The Calgary Flames organization has experienced quite a bit of people leaving in the past year. One of the losses that may be overlooked by the general public compared to everything else would be former Calgary Wranglers head coach, Mitch Love. Love joined the Washington Capitals as an assistant coach after finishing as a runner up for the Flames head coaching position. His departure obviously left a hole in the organization as the Wranglers do not have a head coach. Calgary Flames GM, Craig Conroy, recently said that they will hopefully name a head coach in the coming week or so. With that all out of the way, let’s look at some potential candidates for the vacant position.
Coaches who look to be the best options for Calgary
The trend inside the Flames organization this offseason has been promoting with in and it wouldn’t be all that surprising if they did it again. Nachbaur has been coaching since 1994 so he has a decent amount of experience in this field. He started out as the head coach of the Seattle Thunderbirds. In his first season of coaching Nachbaur won WHL coach of the year. In his whole tenure with the Thunderbirds, he did not miss the playoffs once.
He then received promotion to the AHL as an assistant coach, then back to the WHL for over half a decade as the head coach for the Tri-City Americans. This stint was similar to his one with the Thunderbinds, he didn’t miss the playoffs once and won WHL coach of the year.
After his success, the Binghamton Senators made him their head coach and they failed to make the playoffs, leaving Nachbaur to end up back in the WHL, this time with the Spokane Chiefs. In his time with the Chiefs, the team was successful winning WHL coach of the year once again and making the playoffs every year except for one. Nachbaur finally was given an NHL opportunity as the assistant coach of the LA Kings. He was fired shortly into his second season after a rough 4–8–1 start.
Nachbaur bounced around two European teams for a couple of years and then joined the Flames organization as assistant coach for the Stockton Heat/Calgary Wranglers. Promoting from within may not be ideal again, but the familiarity the Flames have with him as well as the experience, solid success, and hardware he has under his name, they could easily be attracted.
James Patrick is one of the most intriguing candidates out of them all for the Wranglers head coach role. Patrick has ties to the Flames as a player. He was acquired by them in 1994 alongside Michael Nylander and Zarley Zalapski from the Hartford Whalers in exchange for three players. He stayed with the Flames for four more seasons after the trade.
Now onto Patrick’s coaching career so far. It started in the 2006–07 season where he joined the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant coach. His first year was super successful as that went all the way to the conference finals. After that, the farthest they got was the first round. His seven year stint with the Sabres had concluded and he moved on to the Dallas Stars. His tenure with the Stars was about half as long as his Sabres tenure, only four years this time. The most success they had was a second round appearance.
In the 2017–18 season, Patrick joined the Kootenay Ice organization as the head coach. It took some years of rebuilding and a relocation to Winnipeg, but Patrick and the Ice finally had started to see some success. There was no playoffs in the 2019–20 and 2020–21 seasons due to the global pandemic, but a combined record of 56–29–2 showed some great promise. That promise ended up in results as the Ice have been one of the best WHL and CHL teams the past two seasons. In 2022, the Ice went all the way to the conference finals losing to eventual champions, Edmonton Oil Kings, in five games. Patrick was also named WHL coach of the year. This previous season they took another step forward, making the finals, but sadly losing to the Seattle Thunderbirds. With the club moving to Wenatchee, Patrick is no longer the head coach.
Now would be the perfect time for the Flames to swoop in and grab Patrick for their organization. He has ties with the team and has coached one of the better junior teams in the past few years which shows he works well with younger players and knows how to guide them to success. If that doesn’t scream perfect candidate for an AHL team I don’t know what does.
Kris Mallette never played hockey at the NHL or AHL level but that didn’t stop him from having a successful coaching career. Mallette moved up the ranks starting in lower tier junior leagues such as the KIJHL and BCHL. Finally he reached the WHL and joined the Kelowna Rockets where he’s been for the past nine seasons. Mallette started out as an assistant coach for the team and eventually became head coach.
Mallette’s first season as an assistant coach with the team was almost perfect. The Rockets went all the way to the finals and won the WHL championship against the Brandon Wheat Kings. Then came the Memorial Cup where, once again they made the finals, only this time they sadly lost in overtime to the Oshawa Generals. The following seasons, they had a some what slow decline. Mallette and the Rockets made it to the conference finals in the next two seasons, but lost in both years, then it was a first round exit and then missing the playoffs all together.
