Keep It Flashy Winnipeg

Winnipeg True North - Keep It Flashy Winnipeg

As the euphoria of the new-old Winnipeg franchise continues into the draft and free agency periods some tough decisions have to be made. The first was not to give Rick Dudley a first class plane ticket from Atlanta to Winnipeg. Actually, he wasn’t given any ticket as True North decided not to keep him as general manager. Kevin Cheveldayoff was plucked from the Chicago Blackhawks organization to start off a fresh new era of hockey in Winnipeg.

Cheveldayoff was given all about two hours to settle in when questions about who would be the coach of the Winnipeg franchise flooded the airwaves and newsprint. Unlike the quick dismissal of Dudley, the Thrashers last head coach Craig Ramsay was left in coaching limbo. He wasn’t hired or fired and therefore was forced to re-interview for his own job.

A total of four so called hockey men have been interviewed for the job. Craig Ramsay had a long and distinguished NHL hockey career but his coaching career hasn’t lived up to his skills on his skates. He has coached three teams and has a sub 500 record. He was interim coach of the Buffalo Sabres for 21 games but wasn’t retained and then after only 28 games was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers. He lasted only one year in Atlanta, missing the playoffs and now has the title ‘Last Coach of the Thrashers’. He was forced to re-interview for a job he thought he had but has been recently informed that he will not be the new first coach of the Winnipeg franchise. He sat patiently not saying a word and missed out on the opportunity to interview for other head coach and assistant coaching positions. History has taught us that Ramsay is better suited to be an assistant and not a head coach.

Craig MacTavish was another former coach who has interviewed with Cheveldayoff and True North. MacT as he is known in hockey media circles had a good career playing with a total of five teams but having most impact with the Boston Bruins and Edmonton Oilers and winning the Stanley Cup in his only year with the New York Rangers. MacT started his coaching career as an assistant with the Rangers and then with the Oilers. He took over as head coach with the Oilers and led the team to some up and down seasons losing in the finals to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. In 2009, after being let go, he decided to join TSN as a hockey analyst and has been on their panel ever since. His coaching record is slightly above 500 and is known as a player’s coach. Would he be a good hire for Winnipeg? Personally if I was a player, or a fan, or Cheveldayoff, or part of the True North brass, I would not want MacTavish as my coach. The hockey world has quietly forgotten that MacT was incarcerated for the entire 1984-85 season. He was convicted of manslaughter after killing an innocent 26 year old while driving drunk. Harry Sinden and the Bruins nullified his contract after his release and it was only the generosity of Glen Sather that brought him back in the league. It is this reason and this reason only that I would not want MacTavish as my coach. Yes we are a society of forgiveness. I can forgive but I can not help somebody like that be a success.

Mike Haviland is currently in his third year as an assistant coach in Chicago. Cheveldayoff obviously knows a lot about Haviland. Although he never played in the NHL, Haviland has been a head coach in both the AHL and ECHL and his teams have never missed the playoffs. Cheveldayoff has a plan and Haviland would fall nicely in place without causing too much of a problem. Would Winnipeg accept a head coach without any experience and one who does not have a big name? No they wouldn’t and they shouldn’t.

The fourth interviewed coach was Claude Noel. Noel was given an interview for sentimental reasons. He was the last head coach the AHL’s Manitoba Moose who played in the same arena that the new Winnipeg franchise will play in. He had a successful tenure with Manitoba and had made a name for himself in the city. He also was the interim head coach for 24 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets after taking over for the fired Ken Hitchcock. Noel would be the safe bet. The city and its fans know him and like him but in my view, he is not head coach material and definitely not for a NHL team in Winnipeg.

So who does that leave? Usually with expansion teams the first coach is a lame duck coach. He is brought in to solidify the team and not to make too much fuss. After a couple of years of struggle, he is quietly let go and a big name is presented to the faithful. The team goes on to many successes and all is history. Well that’s what happens in a perfect world. Winnipeg isn’t an expansion team. Winnipeg is in Canada and doesn’t have time to toil in the bottom rungs of their division or conference. True North and Cheveldayoff need to bring in a flashy name now. The four interviewees so far do not fit the bill. The person they bring in doesn’t have to have experience or success as a coach or a player. He just has to bring the glitz and glamour back to Winnipeg. Winnipeg has to become a NHL city quick.

Right now only two names fit that bill. One is a hard-nosed hated coach of many successful teams and who has tons of experience behind the bench. The other is hard-nosed player who is destined for greatness as a players’ coach. So there are only two choices: Mike Keenan or Kirk Muller. Take it or leave it Winnipeg.

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George Prax's picture

Winnipeg is a weird situation... they're not an expansion team like you said, but they're an established team that didn't make the playoffs and that's been going through a fair amount of changes. I think they were on the cusp last year and a couple of good moves would have had the Thrashers in the post season in 2012. Obviously Winnipeg wants to make a splash their first year so they're going to try and make the playoffs, so the coaching decision is an interesting one. Go with someone younger who you can fire quickly if needed, or go with a bigger name and make a splash. I think Muller would be a good choice for that team.