It's Craig MacTavish 2.0 in the front office of the Edmonton Oilers as he has become senior vice-president of hockey operations of the NHL club. And it could be Scott Arniel 2.0 in the coaching mix for the Vancouver Canucks, if he replaces MacTavish as bench boss of the AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves.
With MacTavish stepping down as coach to take a management post with the Oilers, the Canucks have a void in Chicago. But not for long. Not only did Arniel guide the Manitoba Moose for four seasons before becoming head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets two years ago, his firing on Jan. 9 was followed by a stint scouting for the Canucks.
General manager Mike Gillis sounded Monday like Arniel was a serious candidate to return to the Canucks' fold. Arniel went one better. He sounded like it's a position he would more than consider. Covet would be a better summation.
"It is an interesting position and I have a history with the organization and the players as well," Arniel said from his offseason home in Winnipeg. "I'm sure I'll be talking to Mike to see what's going on. I know this group and there's a comfort level and as a coach, you want to keep coaching. I don't know Chicago, only to have coached against them, and I don't want to get too far ahead in this process but it intrigues me and we'll leave it at that.
"Everything just got started today. We'll see."
Arniel, 49, received permission from Columbus general manager Scott Howson to work in a scouting capacity for the Canucks down the stretch drive and into the playoffs because he's under contract through the 2012-13 season at $800,000 US. That alone proved that his link to Vancouver was never going to really be broken.
"At the end of the year, the [Canucks] didn't know who they were playing and were in a race with St. Louis," Arniel said of the Presidents' Trophy pursuit. "It was a crapshoot and they were trying to cover as many teams who were still involved. I went out and did something I had never done before and was doing systems, power play and penalty killing and watching tendencies and line matches. I watched Detroit and Nashville and Phoenix and Chicago. It was good to be in the rinks. Good for my morale."
Arniel was fired after 41 games this season because the Blue Jackets started 2-8-1 and stumbled to an 11-25-5 record when the axe fell. It was probably more a reflection of a club in disarray than an inability to coach at the NHL level, because of the ineffectiveness of Jeff Carter, the suspended and injury-plagued James Wisniewski plus the ongoing Derick Brassard healthy-scratch drama. In four seasons with the Manitoba Moose Arniel guided many Canuck core players and compiled a 181-106-33 record. His team advanced to the 2009 Calder Cup final. He also served as a Buffalo Sabres assistant coach for two seasons and has been rumoured as a possible assistant to Randy Carlyle with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"He's a very good coach and we think very highly of him," said Gillis. "If he was interested, I would imagine that he would be a candidate, but I haven't spoken to Scott yet. We've got a number of candidates who have expressed interest and we'll start the process quickly. We'd like to have somebody by our development camp which is at the end of the month."
Meanwhile in Edmonton, adding another layer to management and bringing another ex-Oiler back into the fold seemed as important as who will guide the young team after Tom Renney was fired. In that respect, general manager Steve Tambellini now has another person to answer to in the front office. The 53-year-old MacTavish played nine seasons for the Oilers and coached them for eight. As the eighth Wolves coach, he guided the club to a 42-27-4 record this season and a fourth Midwest Division championship.
Meanwhile, the coaching picture remains cloudy. Brent Sutter has long been rumoured to be favoured, especially after guiding Team Canada at the world championship where Oilers president Kevin Lowe served as manager. And with former Vancouver Canucks coach Marc Crawford losing to Michel Therrien in his bid for the Montreal Canadiens job, he might now be in the mix, too. However when reached Monday in Toronto, Crawford sounded like he's a consideration in Edmonton and Washington but maybe not the leading candidate.
"I had contact with both and I've interviewed a few times," said Crawford. "I'm at the point now where I would look at a lot of things. I've been close and I know I want to continue to coach and I'm exploring all my options now."
Capitals assistant Dean Evason and New York Rangers assistant Mike Sullivan may have a leg up in Washington but former Capitals star Adam Oates — an assistant with the New Jersey Devils — could be at the front of the line. As for the Oilers, other candidates could be their AHL coach Todd Nelson or Tampa's minor-league bench boss Jon Cooper, who just won the Calder Trophy. One rumour has Mark Messier possibly in the mix. He coached Team Canada two years ago at the Deutschland Cup and Spengler Cup and is currently a special advisor to Rangers president and general manger Glen Sather.
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