Candidates Emerge in Canucks Coaching Search

Judging by the plethora of details leaking out in the media this weekend, the Vancouver Canucks have launched what is sure to be a drawn out, rigorous process to hire a replacement for recently deposed head coach Alain Vigneault. While the landscape is beginning to shift on the Canucks coaching search front, we shouldn’t expect anything to happen quickly here. After all, several of the names that have emerged as the "favourites" are still coaching in the Calder Cup or Stanley Cup tournament…

Let’s round up the latest reports and launch "coaching week" at our humble Canucks blog. Some of the names discussed here will be profiled at length later in the week (or later today), so check back for more coverage of Vancouver’s coaching search.

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Read past the jump.

Dallas Eakins

Screencap via

The highly touted 46 year old head coach, who has spent the past half decade toiling in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, saw his AHL season come to an end late last week. For Dallas Eakins prospects as a future head coach in the NHL, it’s not a matter of "if", so much as the question is "when," and from the sounds of it he’s eager to get called up. From the National Post:

“I’m fully aware that there have been some coaching changes, there’s opportunities out there,” Eakins said. “Will we look at them? Absolutely. But it’s not something that I’m going to turn and focus on. My job and my contract and most importantly my loyalty to this organization lies here and now and I will get everything tidied up here.

“In the quiet weeks moving forward, we’ll see if something fits and if it doesn’t.”

The Canuck have wasted next to no time engaging in some footsie with Eakins. It was reported this weekend by Elliotte Friedman and Hockey Night in Canada that the Canucks have requested permission from the Toronto Maple Leafs to interview their American Hockey League coach. Eakins is on a bit of a unique three-year contract that includes an "out" after this season to allow Eakins to get a shot at an top-NHL job somewhere (should one come up). So, yeah, while the request was a necessary step, it’s not as if the Canucks would have to send the Leafs any sort of compensation were they to hire Eakins.

Here’s an EXCLUSIVE look at Dallas Eakins’s resume from the Toronto Star:

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Eakins is widely viewed as a prime NHL coaching prospect after four seasons behind the bench with the Marlies, helping develop such NHL talent as Nazem Kadri, James Reimer and Jake Gardiner. He has been the Marlies head coach since 2009 and has two years left on a three-year AHL deal that includes a clause allowing him to consider NHL opportunities this summer.

Cam Charron’s take on Eakins from The Leafs Nation:

There’s some handwringing in Toronto about the decision to hire Randy Carlyle when Eakins is clearly going to be an NHL coach someday, and may as well have done it in an organization where he knows a pile of the players. It’s not just Kadri, Reimer and Gardiner (how could Eakins be responsible for a goaltender’s development?) but a good portion of Maple Leafs this season had some AHL experience with the Marlies.

Matt Frattin, Carl Gunnarsson and Tyler Bozak would be the major omissions, but Ryan Hamilton and Joe Colborne have of course been up and down (or East and West, if you’re looking at Toronto’s geography) this season and have experience dealing with Eakins.

Eakins made headlines in the fall when he criticized the shape that Nazem Kadri was in (round is a shape) and is also complicit in some of the organizational issues the Leafs have run into in regard to head hits and concussions. That said, the Marlies have had success under him despite not an awful lot of top-tier talent on the squad. The Leafs have had a thin prospect cupboard for years, but Eakins provided Carlyle will plenty of re-inforcements this season, as guys like Hamilton and Colborne stepped into depth roles on the club during the playoffs.

Eakins is generally known as a defensive minded coach, though it’s not as if his Marlies haven’t been offensively challenged during his tenure behind the bench. Eakins has also earned a reputation as a "players coach" – as Jonathan Willis pointed out when profiling Eakins a year ago: the praise Eakins garners from his players is deeply bromantic – which, I’d think would represent a pretty sizable stylistic departure from Alain Vigneault in the Canucks dressing room.

Working against Eakins in any interview process with the Canucks will, presumably, be his lack of experience running an NHL bench. Also, in Eakins’ very last year of professional hockey he captained the 2003-04 Manitoba Moose (I like to imagine Eakins was forced to retire after he fought a cage match against Mike Keane for the Moose captaincy and lost).

Anyway the 2003-04 Manitoba Moose were led in scoring by Brandon "blast from the past" Reid, and more interestingly, the team featured a depth forward named Ryan Kesler for thirty-three games, a college tryout defenceman named Kevin Bieksa for four games, and an ECHL call up named Alex Burrows for two games. It would be a rather rare situation should Eakins find himself coaching several players with whom he shared a locker room as a player…

Scott Arniel

Screencap via Canucks TV.

Long time Canucks minor league coach Scott Arniel, who coached the Chicago Wolves this past season, is a pretty solid bench boss in my opinion. Yeah Arniel coached some woeful teams in Columbus, and it’s tough to get the stink of "losing" out of your clothes in professional hockey. But as I’ve argued before, he actually did solid work and was betrayed by being forced to trot out Steven Mason game after game. I also like that, in his time with the Blue Jackets, Arniel utilized progressive deployment patterns (of the sort that Alain Vigneault is famous for).

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The problems for Arniel’s candidacy are manifold. First of all, there’s the optics. Scott Arniel is a smart, competent guy but he’s also a Vigneault acolyte. Superficially it would seem that he’s a round peg for a team that’s relying on a coaching change to give the organization a "fresh car smell," and plug their square hole. 

Also, Arniel’s Wolves just finished out of the postseason, so it’s not like he’s coming off of a campaign that demanded the attention of Vancouver’s brass. That’s probably not all that fair since the Wolves weren’t all that good this past season (and even the year previous were extraordinarily reliant on Eddie Lack), but those are the breaks.

