The Stars ended the speculation surrounding Tippett last Friday, telling him that he’d be back for the 2007-08 season, but the NHL’s second-longest tenured coach still doesn’t know whether he’ll return behind the bench in the Music City.
“It’s an uncomfortable situation but that’s not for anybody to read into one way or another,” Predators GM David Poile told The Canadian Press on Monday. “It’s just the timing of the whole situation. We lost out. Our farm club, Milwaukee, lost out. I haven’t had the chance to talk our owner. Now we’ve got our scouting meetings this week.
“Hopefully later this week I’ll be able to sit down with Barry and the other coaches and discuss the whole situation out and make the decisions that are necessary to go forward.”
Trotz and his coaching staff all have an option year for 2007-08. Poile will meet with them before deciding whether or not to pick them up. Trotz took the job in August of 1997 and is the only head coach in franchise history. Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff is the only coach in the NHL with a longer tenure. Greatly respected around the league, it’s hard to believe Trotz would even be in trouble.
But expectations were sky high in Nashville this season and a first-round loss in five games to San Jose wasn’t in the cards.
“Tremendously disappointed,” Poile said of the way his team’s season ended. “The fact that we were right at the top of the league and No. 1 in points overall for a long time really gave us confidence that this was our year to compete for the Stanley Cup and certainly to win playoff rounds.
“The black cloud that hit us last year in the playoffs hit us again late in the regular season and in the playoffs – injuries. It’s an excuse and everyone has injuries but really in the last month of the season we had five of our top 12 forwards out of the lineup.”
Whether or not the injury factor can help Trotz’ case remains to be seen. Tippett, meanwhile, doesn’t have to worry. GM Doug Armstrong went to bat for him in a meeting with ownership last Friday and he’ll be back to honour at least the final year of his deal next season.
“When I digested everything, I thought our coaches got a lot out of this team,” Armstrong told CP on Monday. “There was no reason to make any change there.”
There had been speculation that a third straight first-round playoff exit would cost Tippett his job but the seven-game loss to Vancouver did not.
“I don’t believe in change for the sake of change,” said Armstrong. “There has to be a method and reasoning behind it. You have to think you’re going to get better. You don’t make major changes and then say, ‘Now what?’ There has to be a plan.
“I looked at Dave, and he’s a top coach,” added Armstrong. “And I talked to people I trust around the NHL and they talked to me about our team, the way they play, the preparation, and it all comes back that this is a good coaching staff.”
Meanwhile, Poile met with players last week. Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg and Kimmo Timonen are his his three highest profile unrestricted free agents.
“In my conversation with Paul, he was disappointed as we all were,” said Poile. “But he certainly expressed an interest in coming back. We decided between us that we would talk in two-three weeks and I would be very hopeful that Paul would want to come back and we would make that happen.”
Timonen may be too expensive to keep around.
“Kimmo is arguably the highest free-agent defenceman available,” said Poile. “He’s going to get a huge raise and he deserves it. I think in this new age, not only with the salary cap but with our own specific budget, we’ve got to fit everybody in and I’m not far enough along in that process to see where it all fits.
“But he’s a really good player and we’d really like to have him back.”
And Forsberg? Who knows.
“I think the way he is physically and the way his mentality has been for a long time is that he’s not going to make any decisions on April 30 or whatever date,” said Poile. “I think his decision will be more near the end of the summer as to how he feels at that point.”
Poile raised eyebrows last week when he told local reporters that he doubted Forsberg would come back to the NHL – period. He hasn’t changed his mind.
“If you asked whether I sensed he was coming back next year, not at the moment (the answer would be) no,” Poile said.
In Columbus and Phoenix, meanwhile, interviews for the GM vacancies have not yet begun. Blue Jackets assistant GM Jim Clark will probably be the first to get interviewed by new team president Mike Priest while director of player personnel Don Boyd will also likely get a look. Priest told local reporters last Friday that he was still compiling a list of names.
And there’s no hurry, he added. Even if Columbus is hosting the NHL entry draft June 22-23.
“The entry draft really has no bearing on it,” Priest told the Columbus Dispatch. “We’re going to hire the right guy, no matter how long it takes.”
Here’s some unsolicited advice for Priest: hire someone that head coach Ken Hitchcock knows and trusts. It’s already unusual that the new GM will be inheriting a coach and this would prevent making the situation more awkward.
Former Philadelphia GM Bob Clarke comes to mind, as does Maple Leafs pro scout Craig Button, an assistant GM in Dallas when Hitchcock was coach there. Others include former Leafs coach and GM Pat Quinn, who coached with Hitchcock on Canada’s 2002 and 2006 Olympic teams, Los Angeles assistant GM Ron Hextall, who worked with Hitchcock in Philadelphia, and Dallas assistant GM Les Jackson.
Coyotes CEO Jeff Shumway also continues to compile a list of candidates, which could possibly include the likes of Button, New York Rangers assistant GM Don Maloney, Vancouver Canucks assistant GM Steve Tambellini and former Kings GM Dave Taylor.