June 22, 2024

What’s all the rumours, news, and storylines out of the geographical centre of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba, as the Jets hunt for a head coach intensifies.

The Jets had a strong 2023-24 regular season and were hopeful for a longer 2024 Stanley Cup playoff run, rather than bowing out in the first round to the Colorado Avalanche in five games.

Therefore, the pressure for continuing the club’s success and even improving on it will be there for the new leader of the coaching staff.

2023-24 Winnipeg Jets Head Coach Rick Bowness Calls It a Career

Along with some free agency tasks, the biggest thing for the Jets is to find a new head coach. Rick Bowness had a terrific career in the NHL, and right up until the 2023-24, but it was time to move on. His head coaching career had begun way back in 1988-89, as a 34-year-old. Of course he was behind the bench with none other than, the Winnipeg Jets. Over 800 NHL games later, including five post-season appearances, and it was time to call it quits. Now the job is on General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff to find a new bench boss for his club.

They have plenty of options, as ten NHL Head Coaches were relieved of their duties since October 2023. Conversely, that also means that there is plenty of competition on the market. Teams like the Ottawa Senators in Travis Green and the Buffalo Sabres in Lindy Ruff have already found their guy. Moreover, there are plenty of teams still searching, like the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New Jersey Devils.

The Lead Candidates in Winnipeg Jets Head Coaching Rumours

One advantage that Cheveldayoff has over some other clubs, is a lead candidate not really on any other club’s radar. Scott Arniel has been in professional hockey, either as a player or coach since the early 1980s. Furthermore, he has been through the ranks, and once upon a time, thought to be in line for the Vancouver Canucks lead role. In the late 2000s, he was the head coach of the Canucks AHL affiliate for four seasons, which included a Calder Cup finals appearance. Therefore, he was deserving of an NHL gig, and it resulted in him coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets for parts of two seasons. He has been currently working as the Jets Associate Coach on Bowness’ staff.

Evason, Berube, and Nelson All on Cheveldayoff’s Radar

There are other leading candidates in rumours for the Winnipeg Jets vacant head coach position. Dean Evason’s name has come up, and was thought to be close to the Sens job. He was coach of the Minnesota Wild for parts of five seasons. That was with an impressive .639 win% before being let go earlier this season. Next man on deck was Craig Berube who apparently met with Cheveldayoff earlier this week via zoom. Berube has been a top candidate for a few roles, including the Leafs, so the competition might be high for his services. However, one draw the Jets have for Berube is a strong defensive team, led by goaltender Connor Hellebuyck. Berube has a proven track record with defensive teams, most notably the 2019 Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues squad. Finally, Elliotte Friedman offered one more off-the-map candidate, Todd Nelson.

Another Former NHL Player Head Coach Candidate with Not Much NHL Head Coach Experience

Perhaps akin to Reggie Dunlop, but there is a trend of former players being top coaching candidates. Nelson was a head coach previously, albeit briefly.

In 2014-15, he took over for Dallas Eakins as the Oilers head coach. Todd Nelson has been an AHL or NHL assistant or head coach since 2006. Also, he is reigning Calder Cup champ as head coach of the Hershey Bears. The interesting part, is that Cheveldayoff has always been a believer in people with a strong record in the AHL.

Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches - The Globe  and Mail

In any case, these appear to be the top candidates for the Winnipeg Jets head coach job from the swirling rumours. It does make sense for clubs like the Jets to make a decision sooner rather than later, before more candidates are lost to new positions.

Main photo credit: James Carey Lauder – USA TODAY Sports

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