Kraken coaching candidates: who's hot?

Carolina Hurricanes v New York Islanders - Game Three

ELMONT, NEW YORK - APRIL 25: Head coach Rod Brind'Amour of the Carolina Hurricanes speaks with the media prior to the game against the New York Islanders in Game Three of the First Round of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs at UBS Arena on April 25, 2024 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)Photo: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

The news that Dave Hakstol would not return to the Seattle Kraken, fired from his head coach position on Apr. 29, comes in the middle of a coaching job mill that continues to churn with breakneck speed turnover. 

Since February of 2022, a staggering 28 of 32 teams have undergone a change behind the bench. Martin St. Louis, hired a mere 27 months ago, is now the fifth longest tenured coach in the NHL. Two coaches who were Jack Adams finalists last season – Hakstol and Lindy Ruff – were both fired in less than a year after the awards ceremony. 

On the Kraken side, who takes the reins – someone with experience? Someone with a fresh, up-and-coming approach who toiled in the AHL or elsewhere? 

“We’re open to all of the above,” Kraken general manager Ron Francis told 93.3 KJR-FM on the “Chuck and Buck in the Morning” show. 

Francis confirmed his timeline to hire a new head coach will be within the next two months, leaving the door open to candidates across the board. 

Among the candidates and tiers: 


·      Rod Brind’Amour: As long as he continues to coach with a contract that expires after this season with the Carolina Hurricanes, this conversation will continue. He’s the lifeblood of the Hurricanes present regime. He’s also on track to potentially become the hottest coaching commodity on the market. Darren Dreger of TSN reported several days ago that negotiations between him and Hurricanes management broke down to the point where Brind’Amour’s contract extension offer was pulled, then the two sides immediately offered a rosier picture, perhaps convenient to quell distractions in the middle of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

“This has been much ado about nothing,” Hurricanes owner Tom Dundon told Raleigh station 99.9 FM The Fan a little over a week ago

“I feel really good that we'll figure it out quickly,” said Brind’Amour on May 1. “Yeah, I'm not concerned."

“He wants to be a Hurricane for life,” said Hurricanes president and general manager Don Waddell. 

This is talk – and for the Hurricanes, it’s encouraging talk. But it’s May 13, and there’s still no deal. So, what if the Hurricanes are knocked out in the second round? They’re still alive, but down 3-2 to the Rangers in their series, which has a chance to influence this course in a new direction. 

Based on the words that have reached public surface, it’s likely that Brind’Amour stays. His history, legacy, and affection for the area are important factors. But without a new contract shortly before the expiration date - a game the Hurricanes have played already - the evidence the Kraken could be waiting this out is clear as day. 

Dundon has a reputation of a disciplined, some would even say “hardball,” approach with money. Brind’Amour’s history with Francis is undeniable to the point where Brind’Amour was reportedly in consideration for the Kraken job three years ago, before his previous extension. Then, there’s geography: Brind’Amour would be closer to his hometown of Campbell River, British Columbia, where he has returned in previous offseasons for an annual charity golf tournament with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. 

He’s never missed the playoffs, has three straight 50-win seasons, and is a model of a modern coach – fitting diplomacy and accountability into rock-solid balance. He would likely orchestrate a major turnaround in the Kraken, their roster, and young players ready to step into full time roles. The question remains, will he even be available in the first place? And if so, how much will he cost? 

San Jose Sharks v Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 22: Todd McLellan of the Los Angeles Kings reacts during a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks at Arena on January 22, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)Photo: Harry How / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

·      Todd McLellan: Here’s another veteran coach option to fix the ailing woes, where reaching the playoffs again is a top priority, along with perhaps extracting more offense. 

Before you stop reading and lash out with the “wait, he runs the boring 1-3-1” talk, here are the facts: McLellan ran highly aggressive systems to fit his rosters in Edmonton and San Jose, who often found the upper half to top ten of the NHL for offense - even in Los Angeles, where he implemented the suffocating and viper-strike system at the start of a rebuild under general manager Rob Blake. This isn’t exactly the 1990’s Devils neutral zone trap. It yielded more high-event hockey than you may think. He’s got a reputation of a power play genius. 

However, postseason shortcomings have followed him. The Sharks famously stormed into the first round with the President’s Trophy in 2008-09 with a 51-win season, then were eliminated by the Ducks in five games. His Sharks had the Kings on the ropes five years later in the second round, only to become the fourth team in NHL history to get bounced after blowing a 3-0 series lead. McLellan’s teams haven’t been to the Conference Final since the first Obama administration. But with the playoffs as a tangible goal for the Kraken, he’s proven repeatedly to lift teams back in that direction, upgrading results with a trademark mix of a “tough love” push and tactful communication skills. 

