As usual, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet has produced another edition of “31 Thoughts” that is chock full of insider information. With the postseason ongoing and free agency yet to begin (officially anyway), a considerable focus this week is on head coaching vacancies. And the coaching news is coming in fast. Less than 24 hours after initially naming Ralph Krueger as a candidate for the vacancy with the Buffalo Sabres, Friedman writes that he is now considered the favorite. The former Edmonton Oilers head coach, and most recently soccer executive, has ties to GM Jason Botterill and has the experience that the Sabres reportedly seek. Friedman also believes that Pittsburgh Penguins assistant Jacques Martin is out of the running for the Buffalo job, which may have moved Krueger up the board. He also adds that Tampa Bay Lightning assistant Todd Richards is no longer being considered.
- Long-time NHL head coach Dave Tippett is still a candidate in Buffalo, but Friedman believes that he has become the favorite in Edmonton and is more likely to take over as the Oilers’ head coach. Tippett has been working with the Seattle expansion team ownership group of late, but has been itching to get back to coaching. In 14 years of coaching, Tippett finished above .500 11 times and made the playoffs eight times. That alone is a major step up for Edmonton, who have done neither of those things in nine of the past ten years. Joining Tippett in Buffalo as an assistant could be recent Florida Panthers head coach Bob Boughner, Friedman adds. By many accounts Boughner was fired not due to his own performance, but due to Joel Quenneville’s availability, so he would be a major addition as well.
- The Toronto Maple Leafs may not need to worry about losing highly-touted AHL head coach Sheldon Keefe. Keefe’s name has been relatively quiet on the coaching market thus far, but that could be due to the fact that Friedman believes he is unwilling to leave Toronto unless there is a better chance for him to succeed. Keefe could be in line to replace Mike Babcock as Leafs head coach when his contract ends (or sooner) and step into a talented Toronto lineup. However, assistant D.J. Smith remains a candidate in Ottawa and fellow assistant Jim Hiller has been granted permission to interview elsewhere, Friedman reports. Friedman does not expect Hiller to be back in Toronto next season and mentions the Nashville Predators as a potential landing spot. Hiller’s power play expertise could certainly help a Predator’s man advantage that was the worst in the NHL this season. The potential loss of both Smith and Hiller would hurt for the Maple Leafs and could force them to move Keefe to the NHL as an assistant.
- Friedman has no news about the vacancies in Ottawa and Anaheim. As it stands now, the Senators are considering Smith, Martin, Dallas Stars assistant Rick Bowness, Providence College’s Nate Leaman, and internal candidates Troy Mann and Marc Crawford. As for the Ducks, it appears to be Dallas Eakins, whose AHL San Diego Gulls are still alive in the Calder Cup playoffs, or bust.