Winnipeg Jets’ Barry Trotz alternate options: 9 remaining head coach candidates

Barry Trotz’s decision to take the year off from coaching leaves Winnipeg without its No. 1 target and with the same gaping organizational hole it had when it let Dave Lowry go in May.

Trotz’s news follows reports that Pierre-Luc Dubois intends to test the UFA market in 2024 and Blake Wheeler is more open to a trade than he’s been in the past, giving Winnipeg a “sky is falling” feeling and a sense that the Jets’ immediate future is in doubt.

Instead of competing for the playoffs and — ideally — the Stanley Cup while Dubois, Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Connor Hellebuyck are all under team control, Winnipeg is searching for alternatives as it begins its coaching search in earnest.

The Jets were all-in on Trotz — as they should have been, given his abilities and renown — while exploring alternatives in only the most preliminary of ways. Winnipeg will be disappointed to miss out on Trotz but has the opportunity to broaden its scope as it pivots toward a new top coaching candidate.

The Jets’ next head coach, whether established or emerging, will be the first major indication of their direction for the next several seasons. Hire an up-and-coming coach with a strong resume like Jim Montgomery and Winnipeg will signal an intention to win now, just as was the plan when Trotz was the top target. Choose an up-and-comer without NHL head coaching experience like Pascal Vincent and Winnipeg will signal a rebuild, resetting its sights past Scheifele and Wheeler and toward what’s left of Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers’ primes.

Winnipeg’s next move likely comes from principles long-held by Jets ownership. Stability and continuity will be priorities, given Mark Chipman’s belief that success is predicated on trust which, in turn, depends on long-term relationships.

There is also the matter of previous Jets ties.

“In 25 years, all but two coaches in our organization have moved on and moved up,” Chipman told The Athletic last fall. “And there’s a sense of pride we take in that, frankly. And in the case of Claude (Noel), I thought he did a very good job in a difficult situation, transitioning that team. But from the day we started, whether it’s Randy (Gilhen) or Scott (Arniel) or Alain Vigneault or Pascal Vincent or Todd Woodcroft, we like the fact that coaches here have succeeded.”

It’s no surprise, then, that a search for Winnipeg’s next head coach begins with a look through Jets history.

But the options go well beyond NHL retreads with Jets ties. In some cases, there are coaches with a little bit of experience looking for their next big opportunity — Montgomery, Rick Tocchet and Andrew Brunette, to name a few.

And of course, there are the usual suspects — especially those up-and-comers like Vincent and Scott Arniel who have already coached for True North.

Today, we break down some of the top candidates as Winnipeg’s coaching search moves into the post-Trotz era.

Jim Montgomery is still a strong candidate to be the Jets’ head coach. We’ve reported that Montgomery remained a viable secondary option throughout the height of #TrotzWatch. The one thing I won’t say is that Montgomery is a slam-dunk choice in the same way that Trotz would have been.

Montgomery has NCAA and USHL championships, an NCAA coach of the year award and a reputation as an up-and-coming, strategically modern head coach. Montgomery’s Dallas Stars outperformed his predecessor’s version (although, when he was fired midseason by the Stars for “unprofessional conduct,” Dallas went on to the Stanley Cup Final.) There’s a possibility that not everyone in Winnipeg views Montgomery as the guy based on his NHL resume thus far. While I believe he is a front-runner, I also believe that Trotz’s decision is more likely to leave Winnipeg taking stock and re-evaluating right now than moving straight on to its No. 2 choice.

Scott Arniel is a near-lock to be part of the next Jets staff, likely in the role of associate coach. With Trotz out of the picture, it’s possible Arniel gets an even bigger role. The former IHL Moose and NHL Jets player has already coached twice for True North, most recently as head coach of the 2009-10 AHL Moose. His performance as an AHL coach was strong enough to kickstart his NHL coaching career, first in a disappointing stint as head coach of the Blue Jackets and then a series of playoff seasons as an assistant in New York and Washington. Arniel narrowly missed the Capitals’ 2018 Cup win under Trotz but made it to the final under Alain Vigneault in New York.

Alain Vigneault led the Sedin-era Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 and won a ton of regular season games with Vancouver. Back-to-back first-round exits saw him let go and picked up by the Rangers, where he lost in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final with Arniel on his staff. His track record shows a lot of wins and a lot of playoff appearances but his past two seasons in Philadelphia were brutal, culminating in a 25-46-0 record and a dismissal this season. I wonder if Vigneault would be a better fit in a market with more obvious roster stability — Winnipeg is caught between trying to extend its window and perhaps retooling for a post-Wheeler, Dubois and Scheifele era. Still, his track record involves a lot of wins and a lot of wins alongside Arniel, too.