McLellan’s also likely checked off one box in the hiring process. He was reportedly in town having dinner with Francis at the beginning of the month, though the Kraken general manager stopped short of confirming that detail with 93.3 KJR-FM. 

“The process is already well underway,” Francis told 99.3 KJR-FM by e-mail.

·      Craig Berube: Likely, a matter of time is only what separates Berube from his next head coaching position. The reason: he earned staying power in St. Louis with a Stanley Cup ring in 2018-19, resurrecting the last place Blues to lifting the Cup in Boston. Jaden Schwartz and Vince Dunn would instantly reunite with Berube. Both were on that Cup winning team. 

He's delivered three 40-win seasons, nearly hit 50 two years ago, preaches core values of toughness and accountability, and would likely usher in a new era and level of physicality that has been absent for the first three seasons in Seattle. 

Berube, fired from St. Louis last December, will also be a hot commodity, reportedly on the radar for the head coach opening with the Maple Leafs. He’s a big namer, a type of coach it’s believed the Kraken might lean more toward in the replacement search. 

Detroit Red Wings v Montreal Canadiens

MONTREAL, QC - OCTOBER 10: Assistant coach of the Detroit Red Wings Dan Bylsma walks across the ice after a victory against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on October 10, 2019 in Montreal, Canada. The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)Photo: Minas Panagiotakis / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

·      Dan Bylsma: The Coachella Valley Firebirds head coach, with the Kraken AHL affiliate, was seemingly destined for this kind of opportunity as long as he stuck around. 

Here’s why it could happen: success with a Stanley Cup ring on the resume, and familiarity with the Kraken future. Bylsma was promoted from AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to help the sagging Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008-09, and then steered the Good Ship Sidney Crosby to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title since the peak Mario Lemieux/Jaromir Jagr era in the early 1990's. He never missed the postseason with the Penguins through six seasons (though never made it back to the Cup Final), then coached a young-and-extremely-raw Buffalo Sabres team led by teenage draft blue chipper Jack Eichel, and was let go after they missed the playoffs two straight seasons. 

Bylsma then spent three seasons on the rebuilding Red Wings bench as an assistant and since then has undergone a rebirth as a head coach in the AHL, embracing the development dynamic. He’s produced an attractive pair of seasons that each pushed 50 wins to open an expansion team in Coachella Valley, got the Firebirds to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Final last year, and followed up this season with a 46-15-11 campaign, cruising past Calgary into the second round of the playoffs which get underway on Wednesday against Ontario. His teams have nearly led the league in offense, each of the last two years. Shane Wright, Ryker Evans, Joey Daccord, Tye Kartye, Ryan Winterton, and Logan Morrison are among the headline youngsters who’ve cracked the Kraken roster under his watch, and are in, appear ready, or on the threshold of seizing full time roles. He knows them, he helped shape them, and has built-in relationships with them. 

The challenge will be if Bylsma is ultimately convinced this is a fit for him. He shut down any talk of interest in the Kraken job before the start of the playoffs in a video conversation with Palm Springs television station KESQ-3, though which could easily be interpreted as a diversion tactic to prevent team distractions. 

Bylsma, whom Everett Fitzhugh would be proud to tell you is a fellow product of Bowling Green State University, won the Jack Adams Award in Pittsburgh 13 years ago and has a staggering career record of 320-190-55 as an NHL head coach. 

·      Dean Evason: This may initially raise some eyebrows based on the stifling system the former head coach of the Minnesota Wild employed. After all, the Kraken need a surging dose of offense like a starved traveler in the desert. 

But despite a promising start that had the Wild among the top teams at generating offense, then sagging toward the bottom, he’s the winningest coach in Wild history. He’s often known for a fiery, passionate, yet “player’s coach” type of approach. Accountability is a core value that defines Evason’s coaching philosophy. Players will be pushed. Western Hockey League ties exist that make a geographic move appealing, where he’s a legend in Kamloops as a former center in town, then head coach of the Blazers. More importantly, there’s interpersonal ties with the guy who could hire him – Francis was a teammate of Evason’s for seven seasons with the Hartford Whalers. 

Evason’s teams have never moved past the first round of the playoffs, but this is a name to watch. 

·      Sheldon Keefe: Released out into the wild as the departed, former head coach of the Maple Leafs, it’s likely Keefe won’t be out of a job for too long. New Jersey is reportedly hot on his tail. If there’s any mutual interest between Keefe and the Kraken, his reputation as a growth agent for young players would work into the Kraken advantage, with Wright, Evans, and more coming up from the AHL, and Matty Beniers looking for a rebound season next year. Keefe also had issues with deep runs, bounced out of the opening round in four of his five years in Toronto. 

