Comments / New

Analyzing three of the top potential candidates to take over as Golden Knights head coach

The Vegas Golden Knights are officially in search of a new head coach. Peter DeBoer was relieved of his duties Monday, and now general manager Kelly McCrimmon and company are considering all options to replace him.

Luckily for the Golden Knights, there are several highly qualified coaches looking for work. This current Golden Knights squad — when healthy — is good enough to contend for a championship right now, and one can reasonably believe the Knights would prefer to hire an experienced head coach who can push this team over the hump and finally bring a Stanley Cup to Sin City.

There are many available candidates capable of helping the Golden Knights achieve that goal, but three seem to stand out among the rest.

Barry Trotz

Let’s start with the obvious. Trotz, who was unceremoniously fired as head coach of the New York Islanders last week, could very well be the best active head coach in hockey. He has 23 years of experience as an NHL bench boss under his belt, and only two coaches ever — Scotty Bowman and Joel Quenneville — have logged more wins than Trotz (1,812).

Trotz, 59, began his NHL head coaching career with the Nashville Predators, where he spent 15 seasons before joining the Washington Capitals in 2014. As Golden Knights fans should remember, Trotz had a pretty successful run in D.C. — his Capitals defeated Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. But despite going 205-89-34 and guiding Washington to its first-ever Stanley Cup, he left the team immediately after winning the championship due to a contract dispute, which ultimately brought him to Long Island.

Like with the Capitals, Trotz spent four seasons as the Islanders’ head coach. He led the Isles to the postseason in three of the last four seasons, and to the semifinals of the playoffs in back-to-back years. After falling short of the playoffs this season, though, the Islanders opted to move on from Trotz to search for “a new voice,” as noted by Islanders GM Lou Lamoriello.

Overall, Trotz has an NHL coaching record of 1,812-914-670-60 with postseason appearances in 14 of his 23 campaigns. He’s also two-time winner of the Jack Adams Award.

With such stellar credentials, Trotz is expected to have a plethora of teams looking to acquire his services. In fact, the Winnipeg Jets have reportedly already set up an interview with him to fill their vacant role as head coach. And it should be noted that Trotz is a Winnipeg native.

Still, it’s far from guaranteed that Trotz is dead set on returning home to continue his coaching career, and of course, there are far less desirable places to live than Las Vegas.

John Tortorella

The Golden Knights already put on a good show on the ice. With Tortorella as head coach, the entertainment would extend to postgame pressers.

Tortorella is known as one of the most fiery NHL head coaches in recent memory. He’s an in-your-face, no-nonsense hockey man with tons of success behind the bench, and his battles with the media are some of the best in sports. Of course, his bluntness and sometimes abrasive nature could also just end up being a nightmare waiting to happen.

Would he even want to come to a market as colorful as Las Vegas? Based on his personality, it may not be the greatest fit. But for what it’s worth, he does seem to love coaching games inside T-Mobile Arena.

“This is a great building. It’s fantastic,” Tortorella said in 2019 while serving as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. “I’m not crazy about the city and all the noise out there, but the building, they do it right. They do it right and they have a good team.”

From a pure hockey perspective, Tortorella checks pretty much all of the boxes. Only 12 coaches in NHL history have coached more games than Tortorella (1,383), and he ranks 14th all-time in wins with 673. In 19 seasons as an NHL head coach — excluding the 1999-2000 season in which he coached just four games — Tortorella has led his teams to the postseason 12 times. And, of course, he’s appeared in the Stanley Cup Final — he won it all with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004.

Some of Tortorella’s best work came with the Blue Jackets just a couple years back. In the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tortorella’s Blue Jackets famously swept a historically dominant Lightning team in four games, shocking the hockey world and ultimately producing one of the most hilariously bizarre tweets in sports history.

If a Tortorella-coached Columbus squad can do that to the mighty Lightning, a Tortorella-coached Vegas squad might just be too much fun to put into words.

Rick Tocchet

Many hockey fans have become quite familiar with Tocchet this season. He’s a studio analyst for TNT’s NHL coverage, and the team he’s formed with Liam McHugh, Wayne Gretzky, Paul Bissonnette and Anson Carter has turned out to be a ton of fun.

But he’s also a very capable head coach, and he might just be the right voice for the Golden Knights’ star-studded locker room.

For one, Tocchet is a former NHLer — and a pretty good one at that. He suited up in 1,144 NHL games from 1984 to 2002, logging 440 goals, 952 points and a staggering 2,970 penalty minutes, which ranks 10th all-time. Tocchet was even inducted into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame just last November.

As a head coach, Tocchet isn’t nearly as accomplished as Trotz or Tortorella. He only has 438 games of experience behind an NHL bench. But in those 438 games, he’s showed some legitimate promise.

His first coaching opportunity came during the 2008-09 season when he took over for Barry Melrose as the Lightning’s head honcho. He went on to coach 148 games for the Lightning, but was unable to stick with the club long term with an unimpressive record of 53-69-26.

After spending three seasons as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tocchet earned a full-time head coaching gig with the Arizona Coyotes in 2017. On paper, his tenure with Arizona was unremarkable. He went 125-131-34 as the Coyotes’ head coach before he and the club mutually decided to part ways after the 2020-21 season. However, during the COVID-19-shortened 2019-20 season, Tocchet did something no Coyotes head coach has done since 2012 — he took the club to the playoffs. His Coyotes defeated the Predators in the best-of-five qualifying series, but had the unfortunate task of facing the Colorado Avalanche in the first round. That series went pretty much as expected (Colorado dominated).

Tocchet has only ever reached the playoffs once as a head coach, and that alone is a logical reason to give the Golden Knights pause. But it should also be taken into account that the majority of his coaching tenure came with a franchise that has descended to the point of having to play in a 5,000-seat college arena. The Coyotes have been in decay for the better part of a decade, and Tocchet’s shortcomings as a head coach in Arizona may just be a symptom of the problem as opposed to the problem itself.