Troy Terry and new Anaheim coach Greg Cronin were sitting in a Colorado Starbucks when the coffee cups became stand-ins for players. Cronin moved them around the table to explain how he wants the Ducks to play.
Cronin is one of a handful of first-time NHL head coaches getting an opportunity this season after nearly four decades in various other roles, and the Ducks see it as a refreshing new start. For Terry, who had played for only one other coach as a professional, the coffee cup demonstration was a revelation.
“He’s the right guy for the job,” Terry said. “It is exciting to have a first-time head coach. I know he’ll be motivated, energized and we’ve got a young group of players that are trying to establish themselves and establish a team identity.”
Also among the first-time head coaches this season are Washington’s Sapencer Carbery, Calgary’s Ryan Huska and Columbus’s Pascal Vincent, who was a last-minute replacement when veteran Mike Babcock was forced to resign days before training camp opened. Peter Laviolette with the New York Rangers is the only new coach with prior experience running a team at the NHL level, and he brings with him a Stanley Cup-winning resume.
The Capitals, after three seasons of varying success with Laviolette, moved on to Carbery, who they envisioned as his eventual successor. Carbery previously coached their top minor league affiliate, the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears, went to Toronto for two season as an assistant with the Maple Leafs and was in demand around the NHL before Washington hired him.
“All the guys loved him,” Leafs forward Matthew Knies said. “Obviously a really good hockey mind. … Really deserving of it.”
Carbery at 41 is the league’s youngest coach. He is less than four years older than star forward Alex Ovechkin.
“He’s just going to bring in a new philosophy for us,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “A lot of things are going to change systematically, I think, and I just think that hopefully that’s going to fit us a little bit better.”
This chance has been a long time coming for Cronin, 60, after stints in college, the minors and as an NHL assistant for the Leafs and New York Islanders. He spent the past five seasons coaching the American Hockey League’s Colorado Eagles, guiding them to the playoffs four times.
“He’s someone that is hard but fair and he’ll be holding players accountable,” said Terry, a two-time All-Star who recently signed a $49 million, seven-year extension. “Having a young team, I think we need that.”
Vincent got his first NHL head coaching gig with the Blue Jackets in one of the most unusual ways possible when he was elevated from assistant in the wake of Babcock’s resignation. He was a finalist for the job when Babcock was hired and in 2021 when Brad Larsen got the job; Vincent spent the past two seasons on Larsen’s staff.
“He was the perfect choice,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said at Vincent’s introductory news conference. “He was very close to our first choice anyway.”
Vincent believes his advantage is knowing most of the players already. But don’t expect that to mean the Blue Jackets will look the same as they did under Larsen, or even Babcock.
“It’s going to look different,” Vincent said. “We’re going to tweak quite a few things.”
Huska, a player-friendly coach, replaces hard-nosed Darryl Sutter, whose dealings with players were often harsh and led to tension around the locker room.
Huska, like Vincent, was an assistant under Sutter and predecessors Geoff Ward and Bill Peters, so he too has familiarity with Flames players. Unlike Vincent and Cronin, Huska will be expected to help Calgary contend immediately.
“I love his vision for the team,” center Nazem Kadri said. “He wants to win now, which is something I can appreciate. I think he’s kind of in that new-school genre where he wants to listen to everybody’s input and ideas and kind of bring it all together.”
Exit Gerard Gallant, enter Laviolette in the Big Apple in a switch of experienced coaches with plenty of experience behind the bench. Gallant was such a grinding figure on players that Laviolette, who has mellowed and adjusted a bit in his years in the NHL, could be a breath of fresh air.
Laviolette is no teddy bear, and the early days of Rangers camp were full of his trademark skating drills. After a first-round playoff exit, captain Jacob Trouba expects and welcomes a different approach with Laviolette, who won the Cup in 2006 with Carolina and has taken two other teams to the final.
“His track record kind of speaks for itself,” Trouba said. “He’s coached for a long time in the league, and he’s had success in the league. I think he’s big on the unity and cohesiveness of the team from the conversations I’ve had with him, and I think that’s going to be great for us.”
Winning the Stanley Cup in 2019 bought Craig Berube time in St. Louis, but his seat could get warm if the Blues don’t show evidence of a turnaround after missing the playoffs. Rick Bowness faces a similar situation in Winnipeg if the Jets get off to a slow start.
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