NHL's coaching carousel features newbies, familiar faces

Seven NHL teams hired new coaches this off-season, including the first head coach in the history of the league's 31st franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.

A look at the newest hires and tasks that lie ahead

Travis Green, left, is getting his first opportunity as an NHL coach with the Vancouver Canucks, while Ken Hitchcock returns to Dallas where he guided the Stars to the Stanley Cup in 1999. (The Canadian Press/The Associated Press)

When the Boston Bruins fired Claude Julien in February, Joel Quenneville took over as the longest-serving NHL head coach.

Hired in Oct. 2008, Quenneville enters his 10th season with the Chicago Blackhawks amid a continuously rotating cast of coaching peers. Seven teams hired new coaches this off-season, including the first head coach in the history of the league's 31st franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights.

That doesn't include the coaches who took over at some point last season, including Julien (Montreal), Mike Yeo (St. Louis), Doug Weight (New York), and Bruce Cassidy (Boston).

Here's a look at the newest hires and the tasks that lie ahead:

Ken Hitchcock — Dallas Stars

Replaces: Lindy Ruff

Previous NHL head coaching experience: Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus, St. Louis

Last job: Blues head coach

Hitchcock will try to do for the Stars (again) what he managed to accomplish in St. Louis: help a floundering team reach new heights. The 65-year-old has a penchant for turning around programs. The Blues missed the playoffs in five of six seasons before his arrival, but didn't miss once with him on board and came within two wins of the Stanley Cup final in 2016. The Stars need a heavy dose of defence, and Hitchcock — who guided Big D to their first and only Cup in 1999 — has shown he can deliver. Over his five full seasons with the Blues, the club ranked fourth in goals against and second in shots against, all while boasting the NHL's top penalty kill.

Rick Tocchet — Arizona Coyotes

Replaces: Dave Tippett

Previous NHL head coaching experience: Tampa

Last job: Penguins assistant coach

When the Coyotes and Tippett agreed to part ways in the off-season, a door opened for the 53-year-old Tocchet to steer his own team once again. Briefly the Lightning head coach and a top assistant for Pittsburgh's back-to-back Stanley Cups, Tocchet is tasked with growing a youthful Arizona squad still beleaguered by relocation questions and five straight playoff misses. Tocchet, a one-time Coyotes player, helped operate a largely successful power play with the Penguins and was known as an approachable ear and well of wisdom for players like Phil Kessel.

Phil Housley — Buffalo Sabres

Replaces: Dan Bylsma

Previous NHL head coaching experience: None

Last job: Predators assistant coach

Like his Arizona counterpart John Chayka, new Sabres GM Jason Botterill also went with an assistant from a top NHL program by hiring Housley, the hall of fame defenceman who started his playing career in Buffalo. The 53-year-old from Minnesota spent the last four seasons next to Peter Laviolette, where he used that storied playing experience to mold one of the league's top defence cores. The Sabres are betting on that know-how in their bid to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Housley's task starts with plugging gaping defensive holes, boosting the club's speed game and rounding out the games of 22-year-old Finn Rasmus Ristolainen and franchise cornerstone Jack Eichel.

Bob Boughner — Florida Panthers

Replaces: Tom Rowe

Previous NHL head coaching experience: None

Last job: Sharks assistant coach

A rearranged Florida front office went a traditionally Panthers route, hiring another coach with no NHL head coaching experience. Boughner did play 630 NHL games and spent the past two seasons on the San Jose bench and he was also a head coach over two stints with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires — winning two Memorial Cups. Florida was sunk by injuries and internal in-fighting last year, which led to the return of Dale Tallon in the GM role. There's more than enough talent here for Boughner to hit the ground running and get the Panthers back in post-season contention. Can he thrive where others failed? Four of the previous five Panthers head coaches had no NHL head coaching experience when they were hired, and none lasted longer than three seasons.

Travis Green — Vancouver Canucks

Replaces: Willie Desjardins

Previous NHL head coaching experience: None

Last job: Utica Comets head coach

The Canucks seem to finally be embracing the need to rebuild and Green stands at the helm of that charge. Though the team hopes to score more next season, the 46-year-old's big-picture task hinges on developing young players Bo Horvat, Brock Boeser, Olli Juolevi and Elias Pettersson. Green, a former NHLer who piled up more than 1,000 games including playoffs, led the Portland Winterhawks to a WHL crown in 2013 and then oversaw the Canucks prospect pool in the AHL with Utica, which lost the Calder Cup final in 2015. Team president Trevor Linden cited Green's varied track record in explaining the choice of another newcomer after Desjardins also took over with no NHL experience.

John Stevens — Los Angeles Kings

Replaces: Darryl Sutter

Previous NHL head coaching experience: Philadelphia

Last job: Kings assistant coach

The Kings, under revamped management, are turning to a familiar face to reinvigorate a program gone stale. Stevens has been with the club since 2010, overseeing the team's stifling defence and penalty kill as an assistant to Darryl Sutter, who was fired in April. L.A. won two Cups with Sutter before falling out of the playoff picture in two of the past three seasons. Kings management, now led by new team president Luc Robitaille and general manager Rob Blake, is counting on Stevens to keep the team's defence tight while somehow unleashing an offence which cratered to 24th last season.

Gerard Gallant — Vegas Golden Knights

Replaces: Nobody

Previous NHL head coaching experience: Florida

Last job: Florida Panthers head coach

Gallant has perhaps the most unique challenge of the new coaching hires: run an expansion franchise that's presently low on talent. The Knights are stacked with picks and prospects for down the line, but for now, Gallant gets to construct a culture and style from scratch. His three seasons in Florida were generally mediocre, save for the franchise's best-ever season in 2016. The first head coaches of the last two expansion franchises had wildly different experiences. Jacques Lemaire spent almost a decade behind the Wild bench while Dave King was fired after two-plus seasons in Columbus. Which route will Gallant follow?


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