Phil Housley vaults to top of Panthers’ list

Photo courtesy The Hockey Writers

Most recent reports coming out of South Florida have Nashville Predators assistant coach Phil Housley moving to the top of the Florida Panther coaching candidate list – with DU’s Jim Montgomery in a solid secondary position.  General Manager Dale Tallon will not be able to interview Housley until the end of the Preds’ Stanley Cup Final run against the Pittsburgh Penguins. So expect the already long, drawn out process to continue for several more weeks.

As reported by the Hockey Feed, “according to one Panthers insider, they’ve zeroed in on a Hall of Famer – Phil Housley.” And, this delay also helps to account for such an extended coaching search by Tallon who can only meet with Housley after the playoffs conclude.

One of the best American defensemen ever, Housley is fourth all-time in NHL scoring for defensemen and could pass on his expertise to the team’s young core of defenders like Aaron Ekblad and Michael Matheson. Housley retired from the NHL in 2003 and since then has remained involved with the game. He is a member of the NHL Hall of Fame and, in 2013, he coached the IIHF World U20 Championship to the Gold. He later joined the Nashville Predators as an assistant to head coach Peter Laviolette.

Housley has worked with Dale Tallon in the past and the two are said to be close. Housley has also benefited from a great run by the Nashville Predators who play ferocious defense. The Predators’ biggest strength is their versatile and deep defensive corps, which features P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm in the top four. A major reason for that group’s success, though, is Housley who works primarily with the Nashville’s defense.

In his first season with Nashville after being traded by the Montreal Canadiens, star blueliner P.K. Subban had only good things to say of Housley, “He sees the game unlike probably anyone else who’s ever played the game. When he talks, all that matters is what is coming out of his mouth.”

In Monday’s game-one loss to Pittsburgh, the Predator defense, nicknamed Smashville for their aggressive style, allowed no shots on goal in the second period and only 12 for the game – a Stanley Cup record for a losing team. Performances like these are catching the eyes of South Florida.

Denver hockey fans shouldn’t rest easy yet. This process isn’t over.

There may be other interest in Housley as well. The Buffalo Sabres also have an open head coaching slot likely have Housley on their radar, too. Housley spent his first eight NHL seasons in Buffalo so there may also be a loyalty factor at play. The Panthers are said to be thrifty with head coaching salaries (i.e. cheap) so Jim Montgomery could move to the top of the Panther’s list if their bid for Housley is unsuccessful.

The Panthers’ interview process, while longer than most, shows just how difficult it is for a college coach to break into the NHL ranks with all the qualified competition. That’s why Jim Montgomery is obliged to take this opportunity to potentially achieve the highest level possible in his field.

If he doesn’t go now, though, there will surely be more opportunities down the road.