Blackhawks have plenty of options for next head coach as NHL’s carousel keeps spinning

The Hawks have set early to mid-July as their target for hiring a permanent coach. Interim coach Derek King seems increasingly unlikely to be the choice, but there’s no shortage of other options around the hockey world.

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Interim coach Derek King remains a candidate, but it appears the Blackhawks will look intently elsewhere for other permanent options.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

The Blackhawks laid low during a chaotic May for coaching changes around the NHL.

As the Islanders shockingly fired Barry Trotz and hired assistant Lane Lambert, as the Red Wings fired Jeff Blashill and the Golden Knights fired Pete DeBoer and as Rick Bowness stepped down as Stars coach, the Hawks stayed out of the carousel. The Flyers, Jets and Panthers all sit in the same boat as the Hawks, having finished the season with an interim coach in charge.

Hawks general manager Kyle Davidson and his front-office staff were working on a profile of the next head coach as early as May 3, however, and Davidson added May 16 that they’d begin forming a candidate list within a few weeks. Behind the scenes, the gears have likely been turning.

“Preparing for the draft, the coaching search, building the front office — they’re all kind of running in parallel,” Davidson said May 3. “We’ve got ideas [for the coaching position]. Early July is a loose target for having a good idea of where we want to go with selecting a candidate. ... I don’t think you want to get too far in the off-season without knowing who your head coach is.”

With the draft scheduled for July 7-8 in Montreal, free agency opening July 13 and a prospect development camp in Chicago also planned in July, June could be a crucial month for the coaching search.

“We want the coaches that are able to communicate, able to drive a message and create a positive culture and [able to] get players to want to come to the rink and compete every single night,” Davidson added. “That’s based on track record, and that’s also based on how they deliver a message, so we’ll learn that based on what they’ve done in the past but also through the interview process.”

Davidson has harped on compete level repeatedly when speaking about the team he’d like to build. He has mentioned speed and high-tempo play often, too, so he may seek a coach interested in installing a more aggressive forechecking system.

Personality and leadership skills will matter most of all, though.

“It’s a challenging thing to stand in front of 23 players and have that confidence in your ability to be able to communicate the message you want to communicate,” new associate GM Norm Maciver said. “Just having that presence about them is something that’s going to be very important.”

That presence factor is something Derek King brought in spades last season, so it’s a little ironic to see it touted as a trait the Hawks will look for in outside candidates. But even though King has long been promised an interview for the full-time job and remains a candidate, all indications suggest he’s unlikely to get the permanent role.

King’s perceived odds of landing the full-time gig fluctuated wildly all season. He initially seemed like a long shot, then like a real possibility when he righted the ship so quickly in November and December, then like a long shot when the Hawks faded in January and February, then like a real possibility —albeit as something of a placeholder —when Davidson declared the full-on rebuild in March.

Ultimately, King’s old-school tendencies —which arose, for example, when he asked at season’s end for more veterans to be brought in next year —as well as the Hawks’ reluctance to permanently hire another interim guy after already doing so with Davidson may rule him out. Nothing is set in stone yet, though.

“I think the world of Derek,” Davidson said. “He has a great hockey mind. He has a great way [with] the players. He has endeared himself to a lot of people this year. And so you want those type of people in your organization. We have to cross the head coaching bridge first, and then we’ll get to the rest [of the coaching jobs].”

Davidson also said ex-assistant coaches Marc Crawford and Rob Cookson were dismissed at season’s end to wipe the slate clean for the “next...coaching regime,” in which some “new voices [are] needed.”

So if it’s not King, who will the Hawks’ next coach be?

The list of available coaches around the hockey world currently contains plenty of well-known names. Trotz —who has reportedly already interviewed with the Jets — headlines a group that also includes Rick Tocchet, Jim Montgomery, David Quinn, Paul Maurice, Claude Julien, Travis Green, DeBoer and Blashill.

It’s unclear which of those coaches would be willing and interested to jump into coaching a rebuild, but it’s the Hawks’ task to find out. Trotz would be a coup of a hiring yet seems least likely of all to be willing. Montgomery has done nothing but win as the University of Denver’s head coach, the Stars’ head coach and (currently) as a Blues assistant; he’s also a very enticing candidate.

Then there’s an even longer list of lesser-known coaches rising through the ranks who might be ready for an NHL shot. The Hawks could be a prime destination for one of them.

Penguins assistant Mike Vellucci, Maple Leafs assistant Spencer Carbery, Lightning assistant Derek Lalonde, Syracuse (AHL) coach Benoit Groulx, Hartford (AHL) coach Kris Knoblauch, ZSC Lions (Switzerland) coach Rikard Gronborg and former Sharks assistant and Chicago Wolves coach Rocky Thompson are some of the names coming up most often.

The Hawks will likely keep a 10-foot pole between themselves and toxic celebrity coaches Mike Babcock and John Tortorella.

More offseason updates

  • The Hawks signed 23-year-old Swedish defenseman Filip Roos to a two-year contract with a $925,000 salary cap hit. Roos tallied six points in 50 games for the Swedish club Skelleftea AIK last season. Davidson praised Roos’ size (6-4) and skating ability in a statement. He’ll likely head to Rockford next season.
  • The final game of the IIHF world championship will take place Sunday. Five Hawks participated in this year’s tournament: Seth Jones and Sam Lafferty (USA), Lukas Reichel (Germany), Philipp Kurashev (Switzerland) and Erik Gustafsson (Sweden). Caleb Jones was also planning to play but injured his wrist in an exhibition game.
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