And then there were four.
Following a campaign in which no coaching changes were made until the regular season’s penultimate day, Bill Peters’ resignation from the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday marked the fourth time since the 82-game campaign closed that a vacancy has opened up behind an NHL bench. However, that Peters’ resignation comes not long after the Calgary Flames said adios to coach Glen Gulutzan and his crew — not to mention shortly after the New York Rangers gave Alain Vigneault his walking papers and Dallas Stars veteran coach Ken Hitchcock moved into a consulting role with the team — chances are it won’t be long before the now-former Canes coach finds himself a new place to call home. The betting odds lean heavily in favor of Peters, a native of Three Hills, Alta., landing in Calgary, too.
Of course, there’s a ripple effect in Carolina from Peters’ resignation, as well, as the organization — one which has failed to make the post-season in each of the past nine seasons — is entering the off-season under new ownership with no general manager and starting the hunt for a new bench boss. That’s a lot of change. The good news, though, is that there already appears to be some realistic candidates to fill the void left by Peters’ departure. Namely, current Hurricanes assistant Rod Brind’Amour, who has most certainly thrown his hat in the ring with Peters out the door.
In an interview with the News & Observer’s Chip Alexander, Brind’Amour made it clear that he has interest in taking the next step in his coaching career and doing so on Carolina’s bench. “I don’t think as an assistant I’m going to get any better or learn any more,” Brind’Amour told Alexander. “So now’s the time…They’re going to find the best guy to do it and if it’s me, that’s great, and if not I understand. But I felt like I could at least step up and see if it could happen.”
Brind’Amour may not have been the first name that sprang to mind when Peters left the organization, but he has been a fixture in Carolina for nearly 20 years.
As a player, he landed with the Hurricanes during the 1999-2000 campaign as a player and went on to play 694 games with Carolina, accumulating 174 goals and 473 regular season points and another 18 goals and 38 points in 72 playoff outings. He captained the Hurricanes to the Stanley Cup in 2005-06, too. And when he hung up his skates following the 2009-10 campaign, Brind’Amour stepped almost immediately into a front office role. He spent one season as the director of player development before becoming an assistant coach in 2010-11, remaining in that role during the coaching tenures of Paul Maurice, Kirk Muller and, now, Peters.
The big question surrounding Brind’Amour’s candidacy, though, is whether he has the kind of experience the Hurricanes after. Carolina’s struggles — and Brind’Amour himself made reference to the Hurricanes being “mired in…mediocrity” in speaking with Alexander — haven’t gone unnoticed around the league and the franchise’s inability to earn a playoff berth with a roster chock full of young, promising talent might point to Carolina seeking a longer-tenured bench boss with a successful NHL track record. Brind’Amour hasn’t held a head coaching gig at any level.
If not Brind’Amour, though, who will the Hurricanes turn to behind the bench? Here are four potential candidates:
Past NHL Experience: Coach, Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars; assistant coach, Los Angeles Kings
On Friday, after news of Peters’ resignation, the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock suggested that Brind’Amour was one of the frontrunners for the gig, but also noted that Tippett is right there alongside the current Canes assistant. And as far as experience goes, there aren’t many coaches who can bring quite what Tippett does. Only 19 coaches in NHL history have seen more action from behind an NHL bench. While the end of his tenure with the Coyotes was, shall we say, rocky, he did push a budget team into the post-season in three consecutive seasons and despite the disastrous final three seasons, Tippett left Arizona with a .589 points percentage across 376 games. For a quick comparison, Peters’ had a .498 points percentage in Carolina across 328 games.
Past NHL Experience: Coach, New York Rangers, Vancouver Canucks, Montreal Canadiens
Vigneault’s name hasn’t been mentioned often in connection with the Hurricanes job and bringing him aboard could cost more than is ideal for Carolina, but it’s hard to argue with his track record. Vigneault is one of the only readily available bench bosses with more NHL experience than Tippett and, quite frankly, Vigneault has had greater success. Granted, he wasn’t coaching the Coyotes, but across the past dozen seasons, Vigneault has coached his clubs to 10 post-season appearances and two conference titles — one in the West with the Canucks, the other in the East with the Rangers. His teams have eclipsed a .600 points percentage in all but three of those 12 seasons, as well. There may be no other coach available with a resume as strong as Vigneault’s.
Current: Coach, Toronto Marlies (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: N/A
Keefe is regularly mentioned in connection with NHL coaching vacancies because of his success in the AHL. Since taking over the Marlies job in 2015-16, Keefe has led the organization to 150 wins in 228 games over the past three campaigns and Toronto has appeared in the post-season in each campaign under Keefe’s watch. The big playoff success hasn’t come yet for Keefe, as the Marlies haven’t yet seen a Calder Cup final, but Toronto was one of the AHL’s top clubs again this season and could make a deep playoff run. His work with young talent would make him an interesting fit in Carolina, and his inexperience at the NHL level might keep costs down. Oh, and chances are Toronto is going to have to let Keefe spread his wings at some point, too, given Mike Babcock is anchored into the job with the big club.
Current: Coach, Grand Rapids Griffins (AHL)
Past NHL Experience: Interim coach, Edmonton Oilers; assistant coach, Atlanta Thrashers
Nelson gives the Hurricanes another potential option out of the AHL, but the difference here is that he has experience behind an NHL bench. It’s not much, mind you, but it’s something. For two seasons, from 2008 to 2010, Nelson was an assistant with the Thrashers, and after some excellent work with the Oilers’ farm team, he earned a chance to coach Edmonton on an interim basis. It was only 46 games, but that’s 46 games more than Keefe or Brind’Amour. Nelson has really turned some heads in recent years, too, coaching the Griffins to the 2016-17 Calder Cup. Here’s the catch, though: will Detroit let Nelson interview for the gig? The past two seasons have been dreadful under coach Jeff Blashill, and if the coming campaign isn’t much better, Nelson might be next in line for the Detroit job.