For the first time in seven years, the Red Wings are looking for a new head coach.
The team announced Saturday afternoon it would not renew the contracts of head coach Jeff Blashill, nor assistants Doug Houda and Jeff Salajko. Blashill had been the second longest-tenured coach in the league, behind only Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper — the last coach hired by Detroit general manager Steve Yzerman when he was with the Lightning.
Now, Yzerman begins a new search, surely looking for another long-term solution.
We broke down some of the top potential candidates as Detroit’s search gets going.
Coaches with NHL experience
Lane Lambert, assistant coach, New York Islanders
Yzeman’s former teammate (and roommate) in Detroit, Lambert has spent the last decade as the right-hand man for Barry Trotz in Nashville, Washington and now New York. The familiarity with Detroit’s GM is interesting, but even without it, Lambert’s time learning from one of the NHL’s best coaches is invaluable and would have Lambert near the top of any prospective candidate list regardless. The Islanders went to the last two Eastern Conference finals as underdogs and pushed the Lightning to seven games last season.
“He’s extremely detailed,” Islanders forward Matt Martin said of Lambert two seasons ago. “You never go into a game not prepared.”
Travis Green, free agent
Green was let go by the Canucks in December after four-plus seasons behind the Vancouver bench, a tenure that included making it to Game 7 of the conference semis in 2020. He oversaw the arrivals of Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes in Vancouver, so he does have experience inheriting a young team still in the middle of a rebuild and getting them into the playoffs. At the same time, the Canucks 2021-22 season turned around with the arrival of Bruce Boudreau, who nearly revived Vancouver all the way back into the playoffs.
Jim Montgomery, assistant coach, St. Louis Blues
After he was fired by the Stars in 2019 for what the team called a “material act of unprofessionalism,” Montgomery returned to an NHL bench in 2020 as an assistant coach with the Blues, where he remained this season as the Blues made the playoffs once again. The Red Wings would need to vet him carefully to be sure, but Montgomery’s name figures to be in the mix for openings once again at some point.
From the AHL
Benoit Groulx, head coach, Syracuse Crunch
Groulx was hired to coach the Crunch — the Lightning’s farm team — in 2016-17, when Yzerman was still in Tampa Bay, and made the Calder Cup final in his first season. This season, Syracuse is once again set to finish near the top of the North Division.
Perhaps more importantly, though, Yzerman’s protégé in Tampa Bay, now-GM Julien BriseBois, has called the 54-year-old Groulx a “hockey genius.” That’s a big endorsement from the person who took over for Yzerman with the Lightning, and makes Groulx one of the top names to watch here.
Ryan Warsofsky, head coach, Chicago Wolves
Warsofsky coached the Wolves to the top record in the AHL this season and was an assistant on the Charlotte Checkers’ 2019 Calder Cup team that featured Alex Nedeljkovic in 2019. That’s an impressive track record for a coach who’s just 34 years old. The age is an interesting factor, as he could end up coaching a player or two who is older than him in the NHL, but it’s hard to argue with his results so far.
Mitch Love, head coach, Stockton Heat
Stockton looks poised to win the Pacific Division in Love’s first year on the job, one year after finishing last in the AHL’s Canadian Division. He spent the previous three years coaching WHL Saskatoon and has served as an assistant for Team Canada at the 2020 and 2021 World Juniors, as well as the Hlinka-Gretzky Cup previously. At 37, he’s young too, but that kind of turnaround in his first AHL season is promising, and his experience with Hockey Canada should give Detroit confidence he can work with young players.
Karl Taylor, head coach, Milwaukee Admirals
The AHL’s 2019-20 coach of the year, Taylor spent last season as a consultant for the Wolves when the Admirals opted out of the 2020-21 season. This year, he’s back behind the bench in Milwaukee and has the Admirals right back in the playoffs. One thing of note with Taylor: Milwaukee’s power play has been excellent in each of his last two seasons, clocking in at 25.2 percent in his 2019-20 season and 23.6 percent this year.
From college or junior hockey
David Carle, head coach, Denver University
Denver won the 2022 NCAA Championship, defeating two very different teams in the Frozen Four to claim the title. First, they knocked out a talent-laden Michigan team (that included four of the top five picks in the 2021 NHL draft) by taking away their offensive chances in a 3-2 win, outshooting the explosive Wolverines 33-21. Then, they hung five goals on one of the nation’s best defensive teams, Minnesota State — and its Hobey Baker winning goalie Dryden McKay — to win the national championship.
