No time wasted as coaching searches begin

As much fun as we've had trying to crystal ball which teams have a shot in the first round of the playoffs, it's almost as intriguing trying to figure out what non-playoff teams will do with their coaching vacancies.

Teams not taking part in the tournament sure didn't waste much time moving on, as a source told ESPN.com that Ottawa GM Bryan Murray fired head coach Cory Clouston seconds after the team's charter touched down in Ottawa after their season finale in Boston.

Florida GM Dale Tallon dispatched Pete DeBoer the day after the Panthers' season came to an end, while Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher deep-sixed Todd Richards less than 24 hours after the Wild finished their season with a dramatic win over Dallas that kept the Stars out of the postseason.

Meanwhile, Jacques Lemaire told reporters immediately after the Devils' final game that he wouldn't be back behind the bench next season in spite of a terrific second half for New Jersey.

So, what now?

The Devils are back where they were a year ago, when Lemaire walked away after New Jersey was shocked in five games in the first round by Philadelphia. One name that has consistently cropped up in relation to the Devils is that of Ken Hitchcock, who will coach Canada's entry at the World Championships.

Could Hitchcock be the guy to carry on Lemaire's good work with Ilya Kovalchuk? Sure. He helped Rick Nash become a better two-way player even though the two may have had a strained relationship at the end in Columbus.

The other person who might fit nicely in New Jersey is Michel Therrien, who turned a young, disorganized Penguins team into a Cup contender. The Devils are way ahead of where the Pens were when Therrien took over in 2005-06, and there are lots of good, young bodies in the Devils future. Therrien would, in our opinion, be a good fit in Newark.

Therrien, currently scouting for the Minnesota Wild, could also be in line for the Wild job. Fletcher was the assistant GM in Pittsburgh when Therrien turned the Pens' fortunes around and was also involved with the Pens' AHL affiliate, where Therrien also coached, so the Wild's GM has seen firsthand what Therrien can do.

The other name to watch, not just vis a vis the Devils but in general, is Montreal assistant coach Kirk Muller. He's survived a couple of coaching upheavals in Montreal and is considered ready to take that next step and become a head coach. His history with the Devils would put him in good stead, and we all know how president and GM Lou Lamoriello likes to be comfortable when it comes to staffing. The problem may be that Lamoriello's decision to give the job last summer to longtime Devil John MacLean was an unmitigated disaster. Does he take another chance on a coach without head coaching experience at the NHL level?

Look for Muller to be behind an NHL bench as head coach somewhere, and his availability may prompt a team like Ottawa to hold on until at least the end of the first round to see what might pop up.

Ottawa is an interesting situation given that Bryan Murray, recently given a contract extension, has gone through a dizzying array of coaches in the past three years: John Paddock, Craig Hartsburg and Clouston. Extension or not, one would think owner Eugene Melnyk's patience for coaching gaffes is pretty thin.

Former Cup winner Bob Hartley was in the mix before Hartsburg was given the job. Although Hartley recently agreed to coach an elite league team in Switzerland, it's believed he could be swayed if the Sens come calling. Hartley would be a natural in Ottawa given his experience.

Some have suggested DeBoer would be a natural given the interest shown in him by Melnyk and the Senators before he took the Florida job. Yet sources have said Melnyk was miffed that DeBoer didn't accept his offer, so that may not be a natural fit anymore.

The fact the Senators have a strong crop of young talent, especially college talent, may lend itself to DeBoer's skills in spite of his lack of success with the Panthers.

Dave Cameron, coach of Canada's entry in the World Junior Championship last year, is another name getting buzz around Ottawa. Cameron coaches the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL, a team owned by Melnyk (ah, now you get it). But after the Clouston disaster, the sense is that the Sens may go the more traditional route and hire a coach with NHL experience. What about a coaching staff that included Hartley and Cameron?

Kurt Kleinendorst, coach of the Sens' AHL team in Binghamton, may also get a look.