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Coaching Watch: 10 Potential Candidates for NHL Teams

With multiple teams looking for new bench bosses, here are 10 top candidates that deserve consideration.
Rikard Gronborg

The NHL’s coaching carousel is underway with the announcements by three teams - the Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, and Philadelphia Flyers - that they would be moving on from their current coaching staffs.

While familiar names with NHL head coaching experience are likely to be discussed, and almost certainly fill at least some of the vacancies, there is no shortage of talented coaching prospects ready to step in. Here are ten top candidates to be hired as first-time NHL coaches:

Marco Sturm - A veteran of nearly 1,000 NHL games played, Sturm knows the league and the game. His success with the German national team – helping the program advance to new heights from 2015 to 2019 – was impressive and included regular appearances at the World Championships, as well as the 2018 Winter Olympics. Sturm recently became an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Kings and has helped the team move from a bottom feeder to a competitive playoff team.

Lane Lambert - Lambert’s name has been tossed around for a few seasons now. In 2011, he joined the Nashville Predators as an assistant coach and served the same role with the Washington Capitals for four seasons before taking on his current position as an associate coach with the New York Islanders. With more than a decade of experience as an assistant, many see Lambert as overdue to get a shot as a head coach. Could this be the year?

Spencer Carbery - Named the American Hockey League’s coach of the year in 2021 only a few seasons after being named the ECHL’s Coach of the Year in 2014, Carbery, 40, is on the rise. He has advanced from being the head coach of the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays to being hired as head coach for the AHL’s Hershey Bears in 2018-2019. This season, Carbery is an assistant coach with the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, and seeing the success that franchise is having, it wouldn't be surprising for Kyle Dubas to receive calls looking for permission to interview his young assistant.

Derek Lalonde - Has climbed the ranks and won on his way. Lalonde was the 2012 USHL coach of the year with the Green Bay Gamblers after years of serving as an assistant with the University of Denver and Ferris State. Out of the USHL, Lalonde was hired as head coach for the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye where he earned ECHL coach of the year honors in 2015. Lalonde was then hired as coach for the AHL’s Iowa Wild before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as an assistant in 2018, winning two Stanley Cups. It’s only a matter of time before an NHL team hires Lalonde to run his own bench.

Mike Vellucci - Vellucci served as the head coach of the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers for more than a decade, earning OHL Coach of the Year honors in 2007 before ascending to a role as an assistant GM and director of hockey operations with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. In 2017 he moved back behind the bench joining the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers where he led the organization to a Calder Cup title in 2019 and was named the AHL coach of the year. Shortly thereafter, Vellucci joined the Pittsburgh Penguins organization, first as head coach of Wilkes/Barre-Scranton in the AHL, then as an assistant coach with the Penguins for the past two seasons. If an NHL team wants a veteran coach but doesn’t want to dip into the recycled pool of formerly fired bench bosses, Vellucci brings the best of both worlds.

Rikard Gronborg - Probably the European coach most often tied to NHL rumors, Gronborg started his coaching career in North America back in the 1990s and early 2000s, most notably serving as an assistant with St. Cloud University and the WHL’s Spokane Chiefs. After his return to Europe, however, Gronborg became the long-time coach for Sweden’s national team accumulating 13 medals at the World Championship, Olympics, and world juniors. Gronborg recently finished his third campaign as head coach for Switzerland’s ZSC Lions.

Cam Abbott - Not an often talked about name in the NHL coaching world, yet, Cam Abbott should be a name more NHL clubs are considering. The Cornell graduate and Sarnia, Ontario product took over as head coach for the SHL’s Rogle BK midway through the 2017-2018 season and has not looked back. Since that season, he’s guided Rogle from an 11th place regular season ranking to 9th, 3rd, 2nd, and this season, the franchise’s first SHL regular-season title. Rogle lost in the SHL finals last season and fell in the semi-finals this year but Abbott notably has recruited and developed a slew of top NHL prospects including Moritz Seider, William Wallinder, and Theodore Neiderbach for the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver’s Nils Hoglander, and potential first-round pick this year Marco Kasper. Abbott, alongside his twin brother and Rogle GM, Chris, have been a duo to reckon with.

Benoit Groulx - Interviewed for a coaching job as recently as 2021 with the Arizona Coyotes, Groulx was the bench boss for the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques for more than a decade, earning QMJHL Coach of the Year honors once during his tenure. After leading Team Canada’s world junior team to gold in 2014-2015, Groulx was hired as head coach of the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in 2016 and has remained there ever since.

Pascal Vincent - The 2018 coach of the year in the AHL in 2018, Vincent has gone all the way up the ranks to eventually become an associate with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He's well respected, and might eventually earn an opportunity. 

Kris Knoblauch - Knoblauch made the jump to the NHL in 2017, serving as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Flyers for two seasons. In 2019, he was hired to lead the AHL’s Hartford Wolfpack and even stepped behind the bench of the New York Rangers in 2021 for a stretch of six games while the entire Rangers coaching staff was sidelined in COVID-19 protocol.

While it hasn’t happened yet, the NHL’s coaching gender barrier will soon fall, although it’s likely the NHL will start by hiring a woman as an assistant coach. A few of the names who could join a new staff this year include Kori Cheverie, Danielle Goyette, Vicky Sunohara, Katey Stone, Maura Crowell, Cassandra Turner, Lee-J Mirasolo, Liz Keady Norton, Katie Lachapelle, Katie Crowley, and Melanie Ruzzi.

While the above may be the top candidates to join as new coaches, there are other former NHL coaches, assistants, and AHL staff who will also be in consideration. That includes Claude Julien, Kirk Muller, Roger Rönnberg, Patrick Roy, John Tortorella, Travis Green, Ryan Warsofsky, David Carle, Jay Leach, Tory Mann, Todd Nelson, Paul Maurice, Dave Tippett, Rick Tocchet, Alain Vigneault, Karl Taylor, Mitch Love, Nate Leaman, Ryan Huska, Joel Quenneville and Mike Babcock.

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