Home » Who are the top candidates for NHL coach, GM jobs?

Who are the top candidates for NHL coach, GM jobs?

When we compiled a list two years ago of up-and-coming NHL coach and general manager candidates, we noted how familial the hiring practices could be. Since the 2005-06 season, nearly 60% of the coaches hired were what the industry calls “retreads,” and it was rare to see an outside-the-box candidate take over the general manager role. More glaringly, the positions had almost exclusively gone to white men.

In the past year, there has been a sea of change across hockey. San Jose hired Mike Grier, making him the league’s first Black GM. A historic offseason included six women being promoted to NHL assistant general manager positions; prior to 2022 only one woman held that title in league history. One of the new assistant GMs, Alexandra Mandrycky in Seattle, became the first woman elevated to that position to specialize in analytics. Jessica Campbell was named an assistant coach in Coachella Valley, making her the first woman behind the bench in the AHL. And in the ECHL, Joel Martin was hired in Kalamazoo, joining Jason Payne (Cincinnati Cyclones) as the only Black head coaches in North American professional hockey. Patrik Allvin, who is Swedish, was also hired as GM in Vancouver, giving the NHL two European general managers.

We’re starting to see leaders in hockey become more diverse, including diversity in thought process. But for all the progress, it will likely take more time to see some of them in the highest positions, as they continue to rise the ranks.

There are plenty of bright hockey minds working their way up in the sport, and some are more seasoned and ready for an opportunity now. ESPN polled 24 people in and around the NHL — agents, front-office executives, league officials — and asked two questions. Who is up next? And who should we be keeping an eye on? We combined that data with input on the politics of hiring cycles, understanding what ownership and people in hiring positions are looking for and which candidates might have backing around the league that elevates them to the top of shortlists. Here are the results.

Ready right now

These are coaches who have put in the work and could step in and lead a team right now.

Andrew Brunette, New Jersey Devils assistant coach

The Florida Panthers changed course to hire Paul Maurice instead of promoting Brunette — who as an interim coach following Joel Quenneville’s forced resignation last season ushered the franchise to its first Presidents Trophy. Brunette took an assistant job in New Jersey and could be next in line to succeed 63-year-old Lindy Ruff, unless another organization scoops him first. Said one player who has been coached by Brunette: “He has a way of connecting with guys. He’s a really fun guy but is definitely serious when he needs to. I like his communication style.”

Spencer Carbery, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant coach

The 41-year-old is one of the buzziest names on the coaching circuit — and that’s even before he landed in Toronto, center of the hockey media universe. A few respondents said to monitor Carbery as an option for the Capitals should they make a change. Carbery is thought highly of in the Caps organization after three years leading its top minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears. He has been a quick riser after winning ECHL Coach of the Year (2014) and AHL Coach of the Year (2021). Washington wanted to keep him on, but Carbery took an assistant job with the Maple Leafs in 2021. Since Carbery took over running the power play, Toronto has the league’s second-best man-up unit (behind Edmonton).

Jay Leach, Seattle Kraken assistant coach

After four years as the head coach of the AHL Providence Bruins, Leach was hired as one of the inaugural assistant coaches with the Seattle Kraken prior to the 2021-22 season. He was in consideration for the Bruins’ head coaching job this past summer after Bruce Cassidy was fired, with the B’s picking Jim Montgomery. Leach was described by one former colleague as “warm and engaging.”

“If you spend 15 minutes in conversation with him, you’ll realize he has that ‘it’ factor,” the former colleague said. “Like, this guy is a leader of men. Someone you’d have no problem being front-facing for your organization.”

Marco Sturm, AHL Ontario Reign head coach

One respondent put it bluntly: “Nobody would be surprised if he takes over for Todd McLellan as the coach of the Los Angeles Kings one day.” McLellan and the Kings are invested in the development of Sturm, the former NHL forward who had a strong run as the GM of Germany’s national team. The Kings essentially handpicked Sturm for the role of Reign head coach, not interviewing anyone else. “McLellan respects Sturm a lot,” one respondent said. “Instead of staying on as an assistant for another season, [McLellan] told [Sturm] to go to the AHL to get head coaching experience, which was a smart move for his development.”