The Red Wings should be very familiar with Carle, as three Detroit prospects were on that championship-winning squad. He’s just 32 years old, but he’s already been to two Frozen Fours in four years as a head coach, plus two more as an assistant. His resume screams future NHL bench boss. The question is when.
Dennis Williams, head coach, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
In five years as head coach of the Silvertips, Williams’ team has never posted a win percentage lower than .688. That was in his first year, and Everett made it to the WHL final. They’ve won the U.S. division in four of those five years, including this season. The WHL is the highest level he’s coached at, but that’s quite the track record. At 42, would the Red Wings take a shot at bringing him straight up to the NHL?
Roger Rönnberg, head coach, Frölunda (SHL)
The Red Wings love drafting from Frölunda, the Swedish club from which Detroit has plucked Lucas Raymond, Simon Edvinsson, Elmer Söderblom and more in recent years. Could they lure away its coach, who has led the club to two Swedish championships and the European Champions League four times? NHL teams historically have not hired many coaches out of Europe. But considering how many Swedes, in particular, Detroit has drafted in recent years, the idea of bringing in a coach who speaks their native language (as well as English), could be fascinating. Before coaching Frölunda, he led Sweden to World Junior gold, and his former players speak highly of him.
“Kind of has that charm between being able to let loose around his players, but also demand a lot when it’s game time,” said Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog, who played for Rönnberg at the 2010-11 World Juniors.
Cam Abbott, head coach, Rögle (SHL)
Abbott has coached Rögle to three straight top-three finishes in the SHL, including the top record in the league this year. The club also won the European Champions League this spring. It’s been an astounding run of success for Abbott and his twin brother Chris (the club’s GM), who took over Rögle one year after the club was nearly relegated.
Among the players who have developed at Rögle under their leadership is Detroit defenseman Moritz Seider, who won the SHL’s Defenseman of the Year award in an incredible 2021 season. This season, Red Wings prospect William Wallinder was named the Swedish Junior Player of the Year in his first year with the team. So the Red Wings should be very familiar with the Abbotts. Could they make a play for both, adding Cam behind the bench and Chris to an executive position in the front office?
Rikard Grönborg, head coach, ZSC Lions (NLA)
Grönborg, who played college hockey at St. Cloud State and coached the U.S. for several years in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, spent nearly a decade coaching Sweden’s national team at various levels from U18 to U20 to the World Championship and even the Olympics. Now, he coaches Zurich in the Swiss National League, where he has the Lions set for a championship-round Game 7 on Sunday. He reportedly interviewed with the Sabres in 2021 and was the head coach of Sweden’s 2016 World Cup team — for which Red Wings Vice President of Hockey Operations Nicklas Lidstrom was an advisor.
Jukka Jalonen, head coach, Finland national team
Jalonen just seems to win. He led Finland to Olympic Gold this past spring, World Championship gold in 2019 and World Junior gold in 2016. He is soon to be 60, and Detroit’s ties to Finland aren’t nearly as strong as they are to Sweden. But he’s been so successful he merits a mention and real NHL consideration.
Sergei Fedorov, head coach, CSKA (KHL)
You want the perfect fairy tale hire? How’s this: Fedorov, in his first year as head coach of CSKA in the KHL, just won the Gagarin Cup, coming back from down 3-1 in the series. A Red Wing legend who won Stanley Cups alongside Yzerman and Lidstrom back in the day, you can bet his former teammates are aware.
There are, of course, complications. Despite his status as a Hall of Famer and one of the greatest Red Wings ever, Fedorov’s number still has not been retired by the franchise, with lingering wounds still obvious dating back to Fedorov signing an offer sheet with the Hurricanes and leaving for Anaheim. If ownership won’t retire his number, would they bring him back as head coach?
Still, Yzerman’s front office includes many of his former teammates, and bringing back one of the greatest, coming off a championship, would be one hell of a next chapter. Will it happen?
Igor Larionov, head coach, Russia
Larionov has been on the mind of Red Wings fans since his foray into coaching on the international scene, including coaching Russia’s 2021 World Junior team. Russia came up short in the Bronze Medal game that year, but his history as a player (he was nicknamed “The Professor”) and the coaching philosophy he has articulated in interviews have made him a popular suggestion among fans.
But if Larionov ever does return to Detroit, it doesn’t look likely right now. Russian outlet Sport-Express reported Larionov will be the new head coach of KHL club Torpedo.
(Photo of Benoit Groulx, right: Rick Madonik / Toronto Star via Getty Images
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