I don’t tend to think of Arniel as a leading candidate to get the head coaching job, though for what it’s worth (and it isn’t worth much since Arniel is an employee that I’m sure Mike Gillis is cautious not to offend), Mike Gillis said on the Team1040 last week that Arniel would be considered to fill Alain Vigneault’s shoes:

"Scott will be considered absolutely. He’s got great experience, he’s had tremendous success at the minor league level. It seems that coaches learn an awful lot going through a negative experience in getting fired. They get introspective and learn what they could do better. Of course he’ll be one of the people we’ll be speaking too.”

Glen Gulutzan

Screencap via

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Glen Gulutzan was recently fired by the Dallas Stars after two relatively unsuccessful seasons as their head coach. He immediately began working with his former CHL team the Saskatoon Blades and was a "guest coach" during the just completed Memorial Cup tournament. The Blades didn’t do all that well at the tournament, but they were outmatched by the three non-host teams anyway. Coaching an outgunned team to an expected finish is something Gulutzan has a lot of experience with after two seasons in Dallas…

It’s a bit of a head scratcher that Gulutzan would be seriously considered for the Canucks job, but he’s been contacted by the team and is in the mix according to Darren Dreger.

When Gulutzan was first hired to coach the Stars a couple of years ago, it was thought that he was perhaps a bit inexperienced (he’d only been an American Hockey League headcoach for two seasons, albeit two successful seasons). I don’t know if that turned out to be true or not, but I would suggest that Gulutzan was far from "the problem" in Dallas over the past couple of seasons.

Gulutzan will turn forty-two this summer, so he’s still extremely young, and he did do some interesting things with the Stars. For example, that Vernon Fiddler, Erik Cole, Eric Nystrom third line he came up with after Dallas sold hard at the 2013 trade deadline worked really, really well, and he did immediately improve Dallas’ five-on-five game upon taking over for Marc Crawford in his first season…

Still, I wonder if Gulutzan is the type of coach who will be considered more seriously for one of the assistant coaching vacancies than for the top job. After all, the Canucks do have three coaches to hire…

John Stevens

Screencap via

John Stevens was the name tossed out as a possible candidate to fill the Canucks top job by none other than Bob McKenzie:

Stevens wasn’t on my radar prior to that tweet at all, but looking into his record as a bench boss, it’s very impressive. Stevens spent the better part of a decade coaching Philadelphia’s minor league team (the then Philadelphia Phantoms), making the postseason more often than not and guiding a loaded Phantoms team to the Calder Cup in 2005. That team was seriously stacked by the way and included: R.J. Umberger, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, Joni Pitkanen, Ben Eager and Jon Sim. 

Stevens went on to coach the Philadelphia Flyers for three seasons (and a bit) before he was fired following a 3-0 shutout at the hands of… Your Vancouver Canucks. The next year Stevens surfaced in Los Angeles, where he was hired by his former assistant coach Terry Murray. He’s been with the Kings ever since, running the penalty-kill (which is aggressive as hell, and so, so good) and the defence (which has improved enormously under his watch). He even became Los Angeles’ head coach for four games between Murray’s dismissal and the hiring of Darryl Sutter.

Stevens pretty much has it all in that he’s got a wealth of experience as a head coach at both the American Hockey League and National Hockey League levels. He’s also had success everywhere – winning a Calder Cup and guiding a Flyers club to the Eastern Conference Final – and seems to have an outsized portfolio with an outrageously successful Kings squad (there aren’t many assistants I can think of who manage both the defence and a special teams unit).

The Kings are still alive in the NHL playoffs (until at least Tuesday night), so the Canucks surely won’t make any outright overtures in Stevens’ direction until his current club is eliminated. Looking over his resume, however, you can certainly understand why the Canucks would be interested.

Coaches Week

This is just a primer, really, for a week of wall-to-wall coaching candidate coverage that we’ll be rolling out at I’d expect the Canucks search for a new coach to be thorough and there will surely be a lot more names associated with the position over the coming months. 

Of course we’ll stay obsessively on top of all of the latest developments, but this week we’ll also have coaching profiles and a lot more, so check back daily!

  • BrudnySeaby

    Thomas, question for you. Are the Canucks allowed, perhaps after asking permission from the organization, to talk to a NHL head coach under contract for another season (once his club is done playing)?

    You see, my thinking is that the Canucks should try to hire Mike Babcock. And they should do everything possible to get him.

    Alternatively, John Stevens is certainly an interesting option. Having him as a head coach with Eakins would be even more interesting. But how would this translate to plying an offensive, up-tempo style of hockey?

    • Mantastic

      why would Babcock leave the better team to go to a worse one? and why would Detriot let Babcock get interviewed by another team, so that they would lose him? your fantasy over getting babcock should really stop because it’s just not going to happen

  • VC

    I guess this is a question that will be answered later this week, but do you think Guy Boucher is someone they are considering? That’s another name that I’ve heard mentioned a few times (though I don’t know if it’s just idle speculation or based on actual intel).

  • @Mantastic there have been reliable reports that Babs and some core Red Wings players are kind of over each other. It’s fantasy for sure, and perhaps this season’s playoff success is the cure of what ailed the room, but it’s not a Game of Thrones level fantasy (though obviously I don’t suspect it will happen either, if I did I’d write about it and get all of the pageviews).

  • I know this gets brought up a lot, but if Guy Boucher keeps not getting mentioned, why does Guy Boucher not get mentioned? I was under the impression he was a highly effective coach (better than guys like Gulutzan, Arniel, and Ruff at least) that would fit in with the Canucks system.

  • VC

    Either Dallas Eakins or Dave Tippett works for me… or both if we can get them.

    My dream coaching staff:

    Head Coach: Dave Tippett
    Assistant Coaches: Dallas Eakins and John Stevens

    As if that will happen, oh well one can dream…