Ryan Warsofsky, San Jose Sharks assistant coach

The Massachusetts native came up through the Washington Capitals farm system, serving as coach and director of hockey operations for the ECHL’s South Carolina StingRays.

Warsofsky won two Calder Cups as a coach in the Carolina Hurricanes system. The first came as an assistant with the Charlotte Checkers, which one respondent mentioned was especially impressive since “the team was on a shoestring budget.” The second was as the head coach of the Chicago Wolves after the Canes switched affiliates. While coaching Chicago, Warsofsky was the youngest head coach in the AHL at age 34. He joined David Quinn’s bench in San Jose this season, where he’s in charge of the Sharks’ penalty kill, a top-five unit in the league. “Good young mind who knows how to hold people accountable,” one respondent said. “And he’s won. You can never discount that.”

Pascal Vincent, Columbus Blue Jackets associate coach

If Columbus makes a change this summer, Vincent would be one of the leading candidates to take over the job. Vincent, who is bilingual (English and French), has been successful at every level, including being named the QMJHL Coach of the Year in 2008 and the AHL’s most outstanding coach in 2018. He was a longtime Winnipeg Jets assistant coach but decided to take the job leading their AHL affiliate so he could get more head coaching experience.

Vincent was described as being “extremely intelligent, truly hardworking and well spoken” by one respondent, who noted that he has a track record for connecting with players.

Next wave

These are coaches who need a bit more time and seasoning but are on an NHL coaching track. Keep an eye on these names over the next few seasons.

Jessica Campbell, AHL Coachella Firebirds assistant coach

Campbell, 30, is the first woman behind a bench in the AHL, coaching for Seattle’s top minor league affiliate. The former Cornell and Canadian national team forward has a ton of supporters, especially players whom she has worked with. Campbell began her own business during the pandemic, running skating sessions in Kelowna, British Columbia, for 20 NHL players, including Mat Barzal, Luke Schenn and Brent Seabrook. She then went to coach in Germany, where Moritz Seider and Tim Stutzle also became fans. Campbell has a way of connecting with players through positivity, empowering them to be part of the process. With the Coachella Valley Firebirds, head coach Dan Bylsma empowered Campbell to run the power play from day one and it’s been a top-10 unit in the league all season.

Korie Chevrie, Canada women’s national team assistant coach

Chevrie, 35, has been a star of the NHLCA Female Coaches Development Program. The former CWHL player began tracking to coach in men’s hockey when she took a job as an assistant for Ryerson in 2016, becoming the first woman behind the bench in Canadian men’s college hockey. Opportunities opened from there, including interviewing with the Kraken organization this past summer and coaching at Coyotes rookie development camp in July.

Chevrie toggles between coaching in the women’s game and the men’s game, but has star power because, as one respondent said: “She’s just someone that exudes confidence. That’s something you can’t teach.”

Joel Martin, ECHL Kalamazoo Wings head coach

The 40-year-old Martin is in just his first year as a head coach in the ECHL — following three years as an assistant — but was described as a future “fast riser” in the coaching ranks. The former minor league goaltender has been active in the NHL Coaches Association BIPOC programs, which will only give him more exposure. Martin, who has been mentored by Jason Payne, isn’t in a rush to get to the top. Consider Martin more of a long-term play.

Steve McCarthy, Columbus Blue Jackets assistant coach

McCarthy, a 1999 draft pick of the Blackhawks, hung up the skates in 2016 after a pro career spanning six different leagues. Since then, he has been on the fast track as a coach. McCarthy immediately took a job as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Monsters in the AHL, the last team he played for. He was poised to be the head coach of the Monsters but decided to take the opportunity for NHL bench experience.

