To give you an idea of how the NHL coaching carousel works, consider this: before hiring Scott Gordon last August, the New York Islanders also spoke with Joel Quenneville, John Tortorella, Paul Maurice, Marc Crawford and Bob Hartley. Within a year, all but Hartley were back in the league as head coaches. Here are snapshots of some of the best coaches worthy of a phone call when teams hit the wall.
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Peter Laviolette: If a Stanley Cup in his first full season with Carolina in 2005-06 is not enough, consider that Laviolette has turned around every franchise he's been with. After his revival magic at each step in the minors -- Wheeling (ECHL) and Providence (AHL championship) -- Laviolette coached the Islanders to the fifth-best improvement in NHL history and the franchise's first playoff berth in eight years. Did we mention he's the best candidate available with a Stanley Cup ring?
Craig MacTavish: Teams craving experience and firm leadership will look to MacTavish, the head coach at Edmonton for eight seasons before sitting out this one in the TSN studio. With a Stanley Cup Final and more than 1,000 games played on his resume and plenty of friends around the league, MacTavish will be back when he decides an opportunity is the right one.
Bob Hartley: The coaching life can be cruel. Hartley won a Calder Cup with Hershey in 1997 and Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001, yet it's his three-year stint with Atlanta that seems to define what the league thinks of him. Strangely enough, in 2006-07 Hartley led the Thrashers to the franchise's only playoff berth and they haven't been back since.
Accomplished, Not Available 'Til Summer
By taking positions as assistants, respected former head coaches Tom Renney (now with Edmonton) and Mike Sullivan (with the Rangers) are out of the running as mid-season replacements. Paul MacLean, in his fifth season in Detroit and seventh under Mike Babcock (also in Anaheim) is widely considered as the assistant coach most likely to succeed as a head man in his first job.
Big Name in Waiting
As was often stated when Wayne Gretzky resigned from Phoenix, extraordinary players often make ordinary-at-best coaches. However, there is growing sentiment around the NHL that Ron Francis will be an exception. Currently an associate head coach and player personnel director in Carolina, Francis -- one of the all-time great thinkers on the ice -- will undoubtedly be given his own team sometime in the next few years.
Scott Arniel: Led the Canucks' AHL affiliate in Manitoba to a record of 141-73-8-18 over the last three seasons. Leads many general managers' lists as one of the game's brightest head coaching prospects.
Bob Boughner: Ex-NHL tough guy led the Windsor Spitfires (OHL) to the Memorial Cup title last year. With LW Taylor Hall returning and D Cam Fowler joining -- both are expected to be top-5 picks in next June's draft -- the 38-year-old Boughner may do it again.
Greg Cronin: Former Hockey East head coach and assistant (Maine), AHL head coach (Bridgeport) and NHL assistant (Islanders) performing miracles at his alma mater, Northeastern.
Kevin Dineen: Highly regarded fifth-year coach in Portland (AHL), the former Hartford Whalers sniper figures to get an NHL gig any month now.
Dallas Eakins: Hand-picked by Brian Burke to run the Maple Leafs' AHL team, Eakins is considered an up-and-comer in the coaching and management ranks.
Marc Habscheid: Despite tremendous success at the Canadian junior and international level, Habscheid continues to wait for the call many thought would have come a few years ago. This is his first season as GM and coach in Chilliwack of the WHL.
Rob Murray: Providence coach went from Scott Gordon's right hand to his own man with the Bruins' AHL affiliate last season and led an inexperienced team to the East final.
The Great Unknown
While the next phase of a legendary hockey career is more likely to take part in an office instead of behind a bench, imagine the short-term impact Wayne Gretzky might have on an underachieving team.
On a list of the best head coaches not coaching in the NHL, we would be remiss in not mentioning arguably the best of them all. Here's to you, Stanley Cup champion and three-time Adams Trophy winner Pat Burns.