Todd McLellan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
Two of the three North American entries have their coaches for the World Cup of Hockey in 2016. What about Canada?
The North American Youngstars have their coach for next September's World Cup of Hockey. On Friday, the team's management unveiled Todd McLellan as its choice.
And yes, with McLellan's Edmonton Oilers off to an 0-4-0 start, social media snickering ensued. Here was the bench boss tasked with guiding promising young talents Connor McDavid and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to success in the NHL, and the team has fallen flat on its face so far. Now, McLellan will attempt to lead…McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins, among others, to success at the 2016 World Cup. The North American Youngstars squad will feature only players who have not turned 24 by Sept. 1, 2016. Joining McDavid and 'The Nuge' should be Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Nathan MacKinnon, Aaron Ekblad and many other thrilling talents. So why hand the reins to McLellan?
For one, hockey's social media community and the Edmonton Oilers fan base need to calm down. Sure, 0-4-0 is disastrous, but that doesn't morph McLellan into a bad coach overnight. He did a fine job for many years as the San Jose Sharks' coach and molded many a young mind, from Logan Couture's to Marc-Edouard Vlasic's. McLellan will be fine, and he's a perfectly solid choice to guide the Youngstars. If you're curious as to how the team will shake out, I took a crack at a projected roster last winter. Not much has changed, though Connor Hellebuyck has vaulted into the goaltending mix ahead of Zach Fucale. Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Mark Scheifele sure look like strong bets to make it as forwards right now, too.
Team USA named John Tortorella World Cup coach last month. The Eurostars squad chose Ralph Krueger. Oleg Znarok will coach Russia, Lauri Marjamaki Finland and Rikard Gronborg Sweden. Teams still without coaches: the Czech Republic and…Canada. Who deserves the gig in the Great White North this time around? Here are the contenders.
It's the easy and obvious choice. Babcock led Canada to consecutive gold medals at the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games. Before that, he won gold at the 2004 worlds. Add in his 2008 Stanley Cup with Detroit and that makes him the lone coach in the Triple Gold Club. He helmed Canada to world junior gold in 1997 to boot.
It's not a matter of whether the Canada brain trust, led by GM Doug Armstrong and Marc Bergevin, Rob Blake, Ken Holland, Bob Murray and Scott Salmond, believes Babcock is the best choice. Of course he is. No one can touch his international resume. It's a matter of whether Babcock wants the gig. He has little left to accomplish, he's just embarked on an eight-year journey in hockey's pressure cooker city, and he may want some time to lie down with cucumbers on his eyelids next off-season. If Armstrong still doesn't plan to name Canada's coach until the New Year, we'll see how interested Babcock is in the gig after half a season of "pain," as he prophesied it, coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It's a two-horse race for the unofficial title of NHL's best coach between Babcock and Quenneville. We even selected it as one of our heated debates for our upcoming Versus Issue, due on newsstands next week, in which our writers go head to head on many polarizing topics.
Naturally, then, if we agree they're the game's top troop commanders, they're the best Canada candidates. Quenneville's NHL body of work trumps Babcock's by a landslide. Quenneville has three Stanley Cups to Babcock's one, and Quenneville ranks third on the NHL's all-time wins list with 756. He'll soon pass the late Al Arbour (782) for second. It takes a larger-than-life coach to shepherd a star-studded squad like Canada, and while Babcock was perfectly suited to that job, Quenneville can handle it, too, as he has Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane in Chicago.
And it's not that Quenneville hasn't succeeded behind Canada's bench. He just hasn't had a chance. He was actually slated to coach Canada's 2004 World Championship team but had to pull out due to a health emergency, opening the door for Babcock to take over. Quenneville is a U.S. citizen, but he's Canadian born and bred, and the U.S. squad has a coach anyway. We also know Quenneville is interested in the job. He told reporters in September "it would be a great honor" to coach Canada.
He was an assistant coach on Canada's 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 Olympic squads, plus the 2004 World Cup squads, amassing four gold medals in those five tourneys. If we think of Canada like a franchise, and Babcock steps down, it makes a lot of sense to "promote from within." Armstrong is Hitch's GM in St. Louis, too, so there's a natural connection there. Uh, unless this is Hitchcock's last year coaching the Blues. That could make for an awkward World Cup.
Can't mention Hitchcock without a nod to Ruff, Canada's assistant at the past two Olympic tourneys. Ruff has coached two World Championship teams, too. A fine, safe choice.
Julien was head coach at the 2000 world juniors, an assistant at the 2006 World Championship and an assistant at the 2014 Sochi Games. It would be a breathe of fresh air to see a Francophone head coach for Canada. The same logic applies to Bob Hartley, who is Ontario-born but speaks french as his first language. He's never gotten a shot with Canada on the international stage. Alain Vigneault deserves a chance, too.
His NHL experience doesn't compare to that of the other candidates, but the Canadian-American Cooper's brash, confident personality as a former lawyer makes him capable of coaching a star-laden team. He flourished under the spotlight of the national media when he guided the Tampa Bay Lightning to last season's Stanley Cup final.
Trotz is a four-time World Championship assistant. He probably needs some international head coaching experience to warrant Team Canada consideration, but it would be a nice surprise to see such an experienced and respected coach get the reins. "Barry, we know you did a lot with a little for years in Nashville," Armstrong could say, "so it's about time someone asks you to do a little with a lot."
The list of candidates is huge. Who else would you like to see behind Canada's bench next September? Paul Maurice? Darryl Sutter? Michel Therrien? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin