Given the sports landscape, I don’t expect the masses to obsess over Rick Dudley’s head coaching search the way most did Mark Richt’s search for a defensive coordinator. (Could Kirby Smart fix goals-against?). But this will be arguably the biggest decision Dudley makes. So for what it’s worth, here are five names to consider:
♦ John Torchetti: Some around hockey already consider him the favorite. He’s an assistant with the Chicago Blackhawks, where Dudley worked before coming to Atlanta last year. Torchetti also worked with Dudley at two other NHL stops, Tampa Bay and Florida. His strength is as a teacher and working with young players. He has never been a full-fledged NHL head coach but did have two interim stints with Florida and Los Angeles.
♦ Craig MacTavish: He had a pretty solid first five seasons as Edmonton coach (three playoff berths, one Stanley Cup finals appearance) before the Oilers slid in his last three years, leading to his firing last year. Edmonton’s biggest problem for a while was economics (an inability to keep good players), and then miscalculated on several players. But MacTavish was respected and his teams always played hard. Known for being
glib, MacTavish said the following when hired as a commentator by the Canadian sports channel, TSN: “I’m happy to finally be among the experts where the issues are many and solutions obvious. I appreciate TSN providing a safe haven for unemployed coaches, as we rehabilitate ourselves towards future employability.”
♦ Bob Hartley: A longshot? Yes. But don’t laugh. Hartley, who has been out of coaching since being fired by the Thrashers, would love to get back behind a bench. He still maintains a home in Atlanta. He is the only coach to get this team to the playoffs. He could provide the structure the team needs. He loved coaching here and he never has publicly spoken ill about the organization, ownership or Don Waddell. When I phoned Hartley, he said only that he would like to get back into coaching but declined further comment.
♦ Ken Hitchcock: Yes, it has been a decade since his
meteoric success in Dallas (Stanley Cup, two finals appearances, five postseasons in seven years). He had a decent run in Philadelphia (three playoffs in four years, including a run to the conference finals). He made the playoffs only once in four seasons in Columbus but it could be argued he didn’t have a great roster, either. Here’s the thing: Hitchcock is one of the smartest hockey coaches ever, and he excels at preaching defense and getting teams to fight for loose pucks. He’s worth considering.
♦ John Stevens: My pal Craig Custance of the Sporting News is pushing Stevens, who spent three-plus seasons as Flyers coach before being fired 25 games into this season. He made the playoffs two of his first three seasons, losing both years to Pittsburgh (conference finals and first round). Downside: He has a reputation of being player-friendly, and the question is whether the Thrashers want somebody tougher after John Anderson.
So there are five names. Anybody else you would like to see the Thrashers go after. And please don’t say Scotty Bowman. Or Toe Blake. (Old time hockey!)
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