Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

True North needs man like Ramsay

NHL resumé of success, experience a big upside

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Maybe he's not the picture that comes to their collective mind when they imagine the head coach of their NHL franchise, but True North should find a way to keep Craig Ramsay around.

True North is mulling over their hockey operations personnel this week, making changes on the scouting side and taking a bigger, longer look at the coaching staff. Moose coach Claude Noel and current Atlanta Thrashers coach Ramsay are two top candidates for the position. Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller is also believed to be on the list, which is reportedly short.

Noel has the inside track with assistant GM Craig Heisinger for his work with the Moose. GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has kept his thoughts on a coach to himself, but he has confirmed he'll give Ramsay an interview and the Free Press has been told Muller will also get a look.

I recently wrote in this space that if Ramsay isn't retained, the job should go to Claude Noel. I still think that, but only if Ramsay is released. For me, the perfect coaching scenario is a collaborative effort between Ramsay and Noel.

Why turn your back on 40 years of NHL experience as both a player and a coach that comes with Ramsay's package? Why put all the pressure on Noel? Why make a rookie NHL head coach carry the load for a brand-new franchise?

Ramsay has only one year left on his contract, so there's no rush to make a move. Let it play out for a bit with Noel on board as associate coach.

Ramsay's conduct in the past few days under trying circumstances says a lot about the man. He hasn't stomped up and down and demanded to be heard. He's said all the right things about wanting to come to Winnipeg and being open to interviewing for a job he already holds.

His players have quietly but genuinely supported him since the move to Winnipeg.

"I hope we get to build on what we've started with Rammer," were captain Andrew Ladd's words a week ago.

Ramsay doesn't need the money and at 60, he could ride into the sunset with a full and accomplished career to look back on. But when he says he doesn't leave things unfinished, he means it.

There's one thing True North has proven to be good at over the years, and that's finding quality people. Heisinger's character detector will overload when he and Cheveldayoff sit down with Ramsay.

Insiders will tell you Ramsay's work with the Tampa Bay Lightning was critical to their Stanley Cup season in 2004. Head coach John Tortorella grabbed the spotlight, but behind the scenes, associate coach Ramsay made key chess moves.

There's that term associate coach again. Ramsay has held that title for parts of five seasons in a 17-year coaching career. Glory and recognition aren't what motivates him. Building, teaching and winning are his drivers.

Sharing the load with Noel won't be a deal-breaker for Ramsay.

In all their efforts to start afresh and give Winnipeg the best NHL operation they can offer, it would be wise of True North to make sure they're not making a change just to flex their new big-league muscles.

Cheveldayoff is charged with transforming an elite AHL franchise into an NHL organization. Change is inevitable, but stability is also a sought-after commodity.

Ramsay can offer the players a foundation they recognize as they immerse themselves in an unknown community and new hockey environment.

He is also a member of the NHL establishment, something True North is a little short on at this point. Having a 40-year member of the league with a superior contact list and friends in almost every organization can't hurt.

Cheveldayoff and Heisinger were kings of the IHL and AHL, but only Cheveldayoff has NHL management experience and only two years at that. Ramsay's league savvy and expertise can't hurt.

Noel is meant to be an NHL head coach and he's likely ready right now. But circumstances play a role in these matters and Ramsay doesn't deserve to be shoved aside.

Find a way to satisfy both men and let the future unfold.

You can never have too many good people and now is not the time to throw one overboard.

No, now is the time to collect as many as possible.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 15, 2011 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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