With the bow tied on the NHL regular season and the heads already beginning to roll (Lindy Ruff) off the coach chopping block, it’s time for a recap of where we stand in Las Vegas.
The Golden Knights have made it clear they aren’t in a hurry to hire the first head coach in franchise history. There was a moment there back in February when McPhee/McCrimmon and the Golden Knights braintrust discussed moving up the timeline, and even conducted interviews with at least a pair of coaches, but the timeline quickly shifted back to “after the season.”
So now that we are here, it’s time to take a look at the most likely coaching candidates, their connection to Vegas, and why we here at SinBin.vegas believe each make sense to stand behind the Golden Knights bench in October. But first, here’s a little recap on what’s going on (or at least what he’s telling us) inside George McPhee’s mind when it comes to the coach search.
We want someone who is very current on the game, who’s progressive. I’ve had the opportunity to work with lots of coaches in the NHL. Had great experiences in the world championships working with several NHL coaches. So, we know who’s out there. We decided way back in August, that we were going to take our time and interview along the way. – GM George McPhee
George is looking for a particular type of of coach. He’s not looking for a first-termer. He’s looking for a guy who’s learned a lot and has coached a couple of other teams. I would say the coach that will name is going to be a recognizable individual but he has to fit George’s culture. –The Creator
George McPhee’s going to make the call. My call is going to be, is this a guy I can work with feel comfortable with. All the people we have in this organization keep their egos in check they are about winning hockey games or making a successful business. -The Creator
It’s not an easy process to evaluate players when you are just getting going like we are and I don’t want to be evaluating a coach and players at the same time. I’d rather have the coach be someone who we know has done the job and can do the job and we’ll be focusing on players for the next few years… In Washington I went with a lot of guys it was their first time around, my preference would be an experienced guy…The coach certainly has to fit the model we are looking for. I’ve liked putting together high scoring entertaining teams. It’s a fun way to play the game and a fun way to watch the game. -McPhee
Head Coach Candidates for Vegas Golden Knights
Resume – New York Islanders Head Coach (2010-2017)
Style – The former defenseman coaches the same way he played. Defensive, gritty and physical. Blocking shots, winning neutral zone battles, and puck possession are his pillars.
VGK Connection – Capuano was the head coach while McPhee was an advisor to GM Garth Snow in New York.
Capuano emerged as the favorite in February, but each passing day his stock slips as the Golden Knights prove they have their eye on others. He has been interviewed by both McPhee and The Creator for the position in Vegas. Cappy is still the leader in the clubhouse, meaning he’ll get the job if they can’t find anyone better or McPhee truly didn’t want a head coach in the room prior to the Expansion Draft.
Resume – Buffalo Sabres Head Coach (1997-2013), Dallas Stars Head Coach (2013-2017)
Style – In 2013, at his Stars introductory press conference Ruff said puck possession was his main focus. He saw the changing tide of the NHL and realized his teams need to be in control of the game. Ruff calls it a “tough and demanding” style of hockey. He’s very open to using advanced statistics to help zone matchups. Ruff uses analytics to compares one on one puck battles, which helps him create his ideal puck possession lines.
VGK Connection – Played with Golden Knights scout Mike Foligno for nine years in Buffalo
Ruff was the first coach to be let go from his team at the end of the 2016-17 NHL season. He fits just about everything McPhee is said to be looking for in a coach and would certainly make the splash The Creator wants if hired. His impending exit in Dallas has been predicted by many for months now, so his release shouldn’t come as a shock to the Golden Knights. Is he the guy McPhee’s been waiting to come available?
Resume – Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach (2013-2015) Chicago Wolves Head Coach (2016-present)
Style – With limited time behind the NHL ice, Berube’s instincts are to coach like he played. Gritty, tough, physical hockey that everyone buys into. His players love him and want to play hard for him. Berube has been criticized for wearing down his players, especially goaltenders. Offensive production was very low and his style couldn’t win enough games.
VGK Connection – He’s the current head coach of the team expected to become Vegas’ AHL affiliate any day now. Played with Murray Craven in Philadelphia for five years.
Berube wouldn’t necessarily be the perfect fit in regards to style, but the connection with the Wolves just keeps his name in the picture. It’s a bit of a long shot, especially considering he was hired by GM Doug Armstrong of the Blues and will likely continue along with the Blues, but his name just won’t go away.
