If there's anything we know about NHL hiring practices, it's that they can be predictable. Since 2005-06, there have been 171 head-coaching changes in the NHL -- more than the NFL, NBA or MLB. However, 101 of the 171 new hires had previous head-coaching experience, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That 59.1% rate of "retreads" is also the highest among the other three major men's professional sports leagues in North America.
So with three coaching vacancies already open this cycle -- the Arizona Coyotes, Columbus Blue Jackets and Seattle Kraken -- it's easy to guess who will get first looks. John Tortorella (who recently parted with Columbus after six years), Rick Tocchet (done in Arizona after four years) and Gerard Gallant (who took the NHL season off after being dismissed by Vegas in 2020) are going to be hot names. But other than them, who is next? And how about in management?
ESPN polled 22 people in and around the NHL -- agents, front-office executives, league officials -- and asked these very questions: Who is next up? Who is an up-and-comer? And who would you like to see considered for these roles? Here are the results.
Note: Candidates are presented alphabetically within each tier.
The next wave of coaches
Rikard Gronborg, ZCS Lions head coach
Though he is coaching in Switzerland now, the 52-year-old Gronborg is best known as being the longtime head coach of the Swedish national team. A few years ago, Gronborg's agent, Neil Glasberg, brought the coach to North America to introduce him to NHL teams. Gronborg got great feedback, but ultimately NHL teams just haven't been willing to step out of their comfort zone and hire non-North American born coaches, despite the fact that European players now comprise 30% of NHL rosters.
Though he is Swedish, Gronborg played college hockey at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, and he is married to an American.
"Gronberg has coached almost every big-time Swedish player in the league right now and he has some big-time supporters," Glasberg told ESPN last year. "Nicklas Lidstrom in Detroit, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson. The Sedins. They're all Gronborg supporters."
Lane Lambert, New York Islanders assistant coach
Lambert, 56, has been on Barry Trotz's staff in Nashville, Washington and now New York. He is known for getting the most out of his players, and was credited with the offensive breakouts of Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson before the Caps' Stanley Cup run. Lambert has been on NHL teams' radar for a while. He was a candidate for the Colorado Avalanche job in 2016 (which went to Jared Bednar) and the Anaheim Ducks' head-coaching vacancy in 2019 (Dallas Eakins).
Trotz has said Lambert is "long overdue" for a NHL head-coaching role. Detroit could be a landing spot for the former Red Wings player.