Keefe is a power play wizard, never logging a rate below 20 percent in his five seasons as Leafs head coach.


·      Gerard Gallant: In terms of an available household name with experience, you can’t do better. He knows how to win anywhere. Gallant can win in Florida. Gallant can win in Vegas. Gallant can win in New York.  He took an expansion team to the Stanley Cup Final. He guided the storied blueshirts to their first ever back-to-back set of 100-point seasons, then was handed his walking papers when the Rangers were bounced back the Devils last year in the first round. 

“I think people know (I’m available),” Gallant told in January.

The 60-year-old will command plenty of attention on the open job market. 

·      Todd Nelson: Head coach of the Hershey Bears, one of the most storied franchises in AHL history. He beat Bylsma and the Firebirds last season for the Calder Cup (the second in his coaching career), and has eight seasons behind an NHL bench, though primarily as an assistant coach. His lone stint as a head coach: 17-22-7 as Oilers head coach in 2014-15 in an interim role. 

·      David Carle: He’s a name rapidly growing on the “up and coming” radar. Carle has spent the last six years as head coach in college hockey at national power Denver, and longer as a prior assistant under Jim Montgomery. Success has followed the Anchorage, Alaska product, behind their bench for three national titles (two as head coach), and a World Junior title as head coach for the United States last season. 

·      Mitch Love: Another name also rapidly growing on the “up and coming” radar, at age 39, after just one season in the NHL as an assistant coach on Spencer Carbery’s bench for the Washington Capitals. Love has already interviewed for one open NHL head coaching position, a source close to the situation confirmed with 93.3 KJR-FM. He is detailed, accountability-driven, and has a sharp ability to connect with young players. Love has familiarity also with the Coachella Valley crop: he coached their AHL rival in Calgary, where he was named back-to-back league coach of the year. Then, there’s the geographic familiarity: Love has deep connections within the Pacific Northwest, where family resides in Everett, Wash. and his retired number hangs in the rafters of Angel of the Winds Arena, where he spent nearly a decade combined as a defenseman and assistant coach for the Silvertips of the WHL.

·      Jay Woodcroft: Where will the former Oilers head coach wind up next? Though he’s no spring chicken with 13 years already of experience in various coaching stops, including San Jose and Detroit, he is still considered as a young coach with plenty of miles left on his engine, and ability to sustain the Edmonton Oilers offense for two seasons, as far as a trip to the Conference Final two years ago, with an air of optimism will likely put him in the mix for the handful of jobs open this summer. 

·      Bruce Boudreau: His resume is undeniable as an instant “fix it guy” for offense, and one of the league’s all-time charming personalities, who could orchestrate as much as an intense crowd in Vancouver to routinely chant “Bruce, there it is.” Only three head coaches have a higher win percentage than him for those coaching in over 800 NHL games: Toe Blake, Jon Cooper, and Scotty Bowman. Boudreau now would be the oldest coach in the league if hired for any job, at age 69. 

·      Jay Leach: It was Leach and goaltending coach Steve Briere who survived the ax at the end of the season, in position if the Kraken choose to promote internally, and whose name continues to circulate annually on the NHL head coaching radar. For all the problems behind the Kraken offense, it was Leach’s touch on the Kraken defense that often-earned talk around the league. The Kraken have ranked top eight or better in their first three seasons for shots against, and this year in concert with their goaltending, were the only team among the top 11 for fewest goals allowed who missed the postseason. Leach has yet to secure an NHL head coaching job, though was dominant at the AHL level, with an all-time record of 242-138-77 in Providence and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. 


·      Joel Quenneville: His coaching record is among the most prolific in the league. He’s won three Stanley Cups. Quenneville and Francis go back to the Hartford Whalers when the two were teammates for seven seasons. But this will be extremely complicated, to say the least, to see if he returns anywhere in the NHL. First, Quenneville, 65, needs to seek reinstatement with Commissioner Gary Bettman after the Florida Panthers mutually parted ways with Quenneville nearly three years ago, in the wake of the Kyle Beach sexual assault scandal, surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2009-10 Cup winning season when Quenneville was head coach in Chicago. 

He’s been away for two seasons, and recently has begun to surface publicly, including a sit-down on a podcast with Andy Strickland while pledging his desire to return to an NHL bench. But getting back in also involves a potentially tricky dynamic. According to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, Quenneville theoretically may have to start with an “advisor” role before working his way back into a head coaching position. 

All of which, is moot until Quenneville is reinstated. 

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