The Peter Laviolette era in Nashville is over, and now the search for a replacement begins in haste.
Or maybe it doesn't — Predators brass reportedly haven't shown any urgency in even naming an interim successor to Laviolette even though we're in the thick of the season.
No interim coach has been named. As for who will coach the Predators tomorrow, it’s “TBA,” I’m told.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 6, 2020
Regardless, the Preds will eventually need to find a new bench boss, and plenty of experienced coaches are currently out of work. Nashville heads into Tuesday's matchup with the visiting Boston Bruins sporting a 19-15-7 record (45 points), four points and three spots out of the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
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Whomever comes in will have just half a season to try to get the team back into the playoffs. Nashville has made the postseason in each of the previous five seasons, so the fan base has grown accustomed to watching hockey in late springtime and will be expecting more of the same in a few months.
Predators coaching candidates
Babcock owns the highest profile of the available coaches — he spent the last several years being the highest paid bench boss in the NHL prior to his Nov. 20 firing by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Babcock currently finds himself out of a head coaching position for the first time in over 17 years, and his success in Detroit and Toronto make him a prime candidate whenever any team in the league parts ways with its coach.
However, Babcock could just be content allowing the Leafs to continue to pay him, and his stock has definitely dropped after he struggled to get the best out of an offensively stacked Leafs team this season. There is also the small issue of several former Red Wings speaking out against his coaching style and alleged mistreatment of certain players — along with Babcock's controversial choice in 2016-17 to make then-rookie Mitch Marner publicly rank his teammates' work ethic — which could scare away any potential suitors for now.
Timing is everything, and the Predators job just so happened to open up a little over 24 hours after Hunter led Canada to its 18th gold medal in the World Junior Championship.
Under Hunter, Canada showed tremendous growth — overcoming its worst-ever loss in the tournament to reach the top of the podium in the span of little over a week — and the 59-year-old's stock is as high as its ever been.
Hunter's pedigree as a junior coach is stellar — he's helped build the London Knights into an OHL powerhouse over the last two decades — and he's shown a willingness to step up into the NHL coaching ranks when the opportunity presents itself. Unfortunately for Hunter, his coaching record in the NHL leaves something to be desired as he's got less than one season as a big-league bench boss under his belt. If there was ever a time for him to take another swing at leading a pro club, it's now.
Similarly to Laviolette, DeBoer is unemployed after an overall strong run with a Western Conference club. The San Jose Sharks made the playoffs in each of DeBoer's first four seasons in charge, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, but this season saw the team struggle prior to his Dec. 11 firing.
Regardless of how the Sharks fared to open the current campaign, the fact remains that DeBoer has enjoyed recent success as an NHL coach and is one of the most obvious names to take over at any club that needs a change.
However, DeBoer himself poured water on any rumors linking him to the Preds almost immediately after Laviolette's firing was made known. He told The Athletic on Monday that there has been "no contact" between him and the club.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 6, 2020
Another name that immediately made the rounds following the Predators' announcement, Hynes has been unemployed for just over a month after the New Jersey Devils let him go in the wake of a horrid 9-13-4 start to the season. It isn't all Hynes' fault — the Devils have been sub-.500 since his departure and still sit second-last in the entire NHL — but his recent record doesn't suggest he's someone that can turn around a team with playoff ambitions.
Add in the fact that the Devils only made the postseason once during his four full seasons at the helm in Newark, and Hynes' name may not be the most inspiring one for Nashville fans.
However, Hynes has a connection to Preds assistant GM Jeff Kealty, with whom he played college hockey, as pointed out by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on Monday.
It's been a while since MacTavish coached in the NHL — his last full season in charge of a team at this level was 2008-09, although he named himself interim head coach of the Edmonton Oilers for five games during the 2014-15 campaign.
He hasn't been out of the game, though. As noted, MacTavish was able to give himself interim coaching duties in the middle of the last decade because he was also the Oilers' general manager at the time. He's since returned to coaching, although he lasted just eight games in charge of KHL team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl prior to being fired from that post in September.
The year didn't end poorly for MacTavish, though. He helmed Canada's gold medal-winning Spengler Cup team to close the decade, and would surely be eager to get back into the coaching game in North America.
Would MacTavish be open to taking a job outside the Oilers organization, where he spent much of his playing career and the overwhelming majority of his post-playing days?