Blue Jackets coaching search: What are the latest developments? Who might be out?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets hoped to have a coach in place by now, but the search for a veteran voice to guide the young roster hasn’t gone as planned.

A source familiar with the process told The Athletic on Thursday that GM Don Waddell’s first choice for the job, former San Jose, Edmonton and Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan, was no longer considered the leading candidate after contract negotiations between the Jackets, McLellan and his former club, the Kings, fell apart this week.

McLellan’s contract with Los Angeles paid him $5.5 million per season — tops among NHL bench bosses — and extends through the 2024-25 season. That, essentially, made it a three-way negotiation, with the Blue Jackets needing to negotiate with the Kings to decide how much of McLellan’s salary they would pay for the coming season. The Kings fired McLellan in February.

It’s unclear why the contract talks broke off, but one source within the Blue Jackets said it wasn’t out of the question that the club could circle back to McLellan.

Barring renewed talks with McLellan, the Blue Jackets are down to two known candidates for the job, which became available last month when Waddell decided to fire Pascal Vincent after just one season on the job.

Dean Evason, who coached the Minnesota Wild for parts of five seasons before he was fired early in 2023-24, has interviewed multiple times with Waddell and others in the Blue Jackets’ front office. So has Jay Woodcroft, who coached the Edmonton Oilers for parts of three seasons before he, too, was fired early last season.

Interestingly, Evason and Woodcroft were assistant coaches together on Team Canada’s entry at the IIHF World Championships this spring in Czechia. Blue Jackets development coach Rick Nash, who has taken on a larger role under Waddell, was the general manager of that club.

Waddell has made it clear that he wasn’t planning to rush the process of hiring a new coach, noting repeatedly that the Blue Jackets’ vacancy is the only head coaching position available across the league. By the point in the summer, most of the staff openings in the NHL have been filled.

That, of course, makes life tough on the current Blue Jackets assistant coaches, Mark Recchi, Steve McCarthy, Jared Boll and Josef Boumedienne, who are twisting in the wind while the search goes on for their new boss.

Waddell has kept all of them on staff pending the new hire, but it’s expected that the new coach will want to bring one or two assistants with him as part of his new staff.

The one criteria Waddell has insisted on with any candidate for the job is NHL head coaching experience.

McLellan certainly has that. In fact, he would be the most experienced coach the Blue Jackets have ever hired, with 1,144 games and 598 wins under his belt, both 24th on the NHL’s all-time coaching lists. He’s also been a head coach in the World Championships (Team Canada) and the World Cup (Team North America).

Evason and Woodcroft both have head-coaching experience, too. But there are other experienced NHL coaches who either weren’t contacted to discuss the opening or were eliminated early in the process.

Gerard Gallant, whose first head-coaching job was with the Blue Jackets in early days of the franchise, has also coached in Florida, Vegas and the New York Rangers. But he was never contacted for the job, a source familiar with the process told The Athletic.

Jeff Blashill, who spent seven season as coach in Detroit, had discussions early in the process with Columbus, but was not a finalist for the job,

Joel Quenneville, who was suspended by the NHL for an “inadequate response” to Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich’s allegations of sexual assault, was eligible to be hired by an NHL club as of Wednesday after the league reinstated him on July 1.

The Blue Jackets have made it clear for two weeks that Quenneville would not be a candidate for the job.

(Photo: Kirk Irwin / Getty Images)

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