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April 21, 2015

Plenty of candidates available, but Flyers should turn to Detroit for next coach

Opinion Al Morganti
042115_Blashill_AP Carlos Osorio/AP

Then-assistant coach Jeff Blashill, left, looks over notes with head coach Mike Babcock during the third period of a game against the Nashville Predators in 2012.

The Flyers are now involved in the NHL’s game of musical chairs of coaching changes. Since firing Craig Berube, the Flyers have been linked with several candidates, some of whom whose teams are still alive in the playoffs.

General manager Ron Hextall has said that he wants a coach in place by the NHL Draft in June, but the Flyers really don’t have the luxury of waiting that long. At the top of the list are BIG names -- Mike Babcock of the Red Wings, Claude Julien, still with the Boston Bruins, and Todd McClellan, recently divorced by the San Jose Sharks.

This is a very big decision for Hextall, who stumbled in his awkward firing of Berube. There really was no need to take an extra day or two to announce Berube was gone. But for whatever reason, Hextall delayed the decision, and what should have been a clean break turned into a messy exit.

If Hextall wanted to send a message that he is thorough, he should have quickly dispatched Berube and spent the time connecting the dots on what could be a truly hazardous road to hiring the next coach.

Perhaps more than at any other time in league history, the NHL has or will have a merry-go-round of tantalizing choices – and they aren’t all a matter of rounding up the usual suspects.

Time and again, the Red Wings have ben beset with injuries to star players, and time and again they have been able to dip into their farm system and bring up players who turn into productive NHL players with a pedigree of winning.

There is the old guard of names, and we should all hope that Hextall has the sense to stay away from the been-there, done-that possibility of Mike Keenan, who is literally coaching in Siberia, and certainly John Tortorella, who would be a bundle of excitement, but not the best choice for a franchise finding its feet.

There is also a chance that Ken Hitchcock will be shown the door in St. Louis if the Blues don’t survive at least two rounds in the playoffs, and they are currently trailing in their first-round series with Minnesota.

Well-regarded Arizona coach Dave Tippett is another possibility, and you can also throw former Devils coach Peter DeBoer into the fray, and given the way he coached that team through their recent misfortunes, he should be garnering even more attention.

The hope here?

Well, here’s hoping that the Detroit Red Wings get knocked out early … and Babcock is given the pile of cash he wants ... to stay in Michigan. In that scenario, the Flyers would likely be able to get Jeff Blashill, the Red Wings’ AHL coach in Grand Rapids, where he has developed much of the talent in the Wings’ system.

After that, the choices of the already available would be DeBoer and McClellan, but it would be worth the wait to see if Tippett could be a choice.

The reason I would choose Blashill over the other three is that the Flyers have a well-regarded group of young players in their system, and Blashill has a track record of bringing the best out of such players. Time and again, the Red Wings have ben beset with injuries to star players, and time and again they have been able to dip into their farm system and bring up players who turn into productive NHL players with a pedigree of winning.

Alas, the more likely situation is that Babcock leaves Detroit and the Flyers will have to get involved in an auction for his services with several teams, including Boston, Toronto, San Jose, Buffalo and – get this – Edmonton.

You might scoff at Edmonton and Buffalo, but you must consider that the Oilers are already stacked with young first-overall picks and will soon add prodigy Connor McDavid with the first pick in the upcoming draft.

As for Buffalo, the Sabres will more than likely get the highly regarded Jack Eichel with the second pick of the draft and they also have the stash of cash of owner Terry Pegula.

There is also the allure of Toronto.

The Maple Leafs are an annual circus, but whomever goes into that city and wins a Cup becomes a national hero. The Leafs certainly have the money to ante up for Babcock, and his ego might make him take a shot at that ring.

The Flyers don’t have enough in place to make Babcock think he can turn this ship around quickly and salary cap issues make it unlikely they can find a quick fix. What the Flyers do have is money, but it would take an awful lot to have Babcock turn his back on the possibility of getting a young star like McDavid or Eichel to build upon, or turn into the legend of legends by taking the wads of cash and succeeding in Toronto.

There are certainly some long shots here, including minor league coach Mike Stothers -- a former Flyer, but more recently a member of the Los Angeles Kings organization as coach of the AHL Manchester Monarchs.

Hextall might want to stay away from ex-Flyers products -- like John Stevens who has already had his time behind the Flyers bench -- but Stothers is far enough removed to fall into the category of “just another ex-Flyer.”

There is also the possibility of Benoit Groulx, the head coach of the Gatineau Olympiques franchise of the Quebec Junior Major Hockey League. Groulx coached Team Canada to gold in the recent World Junior Championships and sooner or later will have his shot at the NHL.

Lastly, there is the intriguing name of Marc Crawford, the feisty former Stanley Cup-winning coach of the Colorado Avalanche, now coaching the ZSC Lions of the Swiss League. Crawford has won two of the last three championships in Switzerland and has not lost any of his passion overseas.

It is a long list, and unlike with the silly delay in parting ways with Berube, Hextall has every reason to sit back and let a few more firings and other events take place before he names the new coach of the Flyers.

Then again, as with most teams, the unofficial name of that man is the same in every city – NEXT.