There’s a pattern to Canadian Olympic hockey announcements. Every time Hockey Canada provides a new morsel of information about the next Winter Games, speculation about the next morsel begins. On Wednesday, Canada officially unveiled its management staff for the men’s team competing at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, which will include NHL players after it was collectively bargained last summer.
Doug Armstrong will helm the team as GM, aided by the management group of Ken Holland, Ron Francis, Don Sweeney, Scott Salmond and Roberto Luongo. The group obviously won’t pick a roster for many months, so the speculation now shifts toward coaching. Though Canada will certainly name a coach long before picking players, Armstrong indicated Wednesday he won’t name a coach until the 2020-21 NHL season ends, lest he distract any coach from his current mission.
Who will be the bench boss to earn the luxurious gig of sending Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon and Sidney Crosby over the boards?
We know it won’t be Mike Babcock, who hasn’t coached since the Toronto Maple Leafs fired him in November 2019 and has been mired in controversy for his alleged mental abuse of players. For now, he’s an NBC Sports employee, mere weeks into his new job as an analyst. During Hockey Canada’s presser Wednesday following the management team announcement, Armstrong thanked Babcock for his support in 2010 and 2014. So it’s clear Babcock won’t be near the bench in 2022.
So who gets the next chance at the mantle? The list of candidates is strong and includes multiple coaches overdue for the prestigious job. Consider these five favorites.
1. BARRY TROTZ
Why he’ll be considered: Trotz is the most successful Canadian bench boss of the past half decade. He’s the only coach to win the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year more than once in the past 15 seasons. He’s taken teams to the playoffs in 13 of his past 16 seasons. For 15 years in Nashville, Trotz was known as a coach who got the most out of teams with relatively modest talent pools, but he showed he can work with superstars in guiding Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to their first Stanley Cup in 2018. With 848 NHL wins, Trotz is two away from passing Ken Hitchcock for third all-time. Expertly engineering the New York Islanders into a team that repeatedly defies expectations and reached the Eastern Conference final last season, Trotz arguably holds the unofficial title belt of “best coach in the NHL today.”
Working against him: Two other Canadian coaches have won Stanley Cups more recently than Trotz. Could they leapfrog him? Also, if we’re considering Trotz on the strength of his career record, another coach’s resume trumps his: that of the No. 3 name on his list.
2. JON COOPER
Why he’ll be considered: The coach of the reigning Stanley Cup champs and a team that also tied an NHL record with 62 wins the season prior happens to be Canadian, so he’s an obvious top-tier candidate. Among coaches with 500 or more games, Cooper holds the second-best points percentage in NHL history at .648, trailing only Bowman’s .657. Cooper also has a lot of experience managing big stars and their egos. His Lightning teams have produced a Hart, Vezina and Norris Trophy winner over the past several seasons in Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Victor Hedman. As coach of the league’s most talent-rich roster, Cooper wouldn’t feel uncomfortable managing a team of Canadian superstars. It might feel like home for him. He’s also an extremely charismatic speaker known to enjoy the media limelight, and while every NHL coach has lots of experience dealing with the press, coaching Canada in the Olympics is next-level. Babcock’s gift of the gab suited him to the role, and Cooper matches or exceeds Babcock in that skill.
Working against him: There are more experienced candidates available. Cooper has 586 games to his name. Trotz has almost 300 more wins to his name, let alone games. The Canadian brass could decide Trotz, 58, deserves his turn in the chair before Cooper, 53. Cooper has only been part of the NHL coaching fraternity since 2013. So picking him would mean passing over the soon-to-be-third winningest coach in NHL history – and the second-winningest coach, who ranks directly below Cooper on his list.
3. JOEL QUENNEVILLE
Why he’ll be considered: If Canada picks its coach based on who is “due,” Quenneville is the pick, period. He’s the most successful coach of his generation, joining Scotty Bowman as the only two coaches to win three Stanley Cups in the past 34 seasons, and Quenneville’s 930 victories place him comfortably second in NHL history behind Bowman. Quenneville undoubtedly would’ve been the hire in 2018 had the NHL sent players to the Olympics, so if there’s any sense among the Hockey Canada brass that one of the greatest coaches of all-time is “owed” this opportunity, it’ll go to ‘Coach Q.’
Working against him: If Canada picks its coach based on recent success, Quenneville is out. In his past four completed seasons, he’s coached four playoff games and four play-in games. He hasn’t won a playoff series since 2015. Armstrong also made it clear that “youth will be served” on the next Canada roster during his presser, and while we can interpret that to mean the player selections will skew young, Armstrong indicated Wednesday he wants a coach who can communicate with a young group. Would that make the grizzled Quenneville, 62, less of a fit?
4. CRAIG BERUBE
Why he’ll be considered: Berube checks the “recent success” box, having guided the St. Louis Blues to their first Stanley Cup in 2019. Berube also holds an advantage no other candidate has: his GM in St. Louis is Armstrong. Berube is therefore all but guaranteed to get a long look. The franchise connections tend to matter with these hirings. Steve Yzerman picked his then-Detroit colleague Babcock to coach Canada in 2010, after all, when Yzerman was the Red Wings’ vice-president of hockey operations.
Working against him: Berube has coached 305 games in the NHL, so he’s the least experienced of the major Canada candidates. He also coaches a well-rounded, physical Blues team that plays with a lot of structure. Would his style fit a Canadian team bursting with speed and talent? If Canada wants a system/structure coach, Trotz brings the same attributes as Berube but with far more experience, so it’s difficult to imagine Berube getting the nod over Trotz, specifically. Berube feels like a lock for an assistant-coach gig at worst, however.
5. BRUCE CASSIDY
Why he’ll be considered: The Boston Bruins have been the team everyone wants to play like, among the most dominant in the league at both ends of the ice in the regular season, since Cassidy took over in 2017. They overwhelm opponents with their offense, regularly ice an elite power play and play lockdown defense to boot. Cassidy holds a .686 points percentage as Boston’s coach. Since he guides a team loaded with top-end talent that plays a responsible 200-foot game, he could be an ideal fit, strategically, for what Armstrong wants to build.
Working against him: Cassidy is the only top-end candidate without a Stanley Cup ring and, like Berube, has fewer than 400 games coached. With the championship and Armstrong connection, Berube appears to hold some tiebreakers over Cassidy. But with Canada not choosing its coach until after the NHL season, Cassidy still has a chance to catch Trotz, Berube and Cassidy in career Cup rings.