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The Vegas Golden Knights are swimming in an unprecedented NHL expansion coaching pool

The league hasn’t seen an expansion year coaching crop like this in recent memory.

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Boston Bruins - Game Three Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Vegas Golden Knights general manager George McPhee is staring down one of the most unprecedented positions in NHL history. With the Bruins firing head coach Claude Julien unexpectedly on Tuesday morning, the Golden Knights’ coaching pool just expanded to yet another big name.

Here’s a quick refresher of the coaches fired this year that are no doubt, 100 percent on Vegas’ radar:

  • Claude Julien
  • Jack Capuano
  • Gerard Gallant
  • Ken Hitchcock

That’s four NHL head coaches that have won a combined two Stanley Cups in their coaching careers. Between them, they’ve led their teams to the playoffs 26 times in 38 full seasons.

To put it plainly, McPhee and Vegas have the pick of the head coaching litter.

It should go without saying that Vegas wants to be a contender almost right out of the gate. As the first new franchise in the city — and in the southwest no less, where teams apparently still have to prove that hockey belongs — Vegas has a lot more than their own franchise at stake with the success of their team.

Considering what their coaching pool looks like, Vegas is already ahead of the curve in that regard. In fact, Vegas is by far and away the first expansion team in recent memory to have this many quality coaching options available.

Some teams, like the Nashville Predators when they came into the league in 1998, didn’t go the NHL coaching route. The league is actually better for what they did, as the Predators hired Barry Trotz as their first head coach. Trotz had five seasons of AHL experience with the Portland Pirates, but was otherwise green at the NHL level.

By the end of his Nashville career, Trotz ended up taking the Predators to seven playoffs during his 15-year coaching tenure.

The Minnesota Wild also proved successful with their hire of Jacques Lemaire. The former Devils head coach was the best of the bunch, as Lemaire led New Jersey to a Stanley Cup just five years prior. Not only was Lemaire the best option, he may have been the only option, as Minnesota general manager Doug Risebrough played with Lemaire during their playing days together in Montreal.

Lemaire coached eight seasons behind the Wild bench, but made it to the playoffs only three times.

Minnesota Wild v New Jersey Devils Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Unfortunately, teams like the Blue Jackets and the Atlanta Thrashers weren’t so lucky in their head coaching options. Columbus had to fight with the Wild all the way, as both teams expanded in 2000. Dave King was the first head coach of the Blue Jackets, beating out former Calgary Flames coach Brian Sutter and Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Bryan Trottier for the job.

King didn’t last a full three seasons with the Blue Jackets, and his NHL head coaching career ended in 2003. Sutter enjoyed three seasons as the Blackhawks’ head coach, but only made the playoffs once before his contract wasn’t picked up by new general manger Dale Tallon. Trottier won a Stanley Cup with the Avalanche as an assistant coach, but he lasted just 54 games as the Rangers’ head coach in 2002-03.

Curt Fraser was the Thrashers’ pick in another case of being on the inside track with management. Fraser and general manager Don Waddell were partners in bringing the Orlando Solar Bears to the International Hockey League in 1995 before working together again in 1999. Ted Nolan and Ron Low were contenders for the Thrashers’ job and both had NHL experience, but were passed over for familiarity.

While the leftovers of the recent expansion teams only lasted a few more years in the NHL, it’s highly likely the three coaches not chosen by Vegas could continue their success elsewhere in the league. The coaching pool is too talented and too deep, meaning Vegas won’t be the only one that benefits next season.

Still, it’s a glut of coaching talent the NHL hasn’t seen in years, maybe even in the history of league expansion. If George McPhee wasn’t working those phones before, he most definitely is now.