LeBrun: As the NHL coaching carousel slows, a look at the next batch of UFAs

It has been a seismic 12 months in the NHL coaching fraternity.

Since the start of the 2021-22 season, there have been coaching changes for the Canucks, Canadiens, Oilers, Bruins, Golden Knights, Panthers, Islanders, Sharks, Blackhawks, Flyers, Red Wings, Jets and Stars.

That’s more than a dozen organizations with new head coaches, if you’re keeping score.

To catch up, the offseason hires were:

• Peter DeBoer in Dallas (a four-year deal at a $4.25 million average salary)

• Bruce Cassidy in Vegas (five years at $4.5 million)

• Paul Maurice in Florida (three years at just under $4 million)

• John Tortorella in Philadelphia (four years at $4 million)

• Rick Bowness in Winnipeg (two years at $2.5 million, with a club option for a third year closer to $3 million)

• Jim Montgomery in Boston (three years at just under $2 million)

• David Quinn in San Jose (three years at just under $2 million)

• Luke Richardson in Chicago (four years at $1.5 million)

• Derek Lalonde in Detroit (term unconfirmed, but I believe three years)

• Lane Lambert in Long Island (term unconfirmed, but I believe three years with an option)

Martin St. Louis (three years in Montreal at, I believe, just south of $3 million per season) and Jay Woodcroft (three years at $2 million in Edmonton) also signed new deals after taking over their respective teams midway through last season.

We should also mention that veteran head coach Mike Sullivan signed a three-year extension in Pittsburgh, which gives him five years in total left. He had this season and next on his existing deal. The extension is believed to be worth around $5.5 million a year when it kicks in for the 2024-25 season, which will put Sullivan among the highest-paid coaches in the league. In my opinion, it’s totally deserved.

While not 100 percent confirmed, I believe Jon Cooper is currently the highest-paid coach in the league, at around $5.3 million per season (not counting the fact that Mike Babcock is owed another $5.875 million from the Maple Leafs for this season, the last of that eight-year deal).

Even with all this movement, looking forward we know there are still some looming decisions elsewhere. Here’s a look at head coaches entering the final years of their contracts — the pending UFAs, if you will:

Dallas Eakins, Ducks: New Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek decided to pick up the option year on Eakins’ deal in April, which I think was a smart move to give himself time to further evaluate his coach. I’ve always been of the opinion that a new GM should delay his first coaching change as long as possible. You only get so many coaching hires as a GM. And who knows, maybe Verbeek and Eakins forge the kind of relationship out of this roster rebuild that leads to a new contract for the coach. But as it stands, Eakins, who took over as head coach in Anaheim in June 2019 after four years in AHL San Diego, enters this season as a pending UFA.

Darryl Sutter, Flames: It wouldn’t surprise me if an extension gets done here with the reigning Jack Adams winner. My sense is Sutter would be open to it, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the organization has already discussed it with him. But as we speak, the veteran coach is entering the final season of the deal he signed in March 2021 when he took over.

Lindy Ruff, Devils: This is my own read on things, not anything that’s come to me from anyone, but the Devils hiring Jack Adams finalist Andrew Brunette as associate coach July 15 (on a three-year deal) would seem to indicate where this is headed after the season , given Ruff’s expiring deal. But then again, who knows? I think the Devils are going to take a positive step as a team this season. What that means for Ruff, 62, given his pending UFA status, we shall see.

Bruce Boudreau, Canucks: Who knew the mutual option that existed on Boudreau’s deal for this season (at a $2.5 million salary) would cause so much consternation and intrigue? But after a weird interlude, it was finally confirmed by both sides that the veteran coach would be back for this season.

Where does it go from here? That’s anybody’s guess. Signing JT Miller to an extension signals the organization’s intention to try to retool while also trying to win games, which is good news for Boudreau as far as having as competitive a roster as he could have hoped for. Let’s see where this goes come the New Year, as far as the coach’s future.

Peter Laviolette, Capitals: The veteran bench boss was hired in September 2020 on a three-year deal worth just under $15 million in total. My understanding is that there have already been discussions about a possible extension. Whether or not that transpires remains to be seen, but they’re talking.

Beyond the pending UFAs, there is the group of coaches with this season and next left on their current deals, so signed through the 2023-24 season:

Some of those situations could lead to decisions next summer, ahead of those coaches entering lame-duck years.

I think the Sabers are really high on Granato, and I could see that leading to an extension next summer if the team takes an impactful step forward this season. Keefe’s future is rather straightforward, depending on whether the team finally gets out of the first round of the playoffs. The Stanley Cup champion Avalanche would be smart to extend Bednar next summer, and I suspect that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Bednar is earning $2.1 million this season and $2.3. million next year, so he should be in line for a nice raise given his recent exploits.

(Photo of Bruce Boudreau: Sergei Belski / USA Today)


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