Twenty-two current NHL coaches have spent time coaching in the AHL, where they learned the ins and outs of developing talent at the professional level. Striking the balance between development and creating a winning environment tests each AHL coach.
The past two Jack Adams Award winners as the best coach in the NHL, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Barry Trotz of the New York Islanders, each had a long tenure as an AHL coach. Cassidy spent seven seasons in the AHL, with Grand Rapids, then an Ottawa Senators affiliate (2000-02), and Providence, the Bruins’ AHL team (2011-16). Trotz spent seven seasons with Baltimore and Portland, each an affiliate of the Washington Capitals, from 1990-97 before becoming the first coach of the expansion Nashville Predators in 1998-99.
Here is a look at five coaches who may be ready to join the NHL coaching ranks after long AHL apprenticeships:
Joel Bouchard, Laval (Montreal Canadiens)
Before Bouchard arrived in Laval for the 2018-19 season, Montreal had struggled to find the right balance between developing players and creating a winning environment at the AHL level.
The 47-year-old has turned that around.
Laval is tied with San Diego (Anaheim Ducks) for most wins in the AHL (22) and leads the league in points (46) and point percentage (.793), and is developing prospects to strengthen Montreal’s depth. Forwards Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Jake Evans and Cole Caufield, each now with the Canadiens, are among those to learn from Bouchard’s disciplined style.
Bouchard is 82-63-12-10 (W-L-OTL-SOL) with Laval.
He scored 75 points (22 goals, 53 assists) in 364 NHL games as a defenseman with eight teams from 1994-2006.
Spencer Carbery, Hershey (Washington Capitals)
Carbery received a multiyear contract extension April 22. The Capitals have had a long tradition of pouring resources into their AHL operation, and that effort was justified when 14 Hershey alums were on Washington’s 2018 Stanley Cup championship roster.
The 39-year-old became an assistant with the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate, South Carolina, in 2010, eventually being promoted to coach and director of hockey operations for five seasons. He won the John Brophy Award as ECHL Coach of the Year in 2014 and led South Carolina to the Kelly Cup Final in 2015.
Capitals goalies Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek each played for Carbery with Hershey, and this season he has coached several Hershey players battling to break into a deep Washington lineup.
Carbery is 98-49-9-8 since joining Hershey at the start of the 2018-19 season. Hershey is 18-6-2-0 (.731 points percentage), and is in first place in the North Division.
Kevin Dineen, San Diego (Anaheim Ducks)
Dineen came to San Diego for the 2019-20 season with a wealth of coaching knowledge in the AHL (Portland) and NHL (Florida Panthers), and possessing the life lessons to guide a San Diego roster that mixes high-end young talent with a strong veteran base; Trevor Zegras, a 20-year-old forward, and Jamie Drysdale, a 19-year-old defenseman, each has spent time in the NHL with the Ducks this season.
San Diego has a .625 points percentage (22-13-1-0) that has them second in the Pacific Division, behind Henderson (Vegas Golden Knights).
Dineen scored 760 points (355 goals, 405 assists) in 1,188 NHL games as a forward with four teams from 1984-2003. He began coaching with Portland in 2005-06, winning the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the top coach in the AHL. He was 56-62-28 in three seasons with the Panthers from 2011-14 before guiding the Canada national women’s team to a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and winning the Stanley Cup as a Chicago Blackhawks assistant in 2015.
The 57-year-old is 52-32-7-2 with San Diego.
Jay Leach, Providence (Boston Bruins)
Leach was a hard-nosed, no-frills defenseman as a player, and the 41-year-old has brought that same approach to coaching.
Providence has long been a hothouse for coaching talent, sending Cassidy, Peter Laviolette, Mike Sullivan and Scott Gordon to NHL careers. Leach may be next in line.
Leach scored three points (one goal, two assists) in 70 NHL games with five teams from 2005-11.
He’s 135-87-15-8 in four seasons at Providence and already has seen several players promoted to the NHL, including forwards Ryan Donato, Trent Frederic, Karson Kuhlman and Jack Studnicka, and defensemen Connor Clifton, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril.
This season, Providence is 14-6-1-0 and leads the Atlantic Division, which it won last season.
Troy Mann, Belleville (Ottawa Senators)
Mann has guided a variety of rosters in his seven seasons leading AHL teams.
Mann coached Hershey for four seasons (2014-18), including a trip to the Calder Cup Final in 2016.
After leaving the Washington organization, he was hired by Belleville before the 2018-19 season.
Last season, Mann played a key role in the development of a host of top prospects, including forwards Drake Batherson, Josh Norris and Alex Formenton, on the way to leading Belleville to the North Division title.
Mann is 85-66-8-6 in three seasons with Belleville.
After graduating many of Ottawa’s top prospects to the NHL, Belleville (10-15-1-0, fifth place in the Canadian Division) has struggled this season, but has five rookies among its top 10 scorers, led by forward Egor Sokolov, who has scored 17 points (12 goals, five assists) in 26 games to share the Belleville lead with forward Vitaly Abramov.
Calder Cup Playoffs canceled
The Calder Cup Playoffs will not be held due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.
The AHL has allowed the five divisions to conduct its own postseason formats. The Pacific Division will have a tournament to determine the division champion. The Atlantic, North, Canadian and Central division will award its division championship to the team that finishes with the best points percentage at the end of the regular season.
It’s the second straight season the Calder Cup Playoffs have been canceled due to COVID-19. The last team to win the Calder Cup was Charlotte, then the Carolina Hurricanes affiliate, in 2019.
The league also announced that the 2021-22 season is scheduled to begin Oct. 15, and run through April 24, 2022. Division alignments will be announced during the offseason.