McCarthy coaches the D in Columbus, where one of his players said: “He’s relatable as a coach. I love the way he sees the game, and he has a way of connecting with the young guys and getting the most out of them.”

Paul McFarland, Seattle Kraken assistant coach

The Kraken have a strong development pool, including the 37-year-old McFarland, who was described by a respondent as a “progressive thinker.” McFarland got his start in the NHL as an assistant with the Maple Leafs.

“Mike Babcock found McFarland super impressive in Toronto,” the respondent said. “That’s why he hired him.” Toronto wanted to keep McFarland, but he decided to get leadership experience in the OHL — where he took the head coach and general manager job for the Kingston Frontenacs, in part also for the experience to work with Shane Wright. That didn’t quite happen in the pandemic-affected season, so McFarland found himself back behind an NHL bench in Seattle.

Matt McIlvane, EC Red Bull Salzburg head coach

The 37-year-old McIlvane, an Illinois native and former Ohio State captain, began his coaching career in the FHL and ECHL before moving to Europe, where he has been since 2013. McIlvane has coached in both Germany and Austria (where he is currently) and has also been tapped as an assistant for German national teams. McIlvane’s name is starting to circulate in hockey circles, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him come back to North America next season, likely in the AHL as his first stop.

Jason Payne, ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones head coach

As one respondent said, “Jason Payne is starting to get notoriety in the industry. He’s squarely on people’s radar.”

When Payne was hired in Cincinnati, he was the only Black head coach in North American professional hockey. After working up the ranks across several leagues, Payne has led the Cyclones to success and coached the ECHL All-Star Game this year. Payne helped at Buffalo Sabres development camp last summer, and Don Granato told people how much of a valuable contributor Payne was.

“He’s put in his time in Cincinnati for a few years [beginning as an assistant coach] and I admire that he understands he needs time,” one respondent said. “But I do think his time will come soon. He’s earned it.”

Marc Savard, OHL Windsor Spitfires head coach

A history of concussions forced Savard to retire prematurely from the NHL. But the former center — who became a fan favorite with the Boston Bruins, and had enough of an impact on the team that management fought to get his name engraved on their 2011 Stanley Cup — has pivoted to coaching. He spent one year as an assistant coach for the Blues before becoming the head coach in Windsor, where he led the team to the finals in his second season. That prompted Savard to get some interest from NHL teams for an assistant job this summer, though he’s focused on becoming the best head coach he can be.

“He’s a popular guy and has done well in the O,” one respondent said. “He’ll be back in the NHL eventually.”

Cory Stillman, Arizona Coyotes assistant coach

After playing 1,000 games in the NHL and winning two Stanley Cups, Stillman has the credentials a lot of organizations value — and have a tendency to overvalue. But that shouldn’t be a mark against Stillman; he has put in the work to rise in coaching. Stillman was the head coach of the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL for three years before being named an assistant in Arizona.

“He has very high expectations for players and holds them accountable,” one respondent said. “Just a really solid coach.” Stillman interviewed with the Bruins for the Providence AHL job and will be on more organizations’ radars in the future.

Mike Van Ryn, St Louis Blues assistant coach

The former NHL defenseman, 43, has been on other organizations’ radars for a few years. Van Ryn has experience as a head coach, albeit for only one year with the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL. But Van Ryn is constantly looking for ways to improve and learn; in the offseason, he enrolled in a neuroscience coaching program to tap into another way of mentoring people.

Van Ryn isn’t the only Blues assistant with head coaching potential. Steve Ott, the former Sabres captain, is thought of highly by Blues GM Doug Armstrong and has other backers around the league.

Joel Ward, AHL Henderson Silver Knights assistant coach

Players who shared a locker room with Ward over his 11-year NHL playing career routinely cite him as one of their favorite teammates. Ward was also a fan favorite at each of his stops (Nashville, Minnesota, San Jose, Washington), which will make him attractive to owners and those in hiring positions.

