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AHL is a major source of NHL coaches and players

by Michael Stainkamp
NHL teams are utilizing the American Hockey League for developing talent behind the bench as well as on the ice.

Columbus' hiring of Scott Arniel as its new coach on Tuesday continued the recent trend of NHL teams digging into the AHL for coaches as well as players. Arniel had been the coach of the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. Hamilton's Guy Boucher reportedly is in line to follow Arniel to the NHL; he's expected to be named as coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning later this week.

The recent boom in AHL-to-NHL coaching moves can be traced to Nov. 22, 2007. That's the date the Washington Capitals, frustrated by a poor start, brought in Bruce Boudreau from their AHL farm team in Hershey to replace Glen Hanlon after the team stumbled through the first 21 games of the season. Boudreau led the Capitals from last place in the overall standings to the Southeast Division title -- earning him the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's Coach of the Year in the process.

"I think that certainly had some general managers starting to look at some coaches who perhaps hadn't had that look before," AHL president Dave Andrews told CBC Sports last year when asked about the effect of Boudreau's success.

An even-more-successful AHL-to-NHL promotion came in February 2009, when Pittsburgh fired Michel Therrien and brought in Dan Bylsma, the coach of AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Bylsma took over a team that was 10th in the East after making the Stanley Cup Final the previous spring and led the Penguins to 18 wins and 40 points in their last 25 games -- then piloted them to their first Stanley Cup in 17 years. Bylsma became only the second coach in history to come in as a midseason replacement and lead his team to the Cup.

Penguins general manager Ray Shero told that what Bylsma did with that team in 2008 was "nothing short of phenomenal." Shero went on to say: "To face that challenge in February as a first-time NHL head coach and not only make the playoffs but win the Cup tells you a lot about Dan Bylsma as a coach and a person. He's a tremendous representative of our organization and clearly one of the bright young coaches in the game."

The growing list of AHL-to-NHL coaches also includes the Islanders’ Scott Gordon (Providence), Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche (Lake Erie), Ottawa's Cory Clouston (Binghamton), and Davis Payne of St. Louis (Peoria). John Anderson, who coached the Atlanta Thrashers for the past two seasons, previously guided the Chicago Wolves to a pair of AHL titles. Of those five, only Gordon came from another organization -- he was named AHL coach of the year coaching Boston's top farm team, earning a chance on the Island.

In all, 22 of the 30 current NHL bench bosses previously coached in the American Hockey League, including six who won the Calder Cup in their AHL days.

This season's Final features one of those AHL grads behind the bench. Peter Laviolette was a success in Providence -- leading the P-Bruins to a championship -- before being hired by the New York Islanders in 2001. He had two successful seasons on Long Island before being let go, but led the Carolina Hurricanes to the 2006 Stanley Cup. The Flyers hired him 25 games into the 2009-10 season, and Laviolette has led the Flyers to their first Final since 1997.

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