There’s no sugarcoating it, the Seattle Kraken have stunk this season, and head coach Dave Hakstol finds himself on the hot seat as a result. Despite entering their inaugural campaign with the typically depressed expectations associated with expansion franchises, the Kraken have missed the mark. They’ve only won three of their last ten games, languishing at the bottom of the Pacific Division and 29th overall in the NHL with a record of 13-25-4 (30 points).
Fortunately for Seattle, several capable candidates are waiting in the wings, ready to pounce on a potential job opening if Hakstol were canned shortly. Without further ado, let’s dig in.
In scouring the market, few boast the desirable combination of success and longevity of Claude Julien, most recently in his second go-around as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens in 2020-21. Julien remains one of the most decorated bench bosses in NHL history, ranking highly on the all-time coaching leaderboards. He’s coached the 19th-most regular-season games (1274) and lands 16th in terms of wins (667). Julien is also the winningest coach in the Boston Bruins’ 97-year history and is sixth in points percentage (minimum 100 games coached).
The ex-professional player with 14 NHL games to his name is intimately familiar with the grind of the postseason, with 124 games (15th all-time) and 68 wins (18th) underlining his playoff coaching resume. Julien led the Bruins to two appearances in the Stanley Cup Final (2011 and 2013), emerging victorious over the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 edition. Further, he served as an assistant for Canada at the 2014 Winter Olympics and claimed gold at the quadrennial tournament. With the NHL pulling out of Beijing, Julien will lead the reassembled Team Canada in the 2022 edition.
The hallmark of Julien’s teams has always been a sturdy defensive structure underlined by organized transition play. Out of his nine full seasons with the club, the Bruins finished within the top three of goals-against per game five times and were the NHL’s stingiest outfit in the 2008-09 campaign.
From the 2007-08 to 2019-20 seasons, teams coached by Julien finished within the top five of Corsi for percentage (CF%) seven times, demonstrating how effective his gameplan was in ensuring territorial dominance in shot-share at five-on-five.
Although hiring Julien would represent another dip into the established coaching pool that is so prevalent within the NHL, the Kraken could do a lot worse than tapping someone who has shown that they are still in touch with the modern game while carrying the reputational cache to command immediate respect in the locker room.
If the Kraken were looking to venture outside the realm of recycled bench bosses, Rikard Grönborg would represent the ideal candidate. He boasts extensive experience in coaching at the sport’s highest level but isn’t married to the tired philosophies so often on display with NHL retreads.
Grönborg hails from a different background (The Athletic; subscription required) than most of his peers, holding degrees in communications as well as management and leadership. He leads with an emphasis on giving his players input on lineup decisions and strategic adjustments, fostering a unique relationship with his troops as a result.
Among the major North American sports leagues, NHL teams most often resort to hiring candidates with previous head-coaching experience, an antiquated approach to sifting through a rapidly growing pool of talented global applicants. Green coaches (especially international ones) carry the risk of being targeted for their inexperience, and notoriously stingy team owners are more likely to orient towards known commodities as a result, continuing an exclusionary cycle.
Grönborg has acted as the head coach of the ZSC Lions of Switzerland’s premier hockey league – the National League (NL) – since 2019-20, finishing first in the regular season in his first season. He’s also held head and assistant coaching roles at various levels of the Swedish national team system, including heading the senior men’s team at the 2018 Winter Olympics and several world championships, with multiple medals to his name.
While Grönborg has interviewed for recent NHL coaching vacancies, he’s yet to be extended an opportunity at the highest level. The Kraken have little to lose, with the enormous goodwill with the fanbase buffering any early turbulence. If hired, Grönborg represents a swing unlike any other in the NHL’s storied history – why not try for a home run?
As Lane Lambert has recently seen his name bandied about in league circles for a number of gigs, it’s only a matter of time before the longtime assistant catches on as an NHL team’s primary bench boss.
After coaching in the Western Hockey League (WHL), Lambert spent time bouncing between head and assistant roles in the American Hockey League (AHL) before finding his feet in the NHL. He’s served as the assistant coach for the Nashville Predators (2011-14), Washington Capitals (2014-18), and the New York Islanders (2018-present), with a lead role all that’s left to tack onto his rapidly swelling resume.
Further bolstering his candidacy is Lambert’s extensive tutelage at the hands of Barry Trotz, one of the NHL’s most adept defensive taskmasters. He’s followed Trotz throughout his various big-league stops, and was his right-hand man during the Capitals’ long-awaited Stanley Cup triumph in 2018. The Trotz coaching tree has branched out its tendrils across the league, and Lambert could be the latest of his disciples to make his mark.
Lambert is also a veteran of 283 NHL games spread between the Detroit Red Wings, Quebec Nordiques, and New York Rangers, retiring from professional hockey in 2001. He’s gained a reputation as a player’s coach, which could help a franchise looking to build through the accumulation of promising young talent, often requiring a stern, but understanding voice to guide them.
Coincidentally, Lambert is an uncle to heralded 2022 draft prospect Brad Lambert, at one point thought to be a potential top-three selection. Could the Kraken secure the double family connection this summer?
Does Hakstol Finish the Season With the Kraken?
Although the Kraken have undoubtedly faceplanted through the first half of the 2021-22 season, Hakstol is not a certain casualty of underwhelming results. The organization undertook an extensive coaching search which culminated in the selection of Hakstol, suggesting they could be loath to part ways so soon after his initial appointment. Still, their paltry league position is not where the franchise expected to be at midseason, and their minds are surely wandering to the thought of an increasingly frustrated fanbase. The question stands; can Hakstol avoid an axing this season?