Tocchet, Housley, Boughner, Green, Stevens and Gallant all played in the NHL in the 1990s and represent the new-school concept of a players' coach, mixing positive relationships with accountability. Likable Jon Cooper took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final in his first go-'round, while other experiments like Dallas Eakins, Claude Noel, Ron Rolston and Mike Johnston didn't go so well.
More time is needed to determine the success of some, like the Philadelphia Flyers' Dave Hakstol, New Jersey Devils' John Hynes and Colorado Avalanche's Jared Bednar, but teams are more willing than ever to take a risk on coaching rookies. Ten of the 31 coaches are in their first head jobs in the NHL as some prominent experienced coaches like Lindy Ruff, Jacques Martin, Jack Capuano and Marc Crawford have accepted roles as assistants.
Florida GM Dale Tallon went through an "exhaustive, extensive search" before Boughner's interview blew him away, and Chayka talked to more than 25 coaches before calling Tocchet the best candidate by a wide margin. Kings GM Rob Blake said "there was literally no search" as Stevens was the natural fit to succeed Darryl Sutter, and the Canucks didn't interview anyone but Green, who coached their top minor league affiliate for the past four seasons.
Buffalo GM Jason Botterill said Housley was "uniquely qualified" for the job based on his playing and coaching careers. Hockey experience on the ice and at other levels may be just as valuable to executives picking coaches.
"I've been a player, I've been an owner, I've been an executive, I've been a head coach, an assistant coach," Boughner said with a significant nod to his time in junior hockey. "I know this league and I know the game and I'm ready for this challenge."
One of the biggest challenges in the transition from assistant to head coach is the different dynamic with players. Panthers captain Derek MacKenzie had Boughner as an assistant in Columbus and considered him approachable but someone who knew when to "put his foot down."
MacKenzie acknowledged it won't be exactly the same with Boughner in charge. After winning the Stanley Cup the past two seasons with the Penguins, Tocchet figures he won't alter his approach in Arizona.
"That's the million-dollar question to me because I don't want to change as a person," Tocchet said. "I don't think that because you carry a title 'head coach' that all of a sudden you've got to be distanced from your players."
His old boss disagrees. Mike Sullivan, who spent several seasons as an assistant under John Tortorella between head-coaching gigs and was hired by the Penguins midway through the 2015-16 season, insists there's a delineation in day-to-day duties.
"Ultimately I have to make difficult decisions, whether it be playing time or lineup decisions or power-play combinations," Sullivan said. "I think by nature of the head-coaching position, it's a very different relationship. ... That's just reality."
Tocchet was credited with helping Phil Kessel, Housley with Ryan Ellis and other Nashville defensemen, and Boughner with Sharks Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns. But perhaps more in common than their hands-on work in improving players, these first-time head coaches all sold their styles as fast and exciting.
"I don't want to take the stick out of guys' hands," Tocchet said. "I want them not to think too much. I want them to play. ... You have to give players freedom, especially in today's NHL, to play."