Resume – Minnesota Wild Head Coach (2009-2011) Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach (2011-2016) Tampa Bay Lightning Assistant (2016-present)
Style – The lamp gets lit when Richards brand of hockey is working. He wants his players to move the puck quickly in transition and unleash a heavy forechecking. He wants a roster full of physical, fast, offensive minded players. Richards was fired from his previous jobs because his defense never balanced out his offense. His teams chased more odd-man rushes than any other club.
VGK Connection – Played for the Las Vegas Thunder four two years (1993-1994). Played with Murray Craven for very short period with Hartford Whalers.
He’s an experienced guy who is likely looking to get back in the driver’s seat. The connection to Vegas through the Thunder is the kind of PR info nugget this team seems to love. Stylistically, he’s almost exactly what McPhee prefers. It’s not a name that’s been thrown around much, but it certainly makes sense.
Resume – Columbus Blue Jackets Head Coach (2003-2007) Florida Panthers Head Coach (2014-2017)
Style – Gallant has the reputation of being a players coach. He’s claimed himself he’s an easy coach to get along with. Florida exec Dale Tallon mentioned Gallant possessed balance in his coaching style. However, two years later players were complaining about the stagnant style of play. Players wanted to move the puck fast to quickly generate offense. The Panthers wanted Gallant’s team to pressure the puck in all three zones. His philosophy of balance and size didn’t work for Florida’s front office.
VGK Connection – Gallant was the head coach during the Panther’s front office shuffle that found Dale Tallon with a new title and Scott Luce and Erin Ginnell fired. Luce and Ginnell are now both with the Golden Knights.
Sir Gallant was at the front of the line with Capuano months ago, but like Cappy, the longer he goes without a Golden Knights contract the worse it looks. Certainly still possible he’s the guy, but consider it unlikely at this point.
Resume – Pittsburgh Penguins Head Coach (2008-2014) Buffalo Sabres Head Coach (2015-present)
Style – Heavy on quick defensive zone retrieval and offensive zone possession. His model has not had success in Buffalo as it continuously exposes Sabre defenseman. Bylsma is very dependent on his system which requires risky long passes from the defensive zone. Quick retrieval styles can work when the roster has quick moving defenseman.
VGK Connection – None of note
Disco Dan is still employed in Buffalo, but many are calling for his head after a rough season. If he does indeed get the axe, he may fit what McPhee’s looking for.
Resume – Dallas Stars Head Coach (2002-2009) Arizona Coyotes Head Coach (2009-present)
Style – Some have branded Tippett a defensive style hockey coach which Mike Modano once said was horse****. He expects his players to be responsible and play both ways.Other NHL coaches label Tippett as one of the best adjusting a style to fit the roster.
VGK Connection – Possible youth hockey connection with Kelly McCrimmon (both grew up in Saskatchewan at same time)
Tippett recently signed an extension with the Coyotes but their continued struggles may force him out the door anyway. His knowledge of coaching in the desert (and Pacific Division) would be valuable to the Golden Knights.
Resume – Washington Capitals Head Coach (2012-2014)
Style – As one of the NHL’s most cerebral players, Oates can see the game differently than most players. Excellent leadership, teaching ability and attention that he puts to use as a private skills coach.
VGK Connection – Hired by George McPhee in Washington. Fired on same day as McPhee. Also, played for McPhee for five seasons in Washington.
Oates’ time in Washington as a coach did not go quite as well as when he played for the Capitals. There are reports that he and McPhee did not necessarily agree on some personnel decisions, which subsequently resulted in both losing their jobs. It’s kind of a long shot, and would be somewhat unprecedented in sports to see a GM and coach fired on the same day reunite in each’s next job, but there’s more familiarity here than with any other coach. McPhee mentioned not wanting to evaluate a coach, well, he’s already had two years to do that… though those two years probably aren’t in either’s fondest memories banks. There’s also this one other nugget from Elliotte Friedman, that has to be considered.
George McPhee hired Dale Hunter to coach his Capitals in 2011. I believe he reached out and asked Dale Hunter, ‘would you be interested in being the first coach of Las Vegas?’ Dale Hunter said no, he’d like to stay in London. –Elliotte Friedman on Hockey Night in Canada
If he was willing to give Hunter (who resigned after one year in Washington) another shot, why not Oates?
**Jason Pothier contributed in writing this article**