Ward’s easy-going personality has already made him a hit behind the bench for the Golden Knights’ AHL affiliate since he joined the team in November 2020. Ward’s contract with the Vegas organization runs through this season. He should get opportunities to be behind an NHL bench next season as an assistant coach. “Ward still needs some seasoning,” one respondent said. “But he has the personality and the ability to lead an NHL team one day.”

The retreads

Coaches who have led NHL teams before but have stayed in the game and worked their way to earning a second opportunity.

Jeremy Colliton, AHL Abbotsford Canucks head coach

Colliton was hired to coach the Blackhawks at age 33, with no NHL experience, and tasked with replacing future Hall of Famer Joel Quenneville. Colliton wasn’t exactly set up for success. “He’s very reflective,” one respondent said. “He made mistakes he won’t make the second time, and he continues to develop and put time into his craft.”

When Colliton was fired, he went to Europe because he wanted to sit in with other coaches and learn how they teach. This past summer, Colliton turned down NHL assistant coaching jobs because he wanted to be a head coach again, even if it was in the AHL. Several respondents predicted Colliton would get another NHL opportunity.

Todd Reirden, Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach

He’s the only person to coach both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby — unique perspective, for sure. Reirden was an assistant for Barry Trotz in Washington before he was tapped to replace him. While it didn’t go as either party had hoped, they remained on good terms. Reirden went back and accepted an assistant job in Pittsburgh, where he runs the defense. Last summer Reirden was promoted to associate coach and given a contract extension.

“Mike Sullivan thinks very highly of him as a coach,” one respondent said. “He’s a smart hockey mind. I think he would do well if given a second opportunity.”

Joe Sacco, Boston Bruins assistant coach

Sacco, a Boston assistant since 2014, interviewed for the Bruins’ head coaching job this summer, but the job went to Montgomery. Even still, Sacco stuck around on Montgomery’s staff, which speaks to how he is viewed. “He’s a very good coach,” one respondent said. “Adds a ton of value to the staff.” Sacco is in charge of the Bruins’ penalty kill, which has been tops in the league all season. Sacco coached the Avalanche from 2009 to ’13, but one respondent thought Sacco could receive renewed attention based on Boston’s success this season.

General managers

Ready right now

These are candidates who have either the credentials or the behind-the-scenes backing that could land them GM positions as soon as next season.

Jason Botterill, Seattle Kraken assistant general manager

He’s the only retread on this list, but for good reason. Multiple respondents said Botterill — currently an assistant general manager with the Kraken — is tracking for a second opportunity as a GM, perhaps as soon as this summer.

“I think everyone around the league realizes he wasn’t dealt the best hand in Buffalo when it came to what ownership asked of him, the circumstances he had to navigate,” one well-connected league source said. “If you look at the Sabres now, they’re well-positioned for success, and Botts built a lot of that foundation. He’ll get another shot.”

Danny Briere, Philadelphia Flyers interim general manager

Briere holds the interim title in Philadelphia — but it’s one of league’s worst-kept secrets that the 45-year-old will likely get the job. The Flyers have been developing Briere for this opportunity for years, including sending him to UPenn’s Wharton School of Business to strengthen his business acumen. That suggested Briere was on the team president track. However, when Chuck Fletcher entered the fray, the veteran GM took Briere under his wing, giving him exposure and experience at all levels of the franchise.

Mathieu Darche, Tampa Bay Lightning assistant general manager

The 45-year-old Darche has a wealth of experience. He’s a former NHL player who has dabbled in broadcasting, sales and marketing and served five years on the board of the Ronald McDonald House. During the 2012-13 NHL lockout, he was appointed to the NHLPA’s negotiating team and was an integral voice for the players working toward a new CBA.

In Tampa Bay, he has had a key role in player contract negotiations, budgeting and the salary cap. One NHL agent describes Tampa’s assistant GM as having “a really pleasant demeanor. Well-spoken. Honest and fair to work with. I know he’s interviewed for a few GM jobs, including Montreal, but wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to get looks.”

