The Chicago Blackhawks maintains that they’re going to be patient in building the profile of a coach they want before identifying candidates, but that doesn’t mean fans are going to be patient in naming names — many have already begged for Barry Trotz (including me). But even though the Hawks have reportedly expressed interest in the future Hall of Famer, the likelihood that he’ll come to a rebuild with the other positions already and potentially available isn’t good.
With all of this as a foundation, there’s a strong candidate still coaching in the Stanley Cup Playoffs who should be at or at least near the top of the Blackhawks’ coaching wish list when they identify their interview list: Derek Lalonde. Let’s discuss.
Derek Lalonde will turn 50 on Aug. 18. His resume as a coach is length at a number of levels, and he has been impressive at almost every stop. He is currently an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning; he has been on Jon Cooper’s staff since 2018. If there’s an NHL organization that has built a winning culture, it’s the Lightning. Their back-to-back Stanley Cup championships are plenty of evidence, but their run this postseason is also impressive; they just swept the Florida Panthers without Brayden Point.
If you wan up-tempo, Tampa plays it. If you want a defensive commitment, Tampa does it. If you want winning, Tampa has done that plenty.
And Lalonde has been a key member of Cooper’s staff as they have built the Bolts into a potential dynasty.
Before joining the Lightning, Lalonde was the head coach of the Minnesota Wild’s AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild. He was the first coach in Iowa Wild history to lead the team to a winning record, and he did that in both seasons he was there. The Wild posted team records for wins, home wins, road wins, fewest losses and total points in a season while he was their head coach.
Prior to the move to Iowa, Lalonde led the Toledo Walleye to back-to-back playoff appearances. During his first season in 2014-15, Lalonde led the Walleye to a 50-15-5-2 record, earning him the ECHL Coach of the Year honor after leading a 58-point improvement from the previous season — the largest in ECHL history. The Walleye won the Brabham Cup as the ECHL’s regular season champions but fell in the Eastern Conference Finals that season.
Before Toldeo, Lalonde spent three years with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL. There, too, he was named the league’s coach of the year and led the Gamblers to a championship in his first season as their head coach.
As an assistant at the collegiate level, Lalonde spent five years at the University of Denver (2006-2011), during which the Pioneers posted a 122-63-19 record and won two WCHA Championships in 2008 and 2010. DU also appeared in four consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.
Why spend all this time on his background? He’s a winner. And the Blackhawks should be looking for a winner.
Joe Smith at The Athletic has written a couple great profiles about Lalonde in the past couple years. This profile from 2020 is a great deep-dive into Lalonde’s background. When Lalonde briefly served as the Lightning’s head coach in December of last year while Cooper was out in COVID protocol, Smith wrote:
His outgoing personality and self-deprecating humor help him connect with Lightning players, as he often starts each speech with a joke. He’s not shy when it comes to ribbing buddies from back home in Brasher Falls, N.Y, a town of about 1,000. He’s got skills at pickleball, Wiffle ball and board games, not to mention breaking down an opponent’s power play.
I think many Blackhawks fans and media members appreciated the candor with which Derek King conducted himself as the interim head coach of the Blackhawks; it was refreshing after Jeremy Colliton felt too aloof at times. Everything I have read about Lalonde indicates he has a similar approach to players and the media alike.
The Lightning would need their season to end for Lalonde to become officially available, but as the Blackhawks build their profile for a next head coach a lot what Lalonde brings to the table will likely be on the list of attributes.
We’ll profile some other coaching candidates in the coming weeks as the postseason continues, but I would be thrilled if Lalonde was the choice for the Blackhawks moving forward.