When Pierre Lacroix was named the general manager of the Quebec Nordiques, he inherited a team with a wealth of young talent – a team that had made three first overall picks – and a deficit of recent success. One of his first priorities was to hire a new coach for the team; he hired a bright 33-year old named Marc Crawford who had never coached in the NHL. Why Crawford?
Simple: it was a young team and Lacroix wanted a young coach.
Lacroix explained his reasoning to Jason Farris in the book Behind the Moves:
The Nordiques had fired their GM/coach, and so I said, ‘Okay, if they drafted all these years very high, that means we need a young coach.’ So, who’s the upcoming young coach? Back then, even though I’m in Quebec City and I’m a francophone, the best upcoming young coach was Marc Crawford. Three weeks later, I hired the best young coach. Why? That’s part of the rest of the spices. You’ve got to have somebody that thinks like a young person; this was a young team.
Note: the comment about being in Quebec stems from the fact that Crawford was an Anglophone. As Lacroix explains, Crawford worked to learn French over the summer, and was proficient enough by training camp that he was able to give his opening speech in French.
The Nordiques were younger even then the Oilers are now. The starting goalie (Stephane Fiset) was 24; backup Jocelyn Thibault just 19. Four of the team’s top-five scorers were under the age of 25; the exception, Scott Young, was 26 (and was named “Young,” which surely counts for something).
The Oilers have a few greybeards, but are going to be in a similar situation this fall. Nail Yakupov seems their likely pick at the draft this summer, and if so he’ll probably make the team out of camp. He joins a youthful group – the top four scores this year were 22 or under, starter Devan Dubnyk will be 26, and Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry bring youth to the blue line. It’s a young team now, and likely will be for the foreseeable future.
If the Oilers wanted a young coach, who might they hire? While there aren’t any guys Crawford’s with multiple years of AHL experience, there are a few younger coaches who have yet to get a shot as an NHL bench boss:
- Todd Nelson: The in-house option, Nelson has earned attention for doing something that hitherto seemed impossible – coaching the Oilers’ farm team first to respectability and then to outright success. The 42-year old previously worked as an assistant coach in the NHL with Atlanta.
- Jon Cooper: The 44-year old Cooper won the AHL’s coach of the year honours this year after guiding the Norfolk Admirals to 28(!) consecutive victories to close out the regular season. Cooper left his law practice to jump into coaching junior hockey in the United States; after a wildly successful tenure as coach/G.M. of the Green Bay Gamblers he wound up in the AHL.
- Dallas Eakins: A pupil of legendary coach Roger Neilson, Eakins places a high value on building personal relationships with his players and is regarded as a superb communicator. The 45-year old currently coaches the Toronto Marlies and was part of Paul Maurice’s staff when the latter coached the Maple Leafs.
- John Hynes: Hynes won the AHL’s coach of the year honours last seasons, while being the league’s youngest coach. The 37-year old has been highly successful with the Penguins’ affiliate in Wilkes-Barre after earning accolades earlier in his career for his work with the U.S. national development system.
- Kris Knoblauch: The 33-year old Knoblauch just finished his second season with the Kootenay Ice; last year as a rookie head coach he guided the team to a WHL championship.
I’m not sure I agree with Lacroix’s premise that a young team needs a young coach, but all of these guys are legitimately interesting options that also fit that description. Cooper and Nelson in particular stand out to me; Nelson’s already in the organization and doing good work while Cooper’s track record is impossible to ignore.
This week by Jonathan Willis at the Nation Network
- Free agents: Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals
- Playoff picks: Round 2
- Why an amnesty clause makes sense
- Kevin Lowe: "It’s a business first"
- Justin Schultz would solve a lot of problems for the Oilers
- The Oilers should sign Josh Harding this summer
- Roberto Luongo asks for a trade
- Red Wings’ G.M. Ken Holland on player development
- Team Canada takes shape – and is looking pretty good
- Anton Lander: Putting the genie back in the bottle
- Does the Presidents’ Trophy matter?