Two To Watch
The verdict on in-season NHL coaching changes this season, at least so far, is split.
Six coaches fired, three of those teams now in a playoff position, three not so much. Of the three hired that had NHL coaching experience - Ken Hitchcock, Darryl Sutter, Bruce Boudreau - the news has been good for Hitchcock's Blues and Sutter's Kings, less so for the Anaheim Ducks under Boudreau.
Of the three that didn't have head coaching experience, Dale Hunter has maneuvered Washington into eighth in the east, while the results for Montreal under Randy Cunneyworth and Carolina with Kirk Muller behind the bench have been less positive.
We'll see how those six situations develop over the final half of the season - and see if more coaching changes result.
With the coaching moves so far, and with a number of teams well down in the standings possibly looking at alterations behind the bench for next season, the question is always out there: who are the hot coaching candidates not in the NHL?
Often, it's names who have been there before. Marc Crawford. Randy Carlyle. Pat Quinn. Michel Therrien.
Two who haven't, but are gaining lots of attention these days for their work in the AHL, lock horns tonight with at Ricoh Coliseum.
Dallas Eakins, with his Marlies in first place in their division, has been attracting lots of kudos for his work, particularly with the readiness of the players he has supplied to the parent club when they've been promoted. Nazem Kadri, Keith Aulie and Darryl Boyce would be the three most recent examples.
Eakins' squad, with Colton Orr and Phillipe Dupuis down from the Leafs and Jussi Rynnas having allowed one goal in his last two games, tonight takes on the Oklahoma City Barons, the AHL's top team with a sparkling 23-8-1 record this season. The Barons are the farm team of the Edmonton Oilers and are coaching by Todd Nelson, a one-time Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick who has the farm club doing much better than the Oilers are at the NHL level these days.
It's tough for guys like Eakins and Nelson to be recognized and to get a chance at the NHL level even if it's deserved. Eakins, at least, is benefitting to some degree by being in a large media market. It's more difficult in Sooner country for Nelson, who actually worked on the same bench as Cunneyworth under John Anderson in Atlanta and will coach the Western Conference squad in the AHL all-star game Jan. 30.
It's hard to see Eakins getting his NHL chance in Toronto where Ron Wilson just netted a contract extension. For Nelson, it's unclear what will happen in Edmonton if Tom Renney can't coax better results out of a team that many hoped would challenge for a playoff berth but has already all but fallen out of the race.
Regardless, Eakins are Nelson are two to watch, and they'll bash brains tonight down at the Ricoh.