Mallette was named head coach halfway through the 2019–20 season. In the years there were playoffs, they have only gone so far as a first round exit which includes this past season. One thing that’s intriguing about Mallette is that he’s been named assistant coach at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup for Team Canada the previous and this summer. Canada and Mallette captured gold last summer and are looking to repeat.
The Flames seem to like getting previous head coaches on the Rockets to join their organization. Current head coach, Ryan Huska, and assistant coach, Dan Lambert, have both at some point coached the Rockets in their careers, it may be intriguing to both the Flames and Mallette to follow in their footsteps.
A quick look at his coaching career and Dennis Williams seems compelling. He started out in the NCAA with quite a few different colleges and universities as an assistant coach. He then moved down to the NAHL to head coach the Amarillo Bulls for a few seasons. After some successful years, he became the head coach and GM of the Bloomington Thunder of the USHL.
In 201718, he joined the team he works with today—the Everett Silvertips as head coach. His first season was outstanding as him and the Silvertips went all the way to the WHL finals losing to the Swift Current Broncos in six. The second season was a step back, but not that terrible either, losing in the second round to the Spokane Chiefs in five. No playoffs for the next two years but a strong combined record of 65–17–4 looks really good on a resume. The Silvertips and Williams haven’t been able to recreate their 2018 success with playoffs back falling victim to two first round exits in the last couple of seasons.
Williams also has some international success under his belt. He was the assistant coach for Canada at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2019 where they went to the finals and lost to Russia. At the 2022 World Juniors, he represented Canada as an assistant coach again, this time beating Finland in overtime claiming gold. This previous World Juniors, Williams was named head coach of Canada and once again won gold with them, defeating Czechia.
Williams has a great track record of success at the junior level, and he also has some experience coaching potential Wranglers in Jeremie Poirier and Dustin Wolf.
What do you do when you lose a coach who was an assistant coach with the Everett Silvertips and a head coach with the Saskatoon Blades? You go and get another one!
Brennan Sonne is decently new to coaching only starting nine years ago with, as already mentioned, the Everett Silvertips as an assistant coach. He stayed with Everett for three years and they made the playoffs each time, but they lost in the second round in back-to-back-to-back years. First year they lost to the Portland Winterhawks, the next two they lost to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
After never getting over the second round hump, Sonne went across the ocean and was the head coach of Angers in Ligue Magnus, a French league. Even over seas, Sonne didn’t find much playoff success, losing in the quarterfinals in his first two years, and playoffs being cancelled in his final two.
In 2021, Sonne came back to North America and Canada and became the head coach of the Saskatoon Blades. Sonne’s first year as a WHL head coach was decent, finishing with a record of 38–26–4, but unfortunately the Blades and him got bounced in the first round by the Moose Jaw Warriors in five. This prior season, Sonne and the Blades took massive strides. They had a record of 48–15–4 and finished fifth in the WHL which gave them a date with Connor Bedard and the Regina Pats in the first round.
Bedard being Bedard almost eliminated Sonne and the Blades single handily, but they won the seven game series sending Bedard home and setting up a match with the Red Deer Rebels. This series also went to seven games and saw the Blades winning. Sonne and the Blades were now in the conference finals which I don’t think many saw coming. Their run stopped here though as they were swept by the Winnipeg Ice. To cap off his year, Sonne won WHL coach of the year.
Realistically, Sonne probably won’t be the guy the Wranglers named head coach, but he’d be my dark horse pick. He’s 36 which is young in coaching terms, he also has some promise considering he’s never missed the playoffs once yet if I’m not mistaken and has also won WHL coach of the year so soon into his head coaching career. He’s likely a guy you see promoted in the next three to five years, but I think he could do some damage if promoted now.
Lots of options for coach
The Flames and Wranglers have many different options to choose from when it comes to filling the Wranglers’ vacant head coaching position. They could choose experience and inside the organization with Don Nachbaur or bring a former player with coaching success back in James Patrick. Then there’s a coach who could follow other coaches in the organization’s footsteps in Kris Mallette. Finally, there’s some younger coaches with promise in Dennis Williams and Brennan Sonne. Williams has quite a bit of experience for a 43-year-old coach and has already won gold multiple times at international junior tournaments. Sonne shows promise of being a strong coach and has taken home a coach of the year award very early into his career.