The Seattle Kraken have officially become the NHL’s 32nd franchise, and are set to begin play in the 2021-22 NHL season beginning this October. Ownership has done a fantastic job of promoting the team and putting pieces in place, including hiring Ron Francis as the club’s first general manager. Before what is shaping up to be a busy summer with the NHL Entry Draft and the NHL Expansion Draft, the Kraken need to address one key area: the vacant head coaching position. With plenty of veterans and newbies alike to choose from, the Kraken will have their pick of the bunch. Here’s some of the key names in the running for the first coach in Kraken franchise history.
Consider these names the top candidates for the job, coaches who most analysts have pegged as the most likely to fill the position since it became open. The coaches here make the most sense for the job.
The most mentioned name for every coaching vacancy this season, Bruce Boudreau is the undisputed frontrunner to be the first head coach of the Kraken. That said, he’s also the frontrunner for the other vacant head coaching jobs, including with the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets… you get the picture.
Boudreau’s track record in the NHL is one of immense success. As coach of the Washington Capitals, Anaheim Ducks, and Minnesota Wild, Boudreau made the playoffs in 10 of his 13 seasons as a head coach, recording four different 50 win seasons and winning the Jack Adams Award in 2008 as the NHL’s best coach.
Haven’t we been here before? I’m getting serious déjà vu. Gallant was the first coach in franchise history for the last expansion team to come into the NHL back in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights. Abruptly fired in January 2020 despite a 118-75-20 record, Gallant led the Golden Knights to two playoff appearances, plus a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 in the team’s inaugural season.
Gallant has a 270-216-56 record as coach of the Blue Jackets, Florida Panthers, and Golden Knights, and is still under contract in Vegas, so permission will be needed to conduct interviews with him, although some teams already have. Gallant is currently coaching Team Canada at the World Championship right now, so you bet GMs are watching.
Claude Julien hasn’t been out of a job that long; he was fired 18 games into the 2020-21 season after opening the season with a 9-5-4 record. Julien won the Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011, and has coached the Montreal Canadiens two separate times, including most recently.
Julien is among career leaders in games coached (1274) and wins (667) all-time in the NHL.
I’m going to be honest, when I saw the New York Rangers had decided to part ways with David Quinn, I was surprised, and I would be even more surprised if the Kraken didn’t at least interview him for the gig.
In three seasons with the rebuilding Rangers, Quinn made the playoffs once and led the Rangers to a winning record in an extremely tough and tight East Division this season. He was fired as part of an organizational cleaning that led to Chris Drury taking over as president and GM.
The Secondary Choices
These names are some that might have gone under the radar of some analysts for this position, but are more than qualified to take the reins as head coach of the expansion Kraken. These are the secondary choices if the big names don’t work out.
Formerly the head coach of the New York Islanders, Jack Capuano has spent the past two seasons as an assistant coach with the Ottawa Senators. He is currently leading the United States at the World Championship right now.
Mike Yeo has’t been a head coach in a few seasons, but spent most of his career in that very position. He has a 246-181-55 record as the bench boss with the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues, and is currently in his second season as an assistant with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He was fired from the Blues during the 2018-19 season, wherein interim head coach Craig Berube led them to a Stanley Cup later that season.
Rick Tocchet just agreed to mutually part ways with the Arizona Coyotes after this season, where he had spent four seasons as head coach. During his time there, Tocchet managed a 125-131-34 record, and one playoff appearance last season. He formerly had success as an assistant coach in the Pittsburgh Penguins organization.
Bob Hartley has been out the NHL ranks for a number of years now, spending the last three seasons away from the league after being fired by the Calgary Flames. He has 13 seasons of NHL experience, however, so he is no stranger. He just won the KHL Championship in Russia this season, where he has spent the last three years coaching.
The Dark Horse Candidates
These are the names people are afraid to say, lest they need to defend themselves against popular opinion. These coaches either have some polarizing aspect about them, are known hard-asses, or are coaches Kraken fans aren’t hoping to have to root for.
John Tortorella is the most polarizing choice for head coach, by far (or is he?). He is demanding, vocal, sometimes viewed as unfair, and has a contentious relationship with his star players. Just see Pierre-Luc Dubois and Patrik Laine from this season.
In 16 seasons, Torts has made the playoffs 11 times, and won the Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning back in 2004. The 62-year-old has won the Jack Adams Award twice, and helped the Columbus Blue Jackets to their most successful stretch in franchise history over the past six seasons, making the playoffs four times and recording the team’s first playoff series win, over the President’s Trophy-winning Lightning in the 2018-19 season, no less.
Patrick Roy is best known as a Hockey-Hall-of-Famer and one of the best goalies to ever lace up the pads, but he also has experience as a head coach, too. If you hadn’t watched the NHL for more than five years, though, you wouldn’t even know it.
Roy last coached the Avalanche in 2016, and spent three seasons there, finishing above .500 each season. He is currently coach and GM of the Québec Remparts in the QMJHL.
I debated even including Mike Babcock in this article, but simply based on the fact that I have seen his name floated around in credible hockey news outlets, I elected to throw him in for good measure.
Babcock has taken to the NBCSN hockey broadcasts as part of his redemption tour, and has also reportedly taken a coaching job at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada’s U SPORTS university hockey system. Babcock had a controversial departure from the Toronto Maple Leafs organization following reports of poor treatment of players, but he is still ninth all-time among NHL coaches in wins, with 700.
Whoever the Kraken end up hiring for their first head coach in franchise history will have a major impact on the direction of the inaugural season, and they will certainly hope to replicate the success the Golden Knights had in their first season in the NHL. GM Ron Francis still has a lot of work to do, but making the right choice will be a huge step in the right direction, and a huge weight off his shoulders.
- Ron Francis image from The Athletic