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Ice Chips: Coaching Carousel

May 17, 2008 | By Mike Chen | comment on this post

Unless a miracle happens, we’re about a good seven-to-ten days away from the start of a Detroit-Pittsburgh final. In the meantime, there’s not a heck of a lot to discuss from a fantasy perspective. At this point, if you’ve selected Penguin/Red Wing players, you’re in good shape. If not, well, you probably got knocked out of your playoff pool a while ago.

We can, however, take a glance at next season. Free agency won’t commence until July, but there are several coaching vacancies. With that in mind, will a team change its style under a new head coach? Let’s examine the situations:

Atlanta Thrashers: As RotoRob discussed in one of his rare hockey commentaries, chances are slim-to-none that Don Waddell will return behind the bench or as GM. Whoever gets the role as head coach will get a very dysfunctional group, as this mix of veterans and young players can really only rely on Ilya Kovalchuk and a cast of mixed quality. Will a new coach put the reins on Kovalchuk? Atlanta’s major problems are on the blueline, so look for a more concerted defensive effort from the Thrashers’ new boss. However, expect Kovalchuk to get a little leeway in his creativity.

Colorado Avalanche: This season, the Avalanche played its way into the playoffs despite a disastrous list of injuries. Colorado developed into a steady defensive team, and when the forward group was healthy, the Avs turned into an effective transition team that still retained a sturdy defense. Well, all that went out the window as pretty much everyone but GM Francois Giguere was injured in the playoffs. What can you expect from a new Colorado coach? Avalanche management expressed displeasure at the constant goalie swapping and the quick-to-bench manuevering of Joel Quenneville, so look for some consistency between the pipes. If Colorado is healthy, it will have the horses to play a more offensive attack style — if the new coach dictates it.

Florida Panthers: What a mess in Florida. We know that Jacques Martin is actively seeking a full-time bench boss. We know that Martin’s identity is of stingy defense (even though the team hasn’t executed that properly). We also know that the vaunted Panther youngsters haven’t blossomed (see: Stephen Weiss and Nathan Horton). Whoever is going to take the bench in Florida is either going to have to sooth over relations with captain Olli Jokinen or deal with the fact that Jokinen has been traded, all while trying to turn Jay Bouwmeester into a consistent superstar and getting the most out of the young talent. Florida’s experienced an ugly defensive system since Martin’s been installed there; that means the new coach and system will go one of two ways. One, he’ll maintain Martin’s identity and suck the offensive life out of his talent or, two, he’ll plan an up-tempo style that embraces speed and launches his younger players to a new level. We’ll see.

San Jose Sharks: Any way you look at it, every San Jose Shark other than Evgeni Nabokov had a down year. With coach Ron Wilson out of the picture, the team is still built in the mold GM Doug Wilson envisioned: speedy, skillful, and focused on puck possession. Whoever coaches the Sharks will get a load of a talent that seems unsure of itself. If the new coach can foster a level of consistency, you may see career years out of everyone other than Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo (it’s hard to top 125 points and 56 goals, respectively).

Toronto Maple Leafs: Almost as bad as the Florida situation on the ice and about a billion times worse off it, the Leafs have no identity other than Mats Sundin and a mix of overpaid veterans and unmolded young players. Will youngsters such as Matt Stajan get squashed under a new coach? Will Toronto and Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment accept a coach that develops younger players? Will Sundin even bother coming back? So many questions, so few answers; the only thing certain in Toronto is that it’s only going to get worse before it gets better, and a new coach won’t be able to solve all of the Leafs’ problems.

Also on the chopping block: see what happens with John Tortorella (Tampa Bay), Marc Crawford (Los Angeles), Bryan Murray (Ottawa), Andy Murray (St. Louis), and Alain Vignault (Vancouver). We could see a lot of teams change identities in the offseason, for better or worse.

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