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Big-league teams still don't pay enough attention to minor-league benches when filling vacancies
Newfoundland Growlers head coach John Snowden is shown on the bench during an ECHL agame at Mile One Centre earlier this season, There are plenty of instances of coaches moving up from the ECHL to eventually take top jobs with National Hockey League teams, but it seems the majority of NHL vacancies are filled by faces that are familiar behind big-league benches. — Newfoundland Growlers photo/Jeff Parsons
It would be unreasonable to suggest the Vegas Golden Knights and Nashville Predators consider young, unproven coaches following the recent mid-season firings of grizzled veterans Gerard Gallant and Peter Laviolette.
Now’s not the time to experiment, so as expected, the Knights and Predators went with familiar faces – Peter DeBoer in Vegas, and John Hynes in Nashville (although Hynes might still be regarded as a newcomer, with only four-plus seasons behind New Jersey’s bench).
After letting go the coach mid-season, a general manager is probably not in the mood to tinker with the idea of going with a young coach eager to implement fresh new ideas on a team that may be fed up and tired listening to the same old voice.
That’s a move better made in the off-season.
Still, as Major League Baseball teams have shown themselves to be open to hiring young, unproven managers, the National Hockey League still remains in many ways a large recycling bin for coaches.
Every so often, a team will go against the grain, like Philadelphia which hired Dave Hakstol out of the U.S. college ranks a few years ago. Hakstol didn’t last anyo time before he was canned by the Flyers and replaced by a familiar NHL coaching face in Alain Vigneault.
Should the NHL take a page from baseball’s book, maybe someone like a John Snowden would be wooed or groomed for Big League employment.
Snowden took over the Newfoundland Growlers under fairly difficult circumstances last season, when health issues forced popular Ryane Clowe to step aside as head coach.
While Snowden was also respected by the players as a well-prepared assistant coach, you know it could not have been easy to step into the head coaching role and be a different voice in the room near the end of the season.
But the native of Alaska, and ECHL coaching veteran (but as an assistant), never missed a step, piloting the team to the Kelly Cup league championship.
This season, with a lot of new faces in the room, Snowden has the Growlers near the top of the ECHL, winning 16 in a row at home and a league high 29 overall.
And he’s done so with a defence somewhat depleted because of injuries and callups.
Yet, I doubt you will hear John Snowden’s name as a replacement the next time an NHL coach is shown the door.
While the ECHL has prepared its share of coaches for NHL employment, including Laviolette, Bruce Cassidy, Jared Bednar, Geoff Ward, Jack Capuano and long-time NHL bench boss Bruce Boudreau, breaking into the NHL has proven to be a challenge.
Maybe it’s time NHL general managers open their eyes and realize the best coaches aren’t always those who’ve toiling in their league for years, bouncing from team to team.
That there are many other options elsewhere.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort