Rangers’ coaching job is NHL’s most desirable — with Leafs looming


The question dangling over the NHL’s coaching market right now is what will happen in Toronto, and when will it happen?

After Brendan Shanahan ousted Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas in a bizarre turn of events, it would be a surprise if coach Sheldon Keefe was retained by whoever walks into the crucible that is Dubas’ former office.

That would make the Toronto job perhaps the most desirable in a market currently topped by the Rangers, with a chance to reverse the franchise’s fortunes and bring the Stanley Cup to the capital of hockey for the first time since 1967.

Despite the myriad questions surrounding the Leafs following their unceremonious second-round exit — including but not limited to the futures of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares — it is the sort of opportunity that would be nearly impossible to turn down.

For the moment, though, it is solely hypothetical, and so the Leafs are not included in The Post’s desirability rankings.

Here is how we rank the five jobs that are open:

1. New York Rangers

An Original Six team in a major media market with a chance to win the Stanley Cup.

Igor Shesterkin makes a pretty compelling case for the Rangers’ coaching job.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

What’s not to like?

Next year’s Rangers don’t figure to be as overpowered as the latest edition was, thanks to a cap crunch brought on by new deals for Alexis Lafreniere and K’Andre Miller, but this is still, by far, the vacancy with the best chance of winning a title.

Despite their first-round ouster, the Rangers are a veteran team with playoff experience, superstars and a goaltender among the best in the league in Igor Shesterkin.

The expectations are sky-high, connecting with the room — and Artemi Panarin in particular — is a must and the leash could be short, but whatever questions surround the roster are far less in number and stature than the rest of the openings.

2. Calgary Flames

The Flames’ 2022-23 season was nothing short of a disaster, in which a team expected to contend for a title failed to make the playoffs entirely.

But it does seem like ex-coach Darryl Sutter bears a lot of responsibility for losing the room, and the roster is still loaded with talent, with no marquee names hitting free agency.

That does mean the Flames don’t have much room to work with for improvements, but despite the mess that was the Matthew Tkachuk trade, the threesome of Jonathan Huberdeau, Nazem Kadri and MacKenzie Weegar all figure to be better in Year 2 in Calgary than they were in Year 1.

Jonathan Huberdeau struggled in his first season with the Flames.

It’s probably too much to assume the Flames will jump straight into Cup contention, but, on paper at least, the severe underperformance of this season makes it easy to conceive a turnaround.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

Columbus still has some work to do to get into the playoff mix, but there are pieces to like here.

The Blue Jackets were saddled with injuries perhaps more than any other team last season, but have a series of promising young players either on the roster or in their system — Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk and Nick Blankenburg.

They’ve also got the third and 22nd picks in the upcoming draft.

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen also took a big swing last summer to successfully bring Johnny Gaudreau to Columbus, and the Jackets have oodles of cap space this summer, more than enough to consider another big name if the right situation arises.

The gap to make up after a 25-48-9 season is more of a chasm, one that could take more than a year to cross.

That said, there’s promise here.

4. Washington Capitals

The question here is how you value a team that looks locked into mediocrity until Alexander Ovechkin retires.

Alexander Ovechkin could hinder the Capitals’ progress.

The Caps should have a chance to get into the playoffs next season, but it’s pretty tough to see them getting far.

Injuries played a role in Washington’s first playoff miss since 2014, but the reality is that the core is aging — Ovechkin is 37, T.J. Oshie is 36, Nicklas Backstrom is 35, John Carlson is 33.

Evgeny Kuznetsov has regularly appeared in trade rumors, and Ovechkin’s chase for the all-time goals record looks as though it will prevent Washington from rebuilding for the foreseeable future.

Maybe whoever replaces Peter Laviolette can coax a run out of the Caps, but you wouldn’t bet on it.

5. Anaheim Ducks

Trevor Zegras is part of an enticing young Ducks core.

The positive here is that the eventual replacement for Dallas Eakins will be Pat Verbeek’s first hire as general manager, and should get an extended shot to coach a group that has no real expectation of contending soon.

Plus, they get to live in Southern California and coach a group of young players that includes Trevor Zegras, Troy Terry and Mason McTavish, plus the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft (likely Michigan’s Adam Fantilli).

That said, the Ducks finished with the worst record in the league last season for a reason.

This rebuild looks like it will be a slog, and Anaheim isn’t a traditional hockey market where fans will pay for tickets just because.

Whoever takes this job will be signing up for at least a couple years of development— and that might be a generous timeline — in the hope that there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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2023-05-22 23:51:00