Arniel Won’t Coach the Utica Comets and other Canucks Coaching News

Mike Sullivan, Scott Arniel and Glen Gulutzan: three guys who might fill out Vancouver’s coaching ranks.
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Did you think the official rollout of the John Tortorella hire earlier this week would mark the end of our relentless updates about Vancouver’s coaching situation? Well think again, because there’s a variety of news as it pertains to the team bringing in some veteran assistance for John Tortorella behind the Canucks bench. So whom might these veteran Assistants be? 

We’ll round up all of the latest on the other side of the jump.

Mike Sullivan

According to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, the Canucks have been granted permission to interview current Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan, and it’s expected that Sullivan will follow Tortorella (with whom he worked in Tampa and New York) out to the West coast:

Mike Sullivan coached the Boston Bruins in the early aughts for two seasons, making the playoffs one time and losing in a seven game series. He’s also got a whole whack of international coaching experience with the U.S. Men’s hockey team, having been a head-coach at a World Championship (2007) and an assistant at the 2006 Olympics.

Worryingly for the Canucks, whose power-play effectiveness and shot rate dwindled a season ago, Mike Sullivan ran a New York Rangers power-play about which nothing kind can be said. In terms of the Rangers five-on-four shot rate, Sullivan’s group was in the bottom-five in the National Hockey League in both of the past two seasons, and the blueshirts never generated an above-average number of shots with the man-advantage during Sullivan’s time at Madison Square Garden.

In Sullivan’s defense he never had players like the Sedin twins to work with in New York, but still, the Rangers base of talent wasn’t chopped liver and certainly under-performed. A cursory glance at New York’s power-play ice-time over the past couple of seasons doesn’t reveal anything too ugly, beyond perhaps an over reliance on Brad Richards and an under reliance on talented offensive defenceman Anton Stralman. Stralman is good but describing him as "the sollution" would be a major stretch, so there’s nothing too damning there…

Of course it’s possible that Mike Sullivan’s portfolio as an assistant in Vancouver won’t include the power-play. Blue Shirt Banter’s Bryan Winters, for example, gives Sullivan a lot of credit for his defensive zone schemes in New York:

A lot of Sullivan’s success during his time with the Rangers was quickly overshadowed by the Rangers anemic power play over the last several seasons. While the latter may be true, people often forget that he was the driving force behind the Rangers strong defensive zone coverage.

Strong defensive zone coverage, eh? I think a lot of Canucks fans would welcome that after the Canucks struggled to minimize quality looks against a season ago…

In other words, if Sullivan comes in and runs the defense (i.e. is a Rick Bowness replacement) that could make good sense. On the other hand if Sullivan comes in and runs the power-play (i.e. is a Newell Brown replacement), I think there’d be some legitimate cause for concern.

Scott Arniel

Here’s what we know for sure about Scott Arniel: he will not be in Utica next season. The former Blue Jackets headcoach told Elliott Pap that he’s pursuing an assistant coaching position whether it be with the Canucks or elsewhere.

Options for Arniel reportedly include Dallas (Arniel ran special teams for Lindy Ruff in Buffalo a decade ago), New York (Arniel and Vigneault have some familiarity from their time in the Canucks organization) and of course Vancouver (where Arniel has been a good solider for the Canucks, and played for the Sabres when John Tortorella was an assistant coach there). Arniel’s time as an NHL head coach was an unmitigated disaster, but he’s been a successful NHL assistant and AHL head coach and there are compelling reasons to believe that his time in Columbus was just a blip on a smart guy’s resume. Essentially shit happens, especially when you coach a team that relies on Steve Mason in net…

For what it’s worth, Vancouver Province beat writer Ben Kuzma seems to think that Arniel joining Tortorella’s staff in Vancouver is essentially a slam dunk:

Arniel has a reputation as a players coach, and from both personal experience as well as the way the Canucks have occassionally deployed Arniel as a spokesman this summer, I think we can safely describe him as a guy who is very capable of smoothly handling the media. Could he be the soft spoken foil that John Tortorella arguably needs in Vancouver? Tortorella himself certainly seemed to think so on Tuesday

Glen Gulutzan

Ben Kuzma has speculated that, were Arniel to be hired in Vancouver, former Dallas Stars coach Glen Gulutzan might make sense in Utica:

That is, of course, if Gulutzan is available. The Toronto Marlies job, for example, remains open and Gulutzan is considered a strong candidate to replace Dallas Eakins at the hallowed halls of Ricoh Coliseum. I’d wager that, in comparison with the Toronto job, the position in Utica isn’t the most desirable American Hockey League post for a young coach like Gulutzan looking to get back into the NHL.

Consider that in Toronto you get to coach a relatively loaded veteran American Hockey League team in a major North American city that is also the world’s biggest hockey market. There’s also the opportunity to win over the press, and have them singing your praises the next time the coaching carousel spins at the NHL level.

In contrast, in Utica a coach would be dealing with a club that may struggle to attract veteran American Hockey League talent, and is affiliated with an NHL team that has a relatively weak prospect pipeline…

In the recent past the Canucks’s AHL affiliate has been one of the best coaching jobs outside of the National Hockey League, and has served as a stepping stone for a wide variety of current NHL head coaches (Alain Vigneault, Randy Carlyle, Scott Arniel, Claude Noel) and even a General Manager (Craig MacTavish). I’m not sure that I totally buy that this will continue to be the case in Utica, but I guess we’ll find out!

  • Mantastic

    What are the chances that Kreuger might want to join as an assistant this year? After being let go by the Oilers, I would think he would want to try finding another route to get back to the head coaching job in the NHL?

  • BrudnySeaby

    – They need to go with a coach for Utica who will be there for a while. Those kids have had a new coach every year for many years now. Not to mention a new location 3 different locations in 4 years. Time to give them some stability. Giving them another former NHL coach won’t do it – they’re looking for a NHL job asap.

    – If Sullivan comes to Van, watch out. He’s a bust. There some fallacy that Torts/Sullivan defensive systems are better than AV’s. Just not true. In 4 full years in NY, they only had a lower goals against in 2 of 4 years (and not by much). Van’s was better in the other 2. Don’t forget, Torts had the best goalie in the entire league in his net. Where Van doesn’t. Torts teams also have been in top 6 blokcing shots last 4 years. Which we all know is a bad indication of possesion. His teams have been crap possesion teams. So no, he’s not a better defensive coach that what Canucks had before. In fact, he’s worse.

    – In last 4 yrs under Torts, they’ve NEVER had a petter P than Van. They’ve been in the bottom half of league with PP %. last 2 years they ranked 23rd. That’s brutal. Their PK was only better than Van’s in 2 years ( and only slight better in one of those). Keep in mind, they had the best goalie in the entire league.

    So basically, Canucks are getting coach who’s irrational with the media (for all the nation to see). A horrible puck possession coach – which means Canucks ain’t seein the SCF under him. Poor special teams (relative to what they had before). So what exactly is this guy bringing that Av couldn’t? It’s just the worst hire in history.