'Peg NHL coach needs golden touch

Kevin Cheveldayoff speaks with the media after being introduced as the general manager of...

Kevin Cheveldayoff speaks with the media after being introduced as the general manager of Winnipeg's NHL franchise in Winnipeg, Man., June 8, 2011. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:31 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It’s not an enviable task for your first couple of weeks in a brand new job.

Rookie NHL GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has barely had time to pick out an office chair and a nameplate for his door, and already he’s in the middle of the Winnipeg franchise’s most critical decision: the hiring of his first head coach.

That’s a bit like a new government employee being told his first job is to take down the Golden Boy for replating.

Mess up, and a whole province will notice.

Nobody’s going to be under a more powerful microscope and getting more face time in these parts the next couple of years than Winnipeg’s head coach.

This successful applicant will not only have to get the most out of a collection of players cobbled together from Atlanta Thrashers holdovers and pieces brought in by Cheveldayoff and his assistant Craig Heisinger — he’ll have to capture the imaginations of hockey fans hanging on his every word.

The job is equal parts strategist, cheerleader, taskmaster and babysitter, with mayoral-type public relations skills a definite asset.

That’s what makes Cheveldayoff’s interview process — who’s made his short list, and who hasn’t — so interesting.

Looking at it, a couple things come to mind.

One, this could turn out to be the GM trying to sell his guy to the assistant GM, while the assistant GM does the same with his guy.

Cheveldayoff came from the Chicago Blackhawks, where Mike Haviland was an assistant coach the last three years. It’s no coincidence Haviland is on the GM’s short list.

Meanwhile, assistant GM Craig Heisinger would be a Claude Noel guy, having seen Noel do solid work with the Manitoba Moose last season, and with Milwaukee of the AHL before that.

Cheveldayoff, the day he was hired, said he welcomed disagreement in the Winnipeg front office. I’m guessing a healthy dose of that has already begun.

The other striking thing about what appears to be the final four candidates: experience as a head coach is an absolute necessity.

How else do you explain why Kirk Muller, seen as one of the NHL’s hot young prospects, did not rate an interview?

Muller, a Habs assistant coach since 2006, has just one year as a head man under his belt, and that was at Queen’s University in Ottawa, not exactly the pressure-cooker of the NHL.

By comparison, Haviland, Noel, Craig MacTavish and Craig Ramsay have all run their own show in the pros, most notably MacTavish, former boss with the Edmonton Oilers, whose results with a relatively small-budget Canadian franchise were mixed.

Next up in NHL seniority is Ramsay, the main man behind the bench in Atlanta last season. The critics may point to his non-playoff results, but one season in that unstable situation isn’t much to go by.

Haviland and Noel have sparkling resumes in the minors, dotted with championships and coach-of-the-year awards.

There’s no slam-dunk, here. And it’s possible there’s more than one candidate who’d excel at the job.

But there could also be at least one that wouldn’t work out. One whose team Manitobans would look at next winter and see that something isn’t right.

One who wouldn’t turn out to be our Golden Boy.

If Cheveldayoff gets this one right, the rest should follow.

And there will be plenty of shine to go around.


Videos

Photos