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NHL coaching carousel: Four remaining searches winding down

By Brian Stubits | CBSSports.com

Willie Desjardins is one of the hot coaching candidates. (Getty Images)
Willie Desjardins is one of the hot coaching candidates. (Getty Images)

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The NHL's annual coaching carousel got started up again a few weeks ago when some seats opened up across the league but it's just been spinning and spinning with nary a hire outside of Peter Laviolette in Nashville and Barry Trotz to Washington.

There are no games for another few months, obviously, but there is some urgency on getting positions filled. Ideally, you'd like to have a coach in place for the NHL Draft to have a better idea of the type of players you're looking for.

In eight days, the draft will begin, not leaving much more time for the four teams with vacancies still to fill to deliberate, interview and choose their next bench boss.

At this point the remaining vacancies belong to the Panthers, Penguins, Hurricanes and then the Canucks out West. Three of those four teams will be looking for at least their third coach in three years with only the Penguins having some form of consistency in recent seasons at the position. Obviously each is hoping to find a coach who will be there for years to come because obviously that means things are going well; coaches of bad teams don't keep jobs.

Finding that guy is never easy, though; coaches are like seasonal fashions, going out of style quickly. Perhaps that's why the final four have taken so long to narrow down their choices and to make a selection.

Based on all the scuttlebutt and comments on the record, here's where the ongoing searches roughly stand.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are the one team on the list that are coming off not only a successful season that included a division title but have a roster that makes them contenders. They're also completely revamping the organizational hierarchy as not only was Dan Bylsma let go but so was GM Ray Shero, meaning new GM Jim Rutherford is running the coaching search, looking for the guy he'll be working with.

Considering the Penguins don't draft until the end of the first round, the draft isn't necessarily their target date but instead July 1, the start of free agency. But will those couple of days be necessary?

Per Shelly Anderson, the Pens seem to already have their target in mind.

Names that have popped up around the Penguins: Willie Desjardins of the AHL Texas Stars -- whom they reportedly asked to speak with -- Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters, Rangers assistant Marc Crawford, Ron Wilson and former Penguin Ulf Samuelsson. In fact, it's been reported there were roughly 10 candidates who interviewed with the Penguins.

One who we know did interview but isn't still in the running is Sportsnet analyst Doug MacLean; he revealed that information on the radio on Thursday.

There is certainly some overlap in candidates with the Penguins and other teams but it doesn't seem like the Penguins are too afraid of a coach with little NHL head-coaching experience, which could make Peters, Desjardins or Samuelsson all strong choices with Peters perhaps the favorite.

Carolina Hurricanes

Of the ongoing searches, this one has been the quietest of the bunch. Rutherford's old team, now being led by Ron Francis, has kept their search to replace Kirk Muller awfully quiet. A couple of weeks ago Francis had interviewed six candidates but there were more on the way.

Like the Penguins, Ulf Samuelsson is a name that's still floating around in this conversation. He's reportedly meeting in person with the Hurricanes, according to Aaron Ward, so that's probably a pretty good indication he's seriously in the hunt.

It's safe to assume it's most of the same candidates we're seeing elsewhere; Wilson, Crawford, perhaps Dan Bylsma, etc. It's hard to say which way Francis could lean here because he has no track record of hiring coaches at the NHL level and he has a team that's somewhat blended between veterans and prospects. Perhaps Kevin Dineen could also enter the fray; we're left to speculate more since they've been so quiet.

This will probably be the hire that just happens without much buildup, they can keep a tight lip in Carolina.

Vancouver Canucks

Another team that has a new general manager in place to hire a new coach, the Canucks are looking to move on quickly from the short-lived John Tortorella era. It lasted just one season and was pretty close to a mess with the Canucks losing some of their free-flowing identity.

Even though he was replaced by Jim Benning, former GM Mike Gillis talked about wanting to get that old identity back some and given the personnel, Benning might not be thinking that much differently.

When Benning initially took the job, the name of Barry Trotz was being hotly linked with the Canucks but it never appeared to be something Trotz was overly keen about, and he took the job with the Caps instead. All along, though, Benning was likely to run his own search and immediately one favorite emerged: Desjardins.

He's been around a while, and at age 57 would be one of the oldest first-time head coaches in the league should he be hired. The drum has been banging for Desjardins, who led the Stars' AHL team to the Calder Cup this season, for some time in Vancouver.

Still, it's not a done decision obviously and there are other candidates. Sportsnet's Dan Murphy says four coaches have interviewed already; Mike Johnson, Marc Crawford, Peter Horachek and Dan Bylsma. Desjardins and former Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel are also expected to be interviewed. They wanted to speak with Kings assistant John Stevens and Red Wings assistant Jeff Blashill but weren't given permission for either.

Desjardins likely remains a favorite here but Bylsma could be a real option too, if he's not taken ...

Florida Panthers

The Panthers have been looking for their new coach for quite a while now after letting Peter Horachek go right after the season from his interim role behind the bench. Not to mention the Panthers are the only team on this list that didn't also change GMs, Dale Tallon has been leading the search the entire time.

And he's been pretty open about it as well.

Originally the Panthers had a list of around 10 coaches that they interviewed and it's not been whittled down to six finalists; Peters, Bylsma, Crawford, Wilson, Tom Renney and Gerard Gallant.

Of those names, one of the hottest names attached to the job has been Bylsma. It was only days after he was let go by the Penguins that he was reportedly in Florida interviewing for the Panthers job. Some reports said it was a job Bylsma wanted but there have also been rumblings that perhaps they have more to figure out on a contract and the specific details if a deal gets done. As open as Tallon is, he's not going to be that open so who knows where the truth lies there. Either way, he remains perhaps the favorite for the position to take over a very young team with plenty of high prospects to build around and then a lot of cap space.

On the interesting side is Gallant, an assistant coach in Montreal. He was the head coach of Saint John in the QMJHL when he was leading Panthers youngster Jonathan Huberdeau and the Sea Dogs. But one thing Tallon said from the beginning was that he wanted somebody with plenty of NHL experience, a knock against Gallant.

We should find out soon enough on the Panthers as it's been reported a new coach should be announced by Monday at the latest.

Indeed, the coaching carousel never seems to stop spinning.

 
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