The Star Tribune’s Michael Russo outlined several key issues facing the Wild this offseason in a great piece today. Of particular note to me, though, is the impending coaching search. This is the most important decision the Wild will make this season because the roster figures to be pretty similar (again) to what it was last year. It will be up to a new coach to get more consistency and production out of the same group of players.
Russo tossed out several names of potential candidates and divided them into categories. I won’t pretend to attempt to add to this list, but let’s work through those names a bit in an attempt to guess what direction the Wild will and/or should go.
Randy Carlyle: The 60-year-old won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and would bring a strong voice to the locker room. His all-time coaching record of 364-260-80 in more than 700 career regular-season games suggests he is a solid choice. On the other hand, Carlyle has also been fired twice (by Anaheim and Toronto), and his teams have tended to play better earlier in his tenure than later. For a Wild team that will be trying to win in the short-term, though, he could be a good fit — with the organization willing to live with the potential for future regression.
Marc Crawford: Had a great first run as head coach, winning the 1996 Stanley Cup with the Avalanche. But that was 20 years ago, and his last three coaching stops have been far less successful. With Vancouver, he didn’t make it past the second round of the playoffs in six full seasons. With the Kings and Stars, he missed the playoffs all four combined seasons (two with each team). More recently he’s had success coaching in Switzerland, but he hasn’t been an NHL head coach in five years.
Paul MacLean: Coached Ottawa for parts of four seasons, making the playoffs twice before getting fired during his fourth year in 2014-15.
Guy Boucher: Took Tampa bay to the Eastern Conference finals in his first season (2010-11), but the Lightning slipped from 103 to 84 points in his second year, and he was fired early during his third season. Wikipedia says he has a Master’s Degree in sports psychology, which might be an interesting thing in the Wild locker room.
Kevin Dineen: Similarly, Dineen made the playoffs with Florida his first year (2011-12), had a swift regression the next year and was fired early in his third year.
Kirk Muller: Missed the playoffs all three seasons with Carolina.
Travis Green: Has compiled an impressive minor league record but has no NHL experience, even as an assistant.
Phil Housley: Minnesota native who coached Team USA to the World Junior Championship in 2013 and is a well-regarded Nashville assistant but again has limited experience.
Luke Richardson: Another coach with a good minor league track record in the Ottawa organization. He’s been a head coach with their affiliate since 2012-13, and he turned down an assistant position with the Senators to remain in that role.
John Torchetti: A career grinder whose only NHL head coach chances have come in an interim role, Torchetti is a character who came in and did a credible job to at least get the Wild to the postseason.
As Russo noted, this isn’t an overwhelming list of candidates in terms of strength, though one has to imagine the Wild would be able to land pretty much anyone from this list.
I’d consider Torchetti a long shot. The team needs an overhaul, and even though he did a decent job this season it feels as though the Wild needs to go bigger with this hire than the status quo. The middle tier doesn’t excite me, with the possible exception of Boucher.
GM Chuck Fletcher has tried two up-and-comers already for his two full-time hires (Todd Richards and Mike Yeo), and they have produced mixed results. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do it again. One has to imagine that if this coaching hire fails to produce results, Fletcher will be out of a job, too. So he can feel free, in a sense, to pick the best candidate possible instead of feeling like he needs to go against the grain of what he previously did.
That said, this also seems to be a team in need of a strong locker room presence — a veteran coach that commands respect. Given what we know about the Wild, it would be awfully risky to give the job to someone who hasn’t proven he can deal with NHL egos. In that sense, a retread with a track record in the NHL might actually be the best fit for this team.
Carlyle would seem to be the most attractive of this kind of candidate, at least among those available now. His message might wear thin after 2-3 years, but that’s the Wild’s window to be competitive as currently constructed.