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April 17, 2015

A few potential candidates to replace Craig Berube

Who will replace Berube behind Flyers bench?

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He did the thing. Ron Hextall fired Flyers head coach Craig Berube after the team missed the playoffs and finished with the seventh worst record in the league. At his press conference on Wednesday afternoon, there was a prevailing school of thought that maybe Hextall was waiting for another shoe to drop (i.e. a prime coaching candidate to be let go from his current job) before axing Berube.

Hextall denied that, saying the decision was “singular in itself,” and to his credit, that seems like exactly what happened. Good organizations don’t mess around with this type of stuff; either Berube is your guy and you have confidence in him, or he isn’t. Well, he clearly wasn't.

“In a nutshell, in the end I didn’t feel like he got enough out of our group collectively,” Hextall said.

Now the question turns to whom Berube’s replacement will be. There will be some pretty good coaching candidates potentially available, and the Flyers could end up in a serious competition/bidding war with other teams if only one of them is cut loose from their current job.

“In the end, you’re looking for the coach that fits your team, obviously [that] thinks the same way to some degree,” Hextall said. “In the end we’re looking for the guy who can take this group to another level not only short term, but long term.”

Hextall said that he’d like to have the next coach hired before the draft. Here are five of the top candidates:

Mike Babcock

Current Job: Head Coach, Detroit Red Wings

There was a nice little nugget buried inside Frank Seravalli’s article from a couple of days ago

Sources close to Babcock, 51, say he would like the Flyers to make an offer this summer to make him the highest-paid coach in league history, but the odds are still on him to stay with the Red Wings. Toronto will also be interested in his services. Babcock is 527-285-19-119 (.627) with a Stanley Cup and two other Stanley Cup Final appearances.

This is the white whale out on the coaching market, the guy who has orchestrated the NHL’s gold standard of consistent success over the past decade in Detroit. Like a big-time NBA free agent, it seems like Babcock is keen on at least going through the courting process this summer after the Red Wings get knocked out of the playoffs.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch has deep pockets — The Miguel Cabrera contract is an example of how the 85-year-old Little Caesars czar rolls when it comes to his sports teams — but maybe Babcock simply wants a new challenge.

Todd McLellan

Current Job: Head Coach, San Jose Sharks

Here’s another coach that has experienced consistent success with the exception of this year, which could be fortuitous timing for the Flyers. A couple of days ago, David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury-News wrote this:

Nobody should be surprised if coach Todd McLellan’s tenure behind the Sharks bench ends Wednesday.
But don’t necessarily expect a conventional firing. Signs indicate that a mutually agreed upon parting of the ways is more likely with both general manager Doug Wilson and McLellan acknowledging it is in everyone’s best interest for him to depart with one year left on his contract.

No muss, no fuss, no blood on anybody’s hands.

McLellan has a very impressive 311-163-66 record in seven seasons behind the Sharks bench, but his teams have struggled to put together sustained runs in the postseason. He's perfect for the Flyers! In all seriousness, you have to think that he’s right on top of the Flyers’ wish list alongside Babcock and also a slightly more realistic target.

Claude Julien

Current Job: Head Coach, Boston Bruins

We’ll see if Julien becomes available, as he signed a contract extension earlier this year. His job security in Beantown seems very much in the air, despite amassing a regular-season record similar to McLellan’s and also experiencing his fair share of playoff success (one Stanley Cup, another final appearance).

Bruins team president Cam Neely fired Peter Chiarelli this week said that that the next general manager will decide the coach’s fate (via NESN):

“(A decision) hasn’t fully been made,” Neely said when asked about keeping Julien for the 2015-16 season. “We met with Claude (Wednesday morning), Charlie and I, we told him we really believe that once we go through the exhaustive search for the next general manager, we will leave it up to that GM to decide what he wants do with our coaching staff. Claude certainly understood that, and that’s where we left it.”

Terry Murray

Current Job: Head Coach, Lehigh Valley Phantoms

Here’s a guy that knows the organization well, as he guided the Legion of Doom (with Hextall on the roster) to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1997. Some might argue that the Flyers need to look from outside of the organization on this hire, though. He also recently coached the Los Angeles King when Hextall was in upper management there.

As an added bonus, Murray worked with some of the Flyers’ prospects this year in the AHL, particularly defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.

Benoit Groulx

Current Job: Head Coach, Gatineau Olympiques

I always feel like these lists are better off with one dark horse candidate, a completely out-of-the-box choice. I can’t say that I’m very familiar with Groulx’s work, but Seravalli mentioned him earlier today:

One dark horse candidate is Benoit Groulx, the QMJHL's Gatineau Olympiques coach who nurtured Claude Giroux in junior hockey. The two remain close and after Groulx guided Canada to a gold medal in the World Junior championships this January in Toronto, he is likely to become an NHL head coach sooner rather than later.

Just a thought, but maybe Groulx becomes more appealing if the Flyers win the lottery? There’s a guy playing junior hockey in Erie that helped the coach and Canada win gold at the World Juniors, after all.