Laurence Gilman, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager

When the league needed to create a new set of expansion rules ahead of the Golden Knights’ arrival, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly turned to Gilman for help. When asking around about Gilman, the word that continually came up in conversations was “smart.” Gilman was also described as “well-connected,” which tends to go a long way in NHL hiring practices. He’s running the Marlies for Toronto now, but he has a ton of experience as a capologist and negotiator. Gilman was in the mix for the Vancouver GM job last year.

Ryan Martin, New York Rangers assistant general manager

Martin, who came to New York in 2021 after 16 years with the Red Wings, has put in the work. “If you looked around the league and tried to identify someone who doesn’t have GM experience but could step into that role seamlessly from day one, Ryan Martin would be top of list,” one respondent said. “He has experience in all assets of hockey ops.” That includes working across amateur, scouting and pro staffs, overseeing AHL teams, plus managing the salary cap and contract negotiations for two of the premier organizations in the league. Martin interviewed in Anaheim, and according to sources close to that process, “he interviewed extremely well.”

Ray Whitney, NHL director of player safety

Whitney retired from the NHL in 2015 after 22 seasons and more than 1,300 games. Well-connected after playing for eight teams, including winning a Stanley Cup with the Hurricanes in 2006, Whitney took a job as a scout in Carolina before joining the league’s Department of Player Safety in 2017. Whitney was a finalist for the Sharks GM job last year, and is expected to make future shortlists — especially since he has backing from the league office. An NHL team’s front-office executive described Whitney as “charismatic and magnetic — someone who would be able to manage up and manage down, which is an essential quality in running a team.”

The next wave

These candidates are rising stars in hockey management circles. While they might not be ready right now, they are on a track to run a team one day.

Ryan Bowness, Ottawa Senators assistant general manager

Bowness, 39, came up through the Thrashers/Jets organization before rising up the ranks in Pittsburgh for six years, becoming the Penguins director of pro scouting. But when Ron Hextall was hired, he didn’t promote Bowness, which had him looking for opportunities elsewhere. He found a match in Ottawa.

“First, he’s just a great person. But the Senators absolutely love him,” one respondent said. “Pierre Dorion leans on him heavily. He’s been a huge asset to their organization over the last year.” Bowness is the son of Winnipeg Jets coach Rick Bowness.

Emilie Castonguay, Vancouver Canucks assistant general manager

Castonguay was hired as an assistant general manager in Vancouver along with Cammi Granato, and is another name to watch. Castonguay’s portfolio includes the CBA, NHL contracts and salary negotiations. An agent who regularly works with Castonguay called her “extremely smart, organized, and has a confidence about her.”

Meghan Duggan, New Jersey Devils director of player development

Since joining the Devils in a newly created role in 2021, Duggan has thrived — being promoted within a year. Duggan runs the Devils’ development camp and is heavily involved in the organization’s athletes care staff, which creates individual development plans, both physical and mental, for players. Now based in Toronto, Duggan has been pounding the pavement scouting and visiting with Devils prospects.

Because of her credentials and leadership résumé — Duggan captained Team USA to a 2018 Olympic gold medal, highlighting a 14-year stint with the national team — one respondent said, “You’re going to hear Meghan Duggan’s name being mentioned as a potential NHL GM much sooner than you think.”

Cammi Granato, Vancouver Canucks assistant general manager

Granato, a Hockey Hall of Famer, is one of the best women’s hockey players in United States history, captaining the first U.S. Olympic gold medal-winning team. Granato, who is married to ESPN analyst Ray Ferraro, has had job opportunities come up over the past decade but often turned them down for family reasons. She entered the fray in 2019 when the Kraken hired her to be the first female scout in NHL history. The Canucks poached Granato last summer, tasking her with overseeing their scouting department.

Ryan Hardy, Toronto Maple Leafs assistant general manager

The 36-year-old Hardy, who got his start as a Bruins scout, was on our list last year, after three years running the Chicago Steel of the USHL. As one respondent said in 2022: “He’s got his s— together. He’s a great recruiter, well organized and runs a great organization. Running a USHL team is a tough gig.” That caught the eye of the Maple Leafs, who hired Hardy last year to run the Marlies of the AHL.

