coached a passive trap for the first time because he felt it was the only way to upset the mighty Detroit Red Wings. It worked.

Since leaving Edmonton, MacTavish has spent time working as a studio analyst for Canada's TSN while finishing his master's degree in business at Queen's University. But MacTavish, although unwilling to comment specifically about the Wild throughout the interview process, has said he's "recharged" and ready to return to coaching.

He also has ties in Minnesota. MacTavish's brother, Ian, lives in Woodbury and works for 3M.

MacTavish also is a finalist for the Ottawa Senators' vacancy, but according to sources, Red Wings assistant coach Paul MacLean is the front-runner and had his second interview Friday. The Wild also has had standing permission to speak with MacLean, although no interview has taken place.

The Florida Panthers are the only of the five NHL teams that fired coaches to hire one -- Kevin Dineen, coach of the AHL's Portland Pirates. Dallas' finalists appear to be Glen Gulutzan, coach of the AHL's Texas Stars; Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller; and Nashville Predators assistant coach Peter Horachek. New Jersey's situation has been quiet, which is believed to be due to problems with the Devils' minority ownership. Hitchcock, Therrien and Muller could be options.

The Winnipeg franchise, which is being relocated from Atlanta, also suddenly has an opening with Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay's status uncertain, but former Columbus coach Claude Noel is a definite option.

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