Andrew Brunette would provide the most fun storyline to the Jets head coaching job. Brunette took over the Panthers after Joel Quenneville’s departure in the wake of the Chicago Blackhawks scandal, guiding Florida to the Presidents’ Trophy and a playoff series win. Under ordinary circumstances, those accomplishments would represent the beginning of a successful head coaching career but Florida hired former Jets coach Paul Maurice instead of removing the interim label from Brunette’s title. If Winnipeg can persuade him to take over the Jets, Brunette would be as motivated as it gets — not only to establish himself as a full-time NHL head coach but also to prove he’s at least as good as any of the veterans Florida pursued in his place.

As an analytics enthusiast, swapping Brunette for Maurice would also allow the most scientifically minded approach to comparing coaching impacts that I can ever remember seeing. As an exciting hockey enthusiast, the idea of Winnipeg modernizing its game toward Florida’s transition-heavy, offensively creative style also holds great appeal.

Pascal Vincent is a thoughtful, intelligent coach who left Manitoba for an NHL job as an assistant in Columbus. Vincent has already coached several current Jets, including Connor, Mason Appleton and Jansen Harkins — plus prospects like Cole Perfetti, Ville Heinola, David Gustafsson, Dylan Samberg, Johnathan Kovacevic, Declan Chisholm and more. He is still held in high esteem by True North and, while I think dropping Vincent into a veteran-heavy room marred by conflict would be difficult, Vincent becomes a better option in a future-thinking environment. Call it a rebuild, a retool or any semantic name that you like: if Wheeler is traded and Winnipeg puts its focus on its next wave of players, Vincent is a candidate to coach them.

Rick Tocchet is a free agent after six seasons as a head coach split between Tampa Bay and Arizona. Jeff Marek of Sportsnet reported that the Jets reached out to Tocchet as part of their initial coaching search; if that conversation went well, then one imagines they reapproach Tocchet. The 440-goal NHL scorer hasn’t had a lot to work with in past head coaching gigs: The 2008-09 Lightning team he took over finished 29th out of 30 teams, drafting Victor Hedman at No. 2, while Arizona won one playoff round in Tocchet’s four seasons before he parted ways with the team last offseason. Perhaps he can do more with more in Winnipeg; Arizona has been a challenging situation for a number of seasons.

Kirk Muller (Jerome Miron / USA Today)

Kirk Muller has made the coaching rumour mill rounds and his success as an associate coach in Calgary would hold appeal. The Flames’ improvement from 55 points in 56 games in 2021 to 111 points and a plus-85 goal differential this season was dramatic; indeed, it’s what the most optimistic Jets fans will hope for in Winnipeg. Muller’s Hurricanes missed the playoffs three straight times in his single NHL head coaching gig between 2011 and 2014.

Randy Carlyle is a veteran, old-school coach with a Stanley Cup on his resume. I’ve been told that there are aspects of bench management where Carlyle excels and one could certainly imagine someone with Jets ties, previous coaching experience for True North and a reputation for being tough but fair being an appealing candidate to some people in Winnipeg. That said, even Carlyle’s biggest supporters tend to discuss him as an ideal coach for previous generations. It’s hard to see what a 66-year-old coach last employed by Anaheim in 2019 can offer the Jets here and now.

As I wrote in May:

Carlyle spent five years in various capacities for the IHL Manitoba Moose, doing double duty as head coach and GM for his final four seasons. His Moose teams included Moose assistant coach Eric Dubois, Jets director of player development Jimmy Roy and Capitals assistant coach Scott Arniel — who I also expect to be part of Winnipeg’s coaching search.

From an analytical perspective, Carlyle’s teams have traditionally been low event, meaning his impact on five-on-five play has tended to reduce chances at both ends of the ice. This is similar to Paul Maurice’s impact on the Jets over the years — although Micah McCurdy’s coaching models suggest Maurice’s impact was ever so slightly above average on the whole. Carlyle’s teams generally got out-chanced, relative to expectations based on roster quality.

David Quinn was a largely successful NCAA coach for Boston University, going as far as the NCAA championship game in 2015 where he lost to Brandon Tanev’s Providence Friars (Jets fans may be interested to know that Tanev scored the championship-winning goal.) Quinn took over the Rangers bench for three seasons starting 2018-19, making the playoffs twice but failing to win a playoff round. Neal Pionk’s sophomore season was Quinn’s first as New York’s coach; research into how Pionk improved so much in Winnipeg seemed to show the Rangers’ defence was a mess in 2018-19 but New York made the playoffs the following season.

(Photo of Jim Montgomery: Patrick Gorski / Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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