From reliable Hitchcock to risky Tocchet, ranking the seven NHL coaching hires

When the Arizona Coyotes officially welcomed back Rick Tocchet as their new head coach on Tuesday, the last behind-the-bench vacancy was filled for the 2017-18 NHL season.

An assistant with the repeat Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins before his return to the Coyotes, Tocchet became the seventh coaching hire of the offseason, which also saw the league's 31st and newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, name the franchise's first headliner.

Only time will tell which of the moves were better than the others, and in some cases, these men might already be doomed to lead teams in dire situations.

But for the sake of discussing something other than Jaromir Jagr's minor-league prospects or Russia's intensified campaign to lure NHL talent, let's run through a way-too-early pecking order -- a stab at a 2017-18 ranking -- for each of the seven newly hired coaches. Feel free to stash it all away for when everything is proven wrong in a few months.

7. John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings  

This isn't on Stevens as much as it is an indictment of Kings management. Ousting Darryl Sutter wasn't all too surprising after two straight years out of the playoffs, but if Los Angeles was really committed to refreshing its culture amid the departure of its two-time Stanley Cup champion coach, why did it end up promoting from within? Stevens, who predated Sutter in L.A. and had some good times in Philadelphia, could liven things up, but the Kings would be just as much to blame for a potentially underwhelming performance during his tenure.

6. Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks

On the surface, this doesn't come off too promising, if only because Green has never coached at the NHL level. But Green has navigated through other teams' staff problems and guided Vancouver's American Hockey League affiliate to some big victories.

5. Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights

He's not a sexy pick to lead a brand new franchise, but he does not lack experience.

Gerard Gallant was 96-65-25 in parts of three seasons in Florida. USATSI

Plenty of big assistant roles earned him head coaching gigs with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers, both of whom he improved early on, and his minor-league track record is rock solid. Still, in parts of six seasons as the head guy, his teams have never advanced past one round of the playoffs.

4. Phil Housley, Buffalo Sabres

There's lots to like about Housley's four-year run with the Nashville Predators, especially after this past season. And his hometown connection makes him a more inspiring hire than, say, what the Los Angeles Kings came up with. He is a rookie head coach, though, and Buffalo is not exactly in a great place. Perhaps a wee bit more head coaching experience would help.

3. Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes

In a ranking of most curious head coaching hires, this one takes the prize without question.

Rick Tocchet, left, will transition from working behind the Penguins bench to running the show in Arizona. USATSI

That's mostly because of the way Tocchet left the Coyotes 10 years ago, when his role in an illegal sports gambling ring preceded a brief stint in Tampa Bay and a hiatus from coaching. Three seasons with the title-winning Penguins have reshaped Tocchet as a name to watch, though, especially with Arizona apparently in win-now mode. This is a boom-or-bust pairing.

2. Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers

"The Boogieman" is young at 46, but he has just about everything you'd want except for NHL head coaching experience. Assistant work with the San Jose Sharks followed and sometimes blended with front-office and coaching duties in the Ontario Hockey League, where he won two titles. Let's see if he clicks with the Panthers' young core as management believes he will.

1. Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars

This might be the only hire of all seven that seems almost guaranteed to work right away in 2017-18.

Ken Hitchcock is back in Dallas after more than five seasons with the St. Louis Blues. USATSI

A Stars alumnus as Dallas' coach from 1995-2002, when he took the team to two Stanley Cup Finals and won one title, Hitchcock's St. Louis Blues started awfully slow last season. But the 65-year-old icon has one remarkable track record of building postseason contenders and he has adapted to better players at every landing spot in his storied career. He also happens to be guiding a team that got serious reinforcements through trades and free agency. If the Stars don't return to the playoffs, it'll be the disappointment of the season.

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