Imagine for a moment that you’re a young and talented AHL coach. You’ve just coached three games in three days, it’s Sunday night and you’re exhausted.
The phone rings.
It’s the NHL general manager of your parent team. They’ve fired their head coach, and they want you to take over and run the show behind the bench for tomorrow night’s game in Nashville. There are 30 NHL head coaching jobs, and you’ve just landed one of them. You’re packing, you’re calling family, maybe you’re reaching out to a player or two. Chances are you’re not planning to negotiate the best possible salary for yourself at that moment. If so, the GM has a list of 10 other AHL coaches willing to take your spot.
“Those guys all undercut themselves to get their foot in the door,” one veteran coach said. “And I don’t even blame them for that.”
Or, take a more experienced coach who has been out of the NHL a few years. His first crack as an NHL head coach didn’t go particularly well, but it was a young team with a low payroll. He did what he could. When that second opportunity comes after a long wait, his leverage is miniscule. He’s taking the job and hoping the pay raise comes later.
NHL coaches being hired are rarely in a position of power. They’re available because they’ve been fired and are looking for work. Or they’re available because they’re coaching outside the NHL. So when it comes time to attach a dollar amount to the job, it’s typically lopsided in favor of the person offering the job.
Mike Babcock is the exception.
His Detroit Red Wings have just one regulation loss in six games, and he’s again maximizing the talent he has on the roster.