The NHL coaching positions feel like a revolving door. Talent is important for a hockey coach but it’s obvious that if you are in an inner circle, you will have an easier time getting a job. Jukka Jalonen is an example of a successful coach that hasn’t received a nod from the NHL. For teams that want to change after the end of the season, he may be what they need.
Who is Jukka Jalonen?
Jalonen is Finland’s most successful coach internationally. In the past few months, he had won Finland’s first gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Beijing and won against the Canadians at the IIHF World Championship in Tampere.
Even before that he won two other Championships in 2011 and 2019 when the tournaments were both in Slovakia. He has been the coach for three out of the four medals the nation has won in the tournament. He has also won the World Juniors in Finland in 2016. He and Mike Babcock are the only two coaches to have won gold with a nation’s senior team and junior team.
While he doesn’t coach for any team besides the national team at the moment, he has a history with the KHL and SM-Liiga. Jalonen started his head coaching career in the SM-Liiga team, Ilves in 1992. After four seasons with the team, he juggled around teams and leagues which lead him to Great Britain and Italy until he found a home with HPK. In 2006, he led HPK to their first championship in the league.
European Coaches in the NHL
Coaches that originate from Europe are very rare in the league. There have only been three coaches who had full seasons as head coach on an NHL team and none have been in the last ten years. Coaches’ positions in the NHL are an old man’s club and rarely allowed something new to come in and change up what is already known.
European coaches usually have been placed in underperforming teams such as the early 2000s Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks and are usually put under a harsher light compared to their North American counterparts by media and fans.
There is also a culture that North American coaches keep in the NHL and European coaches are a threat to that very culture. The language barrier is also a thought when it comes to coaching but most Europeans, they have a fluent understanding of English.
What teams could he coach?
After the 2021-22 season, six coaches were either let go or quit after the season. Five of those positions are still up for grabs after the New York Islanders hired Lane Lambert. The Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets, Philadelphia Flyers, Vegas Golden Knights, and Dallas Stars are all looking for a head coach in the 2022-23 season.
Even so, you have well-established names such as Barry Trotz and somehow Joel Quenneville and Babcock are being considered. Four of those teams are in the middle of the pack with the coaches usually underperforming with the team. However, the Flyers are a team that is looking to rebuild.
The only issue is that if another European coach joins a team that has a history of underperforming would he have a chance to have a career? It’s a tough question to answer but in an environment where he isn’t going to be welcomed unless he flips to switch fast is going to be hard.
Jalonen is a great coach. He yearly goes up against NHL players and coaches and finds a way to beat them. Just watching the gold medal games from 2019 and 2022 is a clear indication that Finland was a well-coached team. Whatever happens, there is one thing for certain, he should get his chance or else it will be a missed opportunity.
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