The National Hockey League’s decision not to send players to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea doesn’t only affect what happens on the ice, but behind the bench.
We’ve already seen Team Canada name a coaching staff without current NHL gigs, including former Vancouver Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins as the team’s new bench boss.
USA Hockey is schedule to announce the head coach for its team on Friday morning, and there’s a bit of mystery to it. Several prime candidates have current NHL or AHL coaching jobs: Peter Laviolette, John Tortorella, Phil Housley, Jeff Blashill, John Hynes and Doug Weight among them. Former U.S. national team head or assistant coaches like Jack Capuano, Curt Fraser, Don Granato, Ken Klee, Todd Richards, Joe Sacco and Scott Gordon all have gigs in the NHL or AHL as well.
One assumes all of these names are off the table.
The collage ranks also have a few interesting names, but it’s hard to imagine one of them committing the necessary time to the national team in-season. David Quinn (BU), Mike Haviland (Colorado College), Ted Donato (Harvard), Jeff Jackson (Notre Dame), Rand Pecknold (Quinnipiac) and especially Tony Granato (Wisconsin) would all likely be on the radar.
Now, we’re not sure on the status of the college coaches, although one source indicated “I can see players taking a month off, but not a coach.” We reached out to USA Hockey but did not receive a response.
If you’ll recall at the World Cup of Hockey, Team USA wanted to hire a coach who was free and clear of other commitments and could focus intensely on the construction of the roster. That ended up being John Tortorella, who of course was hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets a few months later.
We’ll find out if that philosophy still reigns when the coach is announced on Friday. In asking around, here are three names we’ve heard from the slim pickings (thanks again, NHL), including a clear frontrunner. And one name we just tossed in there.
By the time you finish this, a real insider will probably have broken who the coach is. Enjoy!
The conventional wisdom is that Bylsma, 46, is your 2018 Winter Olympics USA Hockey head coach.
He was fired after the 2016-17 season with the Buffalo Sabres, along with the general manager that hired him. He has a Stanley Cup ring with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, and has Olympic experience as the Team USA coach in Sochi 2016.
He also has the festering taste of bile in his mouth from that experience, as the Americans timidly lost to Canada and then packed it in against bronze medalist Finland to finish fourth in the tournament. It was the worst 24 hours in recent American hockey history, and he wasn’t without blame.
He’s experienced and he’s available. Several sources mentioned his name first in thinking about possible, or probably, candidates. It almost seems too obvious.
Another former Sabres coach!
Rolston, 50, was most recently the head coach of the Arizona Coyotes’ AHL affiliate, lasting one terrible season (.395 winning percentage!) before being fired. He coached in Buffalo from 2012-14, coaching 31 games after Lindy Ruff was fired and 20 games before being fired for Ted Nolan.
He has a wealth of experience with the U.S. National Team Development program, leading the U.S. Under-18 team to three gold medals and a silver medal. And, again, he’s available. One source mentioned Rolston as a possibility.
A total wild card, but one that came up in conversations.
The 40-year coach of the Boston University Terriers hasn’t been behind the bench since 2013 and turned 72 in March. He’s a legend and a U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inductee this year. Has the game passed him by? Could he handle the rigors of this international tournament? Does he even want that commitment at this point in life?
His name didn’t come up in conversations, but I’m adding it for giggles.
It’s been rumored that Eddie O. wants to coach again. That’s great in theory, but not when you’ve been in the booth and not behind the bench since 2006. So, again in theory, taking a head coaching gig with the U.S. national team and excelling at the Olympics would put his name back in the conversation for NHL jobs.
Could it happen for this 50-year-old former Olympian? And would he take the gig just to get away from Pierre?
We’ll find out on Friday! Any names we missed? Hit us in the comments.
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