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Yzerman May Be Looking for a Demanding Coach to Replace Blashill

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John Tortorella, ESPN
Could John Tortorella be the next coach of the Detroit Red Wings?

When an NHL team wins ugly or benefits from a lucky bounce, players often point out that style points don’t matter in this sport. It’s only about wins and losses. But that’s not necessarily true when it comes to hiring an NHL coach.

Coach style matters greatly to the players and to the general manager who must decide whether he is the right man for the job. Wins and losses didn’t cost Jeff Blashill his job. My read is Yzerman didn’t like, maybe even detested, how complacent the Red Wings looked down the stretch. Yzerman knows this team doesn’t yet have the talent to be a highly competitive NHL team. But he expects his team to push-back against adversity, to have enough pride to avoid being embarrassed, to show their claws when they are challenged.

We just didn’t see that from the Red Wings often enough, especially in the second half of the season. For whatever reason, Blashill couldn’t get this team to raise its compete level on a consistent basis. That resulted in too many embarrassing, high-scoring losses. One bad goal quickly became two or three bad goals. We saw too many games when the Red Wings played defeated long before the final horn sounded.

Those facts could influence what Yzerman is looking for in a coach. Someone who knows Yzerman well said Yzerman plans to follow Blashill, a first-rate person and strong communicator, with a coach with an edgy style. He wants someone who will be hard on the players. He’ll also want someone who holds a reputation for developing young talent.

He thinks Yzerman will consider hiring John Tortorella. Considering Tortorella and hiring are two different events. The idea of hiring a coach who keeps players on their toes seems logical. Traditionally, GMs pick a coach who seems the opposite of the departed coach  GMs want players to feel like they have to raise their level of play.

All we know for sure is Yzerman will be thorough in choosing his coach, but he is always thorough in his due diligence before he makes his decision. When Yzerman was in Tampa, Yzerman hired Guy Boucher and Jon Cooper who were both considered rising stars.

But here are some possible candidates who might be considered as Yzerman sorts out his options:

John Tortorella

Before anyone loses their mind, remember that plenty of players like playing for a taskmaster coach. They don’t like to guess what a coach is thinking. They like to know what’s expected. Through the years, I’ve interviewed several of his former players on the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets who liked playing for Tortorella. I’ve had multiple players tell me that Pittsburgh Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, who used to work for Tortorella, was actually tougher on players than “Torts.”

Tortorella is 63, but he’s an energetic 63.

The bottom line on Torts: he expects every player to make sacrifices in the name of winning. That means shot-blocking and defensive commitment. He expects his team to be hard to play against in every game it plays. No nights off.

Paul Maurice

Supposedly he’s not ready to resume his coaching career. But my hunch is if Yzerman wanted to talk to him about the job, he would listen. His wife is from Amherstburg, Ontario, just across the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit. He’s a pro’s pro when it comes to coaching. The problem in Winnipeg might have been the group of players, not Maurice. My read here is that Maurice and Yzerman would get along famously.

Lane Lambert

He’s Barry Trotz’s right-hand man on the New York Islanders. He’s a respected assistant coach who has been ready for a head coaching job for a while. Has good rapport with players. Was also on Trotz’s staff in Washington when the Capitals won the Stanley Cup in 2019. Like Trotz, he is said to be able to coach a team into playing better defensively. Another interesting fact: Lambert and Yzerman came up together on the Detroit Red Wings. He and Yzerman were buddies. But does knowing Yzerman help or hurt you? Heard that Yzerman called his former linemate Gerard Gallant after he was fired in Vegas because that’s what friends do. But as the story goes, Yzerman told him that he didn’t want to ever hire him because he didn’t want fire him. I’m sure they were laughing. But hiring friends does have drawbacks.

Derek Lalonde

He has been an assistant coach in Tampa Bay since 2018. That means he was there for the back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. Yzerman hired him. A year ago I was told that if the Red Wings fired Blashill look at Lalonde as a possible replacement. He’s already been a head coach in the East Coast Hockey League and the American Hockey League. He also coached in the United States Hockey, like Jon Cooper and Blashill. He’s 49, maybe the right age for a rebuilding team.

Jim Montgomery

Currently, he is an assistant coach with the St. Louis Blues. But don’t forget he was a rising star as head coach of the Dallas Stars when he was fired for off-ice behavior. In 2020, he acknowledged his problem with alcohol abuse. Since then, he has worked his way back into coaching as Craig Berube’s assistant. He had a winning record in his short time in Dallas and when he was a college coach at Denver. Knows the game inside-and-out. Modern approach.

Rick Tocchet

He made the Coyotes more competitive by demanding a commitment to strong defense. He commands respect because players know he played a rugged game as an NHL player. Engaging personality.

Claude Julien

He’s 62, but boasts a strong coaching pedigree. Won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins in 2011. Heavy emphasis on strong defense. Old school approach. Unforgiving when it comes to demanding strong defensive play. He has 677 NHL wins. The negative is he seems too old for a rebuilding team.

Others: Not listing someone like Pete DeBoer who is still currently head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights. But if the Golden Knights declare him the scapegoat for Vegas missing the playoffs and fire him, he could be high on Yzerman’s list.

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