|For former NHL great Doug Gilmour, the road to
becoming a head coach someday begins this
season as an assistant with the Toronto Marlies.
That's understandable, since the all-time great never played in the league. So it's a good thing that he has someone with first-hand knowledge of that topic nearby.
Gilmour's daughter, Maddison, is the long-time girlfriend of Grand Rapids forward Evan McGrath. When Gilmour was pondering whether to take an assistant coaching job with the Marlies, he went to McGrath for something of a scouting report.
Nothing too deep, like player tendencies or strategies. Just little stuff, such as scheduling and those infernal bus rides. The last time Gilmour used that method of transportation for hockey games was when he was in juniors in the early 1980s.
"He's never really seen much of the AHL. It's definitely different traveling-wise,'' McGrath said. "I was trying to tell him a little bit about what we see down here, instead of the perks of the NHL. Obviously, bus rides aren't the most fun. But I don't think he's focusing on that.''
That's for sure. In taking the job as an assistant with Toronto, Gilmour, 45, has far more important things in sight.
For the past two seasons, Gilmour has been a professional development advisor for the Maple Leafs. While that worked out just fine, Gilmour said he lacked passion for that job and wanted to move a little closer to the ice. That spark was fueled by a stint as an assistant coach on Canada's Spengler Cup team last year, and when the spot of Marlies assistant Jim Hughes opened up over the summer, Gilmour was a natural choice.
"For me, personally, I wanted to be more of a teacher. To get a resume, you have to start somewhere,'' he said. "By being where I was the past two years, speaking to a lot of ex-NHL players, I felt it was the right time. I know where I want to go.''
That, ultimately, is to a head-coaching job in the NHL. Gilmour has given himself a seven-year window to hit that finish line. He'll lug a variety of coaching influences toward that quest, ranging from what he described as the authoritarian styles that were dominant among bench bosses in the 1980s to the more catering attitudes en vogue with the coaches of the 1990s.
Well, there's all that -- plus his 1,414 points in 1,474 career NHL games.
"I know there's a lot of work ahead of me. I'm not scared of that,'' Gilmour said. "A lot of that teaching is through experience. I know what it takes to get there, what a struggle it is.''
And if he has any questions, he always knows where to turn. Until North Division rivals Grand Rapids and Toronto lock horns, that is.
"We've gone over that quite a bit. I think I've threatened a couple of times to shoot a couple of pucks at him. At the same time, he's threatened to throw a couple of water bottles,'' McGrath said. "You'll compete a lot harder. You don't want to lose those games.''
Wolves sign Rivers -- Last year, Jamie Rivers' disappointment in failing to start the season in the NHL sent him into a tailspin that carried him all the way overseas.
This preseason, he has a much more appealing backup plan -- a spot on the Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves.
Rivers, 33, has signed an AHL deal with the Wolves. That's a pretty good hockey home, but one that is far off on Rivers' horizon now. He's going to camp with Atlanta, and hopes to impress the Thrashers into an NHL deal. Given that Rivers has skated in 454 career NHL games with St. Louis, the Islanders, Ottawa, Boston, Florida, Detroit and Phoenix, his dream has at least a little credibility.
"The plan for me is to go to camp in Atlanta. I think there's a spot to be won there,'' he said. "I still think there's some NHL left in me. If it doesn't work out, I'll be in Chicago. I'd rather be with Chicago than any other AHL team.''
Such security is nice, considering that the memory of how quickly plans go awry is burned in his mind. Rivers joins the Wolves after playing last year in Russia. That was a Plan B -- actually, more like a Plan D -- after first giving it a brief shot with Montreal.
Rivers signed with the Canadiens last summer. When it became apparent in his view that he wasn't going to get a solid chance at making the team, he wanted no part of the AHL as a consolation prize.
The difference this year, he estimates, is his belief that he'll get a better shot in Atlanta than he did with Montreal and the relatively early understanding that he might have to work his way back up from Chicago.
"If I knew when I signed the contract (with Montreal) what I knew when training camp began, I wouldn't have signed the contract,'' he said. "I guess it (going to Russia) was like the midlife crisis in hockey. The difference this year is I'm working toward the goal of playing with Atlanta, but I've come to terms with the chance of playing with Chicago. Nobody has promised me anything.''
Reirden joins Baby Pens; Dineen to Iowa -- One of Dan Bylsma's jobs when he played at Bowling Green was to instill a little character in Todd Reirden.
The year was 1990. Bylsma was a junior forward; Reirden was a freshman defenseman. Every upperclassman got a newcomer to break in as something of an underling/gopher boy, and Reirden was under the foot, er wing, of Bylsma.
"It's usually the upperclassmen who make sure they align to the team goals, so to speak,'' Bylsma said euphemistically.
Bylsma must have done a good job. His first hire as coach of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton was to name Reirden, 37, his assistant Monday.
The early taskmaster relationship aside, Bylsma and Reirden became good friends who leaned on each other during their pro playing careers. Reirden was an assistant coach for his alma mater last year. At the end of the season, Reirden worked as a volunteer assistant coach for the Penguins, when Bylsma was the assistant under Todd Richards.
"What did happen for Todd and myself was we're a sounding post for each other,'' Bylsma said. "The hockey world, you lean on people you know.''
That was also true in Iowa this week. Anaheim, new parent club of the Chops, named Gord Dineen coach of that team. Dineen had been an assistant coach with Portland, which was the previous farm team of the Ducks. Gord's brother, Kevin, is the head coach of Portland.
Gord, 45, played in 528 career NHL games. This will be his first AHL head-coaching job after working as an assistant coach for the Louisville Panthers (2000-01), Springfield Falcons (2003-04), Utah Grizzlies (2004-05) and San Antonio Rampage (2005-06).
Matt Laatsch, who was an assistant with the Pirates, moves over to that same position with Iowa.
Aeros' offense bulks up -- Tom Lynn, assistant general manager of the Wild, noted earlier this week that before this summer farm team Houston had never nabbed a free agent from the Wolves. And to make matters worse, the talent flow usually went the other way, with Chicago in the past grabbing former Aeros big names like Kyle Wanvig, Cory Larose and Travis Roche.
That all changed this preseason when Minnesota snatched Wolves free agent wing Jesse Schultz. Of course, the Wild had something of a wildcard working in its favor. If Schultz makes Minnesota he'll get to hang out with his cousin, Wild defenseman Nick Schultz.
"It can't hurt. I'm sure it helped,'' Jesse said of the role that perk played in his signing. "But first I have to look out for myself and make sure I'm in a good situation.''
Schultz can find the back of the net, so Houston would certainly see it as a good situation if he ends up there. The Aeros scored 206 goals last season, the fourth-lowest total in the AHL. Minnesota addressed that problem by bringing in Schultz (26 goals for Chicago), Krys Kolanos (30 goals for Quad City) and Corey Locke (30 goals for Hamilton).
"Last year they were more of a defensive team,'' Schultz said of Houston. "Maybe that was because of the players they had. You need scoring. That should put a lot of responsibility on myself and the guys they brought in to provide some offense.''