The 2021-22 season was a banner year for the Calgary Flames organization, with both the National Hockey League club and its American Hockey League affiliate winning regular season division titles and then a playoff round. For their efforts, both Darryl Sutter (Calgary) and Mitch Love (Stockton) were awarded their league’s Coach of the Year honours.
Over at The Athletic, Pierre LeBrun wrote earlier this week that Love could soon be on the radar for NHL-level openings.
It was just over 9 years ago when Tampa promoted Jon Cooper to head coach from the AHL, without that much fanfare.
Now clubs hope to find that next Jon Cooper.
In my latest, a look at some up-and-coming candidates primed to be an NHL head coach one day:https://t.co/QIuac9Rouo
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) June 3, 2022
Love, 37, is in the midst of his first year as head coach of Stockton. He previously spent three seasons as head coach of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades and seven seasons as an assistant coach of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips. He’s also coached as an assistant with Hockey Canada, capturing a pair of medals with the World Junior team. He had a short playing career, bouncing around minor pro for six seasons. Love’s earned praise for the early returns with Stockton, particularly given that he kept losing his best players to Calgary and yet he kept his team focused on winning. (And they also kept winning.)
While not explicitly mentioned in LeBrun’s piece, the NHL bench has two experienced head coaches behind Sutter: Kirk Muller and Ryan Huska.
Muller, 56, just finished his first season as associate coach with the Flames. He’s built up a nice resume as a coach since ending his decorated playing career. He was head coach in Carolina for parts of three seasons (and AHL Milwaukee for one partial season before getting promoted to the NHL), assistant (or associate) for parts of 12 seasons in St. Louis and Montreal. While he hasn’t been a head coach in awhile – his last bench boss gig ended in 2014 – Muller has a good eye for tactics and systems, and he did a nice job ensuring that the Flames’ forwards and power play remained sharp this season.
Huska, 46, just finished his fourth season an assistant coach with the Flames. He, too, has built up a coaching resume after a playing career that was nowhere as decorated as Muller’s. Huska spent four seasons as a head coach in Stockton/Adirondack, seven seasons as a head coach for the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, and five seasons as an assistant with Kelowna. Coaching with a focus on the Flames’ blueline and penalty kill, Huska did a nice job ensuring stable deployments for the blueliners this season while maintaining the club’s penalty kill as one of the best in the NHL.
Sutter’s contract reportedly expires following the upcoming 2022-23 season. Huska briefly served as interim coach in 2020-21, filling in for Sutter as he went through the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols before joining the team. In the event Sutter decides to head back to the farm after his contract is up, the Flames have two strong contenders in town in the form of Muller and Huska. With another strong season in the AHL, Love could be a contender, too.
But with all sorts of job openings throughout the NHL needing to be filled between now and then, who knows if all three of Muller, Huska and Love will remain in the Flames organization for that long.
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