It was announced early in the morning that the Dallas Stars and Lindy Ruff would be parting ways after Dallas went from tops in the Western Conference last season to 11th-place this season. Yes, there were some injuries, but GM Jim Nill never solved the goaltending problems that Dallas faced when it came to having a shooter tutor named Antti Niemi and a cardboard cutout of Kari Lehtonen tending to the Stars' nets all season. Yes, Dallas struggled to put the puck in the opposition's net, but I would suggest a lot of those problems came about from having his best players fish the puck out from behind the Niemi-Lehtonen conundrum.
From there, it was the Florida Panthers' turn. They decided to let Tom Rowe walk after the Panthers flamed out after he had relieved Gerard Gallant of his coaching duties. As embarrassing as that may be for Rowe, there is a silver lining on this story of failure as the Panthers decided to keep Rowe on a special consultant to the general manager, Dale Tallon. Tallon, of course, doesn't really need Rowe's help, so it should excused if Tallon simply makes Rowe get him coffee next season. It seems appropriate after all that Rowe did in undermining what appeared to be a consistent playoff team.
Jumping to the left coast, the Vancouver Canucks went ahead and did what everyone expected and let Willie Desjardins go from his head coaching position. Desjardins seemed resigned to the fact that this was coming, so GM Jim Benning and President Trevor Linden did the expected in canning Desjardins. Honestly, with the ineptitude shown by Benning in his role, they may have fired the wrong guy. I'm not sure this team could beat its AHL affiliate in the Utica Comets, but that challenge will go unfulfilled.
And then it was south down the coast where the Los Angeles Kings decided that missing the playoffs twice in five seasons was too much for them to handle, so they decided to part ways with both head coach Darryl Sutter, assistant coach Davis Payne, and general manager Dean Lombardi. Sutter, it was reported, had lost the room when it came to some of his old-school tactics while Lombardi's (mis)management of the Kings salary cap had the team looking at major changes for the worse in the coming seasons. With both men played large parts in winning two Stanley Cups for the Kings, the weight of expectations sunk them in the end.
In the end, Dallas, Florida, Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas are all without coaches as it stands, so let's gaze into the HBIC Crystal Ball of Zero Guarantees and make some suggestions as to where these men may land in the future.
I'll start with Tom Rowe and say that he should end up as the coach of an AHL team at best. You could clearly see he was out of his element behind an NHL bench, so having him move back upstairs to assist Dale Tallon in some unspecified way might be the best place for him to disappear for a while. His stock is low, he has a job, and he's still with the Panthers.
I'd be happy if the Panthers took a shot in hiring University of Denver head coach Jim Montgomery. He's a two-time USHL champion as a head coach, an NCAA champion as a head coach, and he certainly knows the game well. He played 122 NHL games in his career along with numerous AHL, IHL, and international games, so he's got the experience and knowledge to be successful. With the Michigan job open, however, there's a big opportunity if Montgomery wanted to stay in the collegiate game. The lure of the NHL, though, might be enough to get Montgomery behind the Panthers bench.
Reportedly, the Dallas Stars are deciding among three potential new coaches in Gallant, Desjardins, and Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock has a legacy in Dallas, but I don't think he's the guy that they need. Desjardins would be an interesting fit after having a ton of success with the AHL's Texas Stars following two seasons of missed playoffs with the Dallas Stars, but he's not the right fit for that group as well. Honestly, I see Gallant landing in Dallas where he will push the veterans and let the younger players find their grooves. While goaltending will still be an issue, the Stars will probably see an uptick in their offensive production.
Los Angeles just got rid of an old-school coach in Sutter, so I can't see them going after Hitchcock or Ruff. Desjardins doesn't fit the mould, but they may not have to go far in finding an experienced head coach who sees the game differently than Sutter. John Stevens survived the purge in Los Angeles as the associate coach, so there might be a chance for the former NHL head coach to assume that title once more. Stevens has posted two full seasons as a head coach with Philadelphia, and he won no less than 42 games in both seasons. The talent in Los Angeles is still there for this team to take steps forward to get back to their championship status, but they'll need to generate more offence. Stevens might be the right man for that job.
As an aside to the above paragraph, Rob Blake takes over for Dean Lombardi as the general manager, so the Kings don't have to be searching for two replacements. With Stevens and Blake already familiar with one another and the roster, this might prove beneficial for the franchise.
Vancouver is, perhaps, the most curious case. They had a great coach in Desjardins who couldn't win with the roster they have, and it seemed like he was out of answers at times for how his team performed on the ice. Some may say that a more disciplined, most defensively-inclined coach would be good in Vancouver, but I think Vancouver goes internal on their new hire. Utica's Travis Green has worked with and is familar with the vast majority of the players on the Canucks' roster, and he's shown a knack for winning in the AHL with the up-and-coming Canucks. He'll have a good idea on which players should be promoted, which should be let go, and he could help Jim Benning with a lot of the personnel decisions that have to be made. In short, Green is almost a perfect fit if the Canucks go down that route.
And that leaves Vegas. Do they go with Ruff? Hitchcock? Desjardins? Sutter? Or maybe George McPhee looks at a former Capitals bench boss such as Ron Wilson or Adam Oates? In any case, there are some good coaches out in the wilderness looking for work, and Las Vegas will have many options. It could determine how quickly they enter into the playoff race in the Western Conference!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!