“He’s young, he’s bright, he’s easy to talk to,” one respondent said. “He needs some polish, but he’s well on his way.”

Brad Holland, Edmonton Oilers assistant general manager

Nepotism is quite prevalent in hockey, and Holland has been boosted because his father, Ken, is the longtime architect of the Detroit Red Wings and currently is GM of the Oilers. “But Brad has proven his value, especially when it comes to analytics and finding inefficiencies,” one respondent said. “He’s actually a great complement to his dad, who is more of an old-school guy, and his type of thinking aligns with where hockey is going.” Holland has experience in several area of hockey ops, most recently overseeing pro scouting for the Oilers.

Shawn Horcoff, Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager

Horcoff was a fourth-round pick who had no guarantee of even making an NHL roster. He then went on to play 1,000 career games. Horcoff applied the same principles that made him a successful player to his career in management, something he has been singularly focused on for a while now. It’s why someone who made nearly $50 million as a player took a hockey ops job that initially paid him about $60,000. He wasn’t afraid of the work. With the departures of Pat Verbeek and Ryan Martin, Horcoff has become a key member of Steve Yzerman’s brain trust (which is small). Yzerman has supported Horcoff to get experience in all facets of the job, from contract negotiations to player development.

Jamie Langenbrunner, Boston Bruins assistant general manager

The former NHL captain, two-time Stanley Cup winner and Olympic silver medalist joined the Bruins in 2015, a year after retirement. He got an in with the organization thanks to former teammate Jay Pandolfo and initially began in player development, working with Boston’s prospects. Langenbrunner’s role expanded from there, as he now oversees the Bruins’ top minor league team in Providence.

A respondent described Langenbrunner as “a key member of the organization’s brain trust.”

“You can tell Don Sweeney trusts him,” another respondent said, “which should say a lot.”

Kate Madigan, New Jersey Devils assistant general manager

At age 30, Madigan is a fast riser. Madigan ran track at Northeastern, where her father, Jim, was the longtime hockey coach turned athletic director. Her background is in accounting; she took a postgrad job at Deloitte before then-GM Ray Shero hired her in New Jersey. Now, she’s essentially Tom Fitzgerald’s chief of staff, traveling with the team, running logistics and so much more. A Devils front-office staffer described Madigan’s role as “serving as a liaison between business and hockey ops, the analytics department and coaching staff, and everything in between.”

“Fitzy has a small leadership group that he trusts as his sounding board,” the Devils staffer said. “Kate quickly earned a spot in that group.” Madigan is well-suited for a team president or president of hockey operations role, which is likely the track she’s on.

Alex Mandrycky, Seattle Kraken assistant general manager

Mandrycky got her NHL start in 2015 as a data analyst for the Minnesota Wild. She was one of the Kraken’s first hires and was part of the search committee that hired GM Ron Francis. Since then, she has been a key voice Francis leans on. When Mandrycky was promoted to assistant general manager this summer, she was the first person in league history elevated to that position with a background with a sole focus in analytics.

“I’ve always been in the school of thought that you find the best person available for the job,” Francis told ESPN in September. “Alex isn’t getting this promotion because she’s a female. It’s because she’s earned this promotion, there’s no doubt about it. She’s already been involved in all facets of our organization, from the pro side to amateur to management discussions.”

Rich Peverley, Dallas Stars Director of player personnel

The Stars have successfully starved off a rebuild, and their window is wide open thanks to smart drafting and equally strong development of prospects. One of the people most influential in that development process is Peverley, the former player whose career was cut short in 2015. He immediately began working for the Stars, who promoted him to his current title in 2021. GM Jim Nill has called Peverley his ‘eyes and ears’ and knows how important he is to their big club’s success. For example, Peverley worked closely with Jason Robertson during his AHL season, preceding his meteoric rise.