Winnipeg's search for a head coach for its new NHL franchise is now a two-horse race featuring Manitoba Moose boss Claude Noel and Chicago Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland.
Two thoroughbreds in the field -- the Thrashers' 60-year-old veteran coach Craig Ramsay and former Edmonton Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish -- were informed Monday they were out of the running for the vacant head-coaching gig.
"Yeah, that's true, they're not going to retain me," Ramsay, who has one year remaining on the contract he signed with Atlanta last year, told the Free Press. "(GM) Kevin (Cheveldayoff) handled it in a pro way. I've got no qualms with the way he did it. From the other standpoint, I don't like the way it dragged on. I think the Winnipeg management could have contacted us a little earlier to let us know where they were heading."
Thrashers associate coach John Torchetti and assistant coach Mike Stothers were also told they won't be back. Together, they guided Atlanta to a 34-36-12 record, 12th place in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs. Ramsay is currently in Minnesota -- site of this weekend's NHL entry draft -- visiting family and is also reportedly on the candidates list for the head-coaching job with the New Jersey Devils.
MacTavish, 52, coached the Oilers for eight years, taking them to the Stanley Cup finals in 2005-06.
It's possible second interviews will be conducted with Haviland and Noel, as there is no clear front-runner at this point. Cheveldayoff indicated Monday he won't rush the decision, but it is possible the new coach could be in place before the draft.
"Zinger (assistant GM Craig Heisinger) and I have conducted several interviews and obviously the process is ongoing," Cheveldayoff said. "True to our word, we haven't given a deadline to anyone yet. Obviously there are different procedures and stuff we'll conduct internally to get through the process.
"We're still kind of discussing things internally."
Noel was last behind the bench of an NHL team during the 2009-10 season when he was temporarily promoted to head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets after Ken Hitchcock was fired. Noel, now 55, helped guide the Blue Jackets to a 10-8-6 record, but the organization opted to hand the wheel to another former Moose head coach, Scott Arniel. Highly respected during his year at the helm of the Moose, Noel's squad posted a 43-30-1-6 record and a first-round playoff victory before falling to Hamilton in Game 7 of the second round.
Haviland and Cheveldayoff, meanwhile, have a history as the two have spent the last two years working together with the Blackhawks. A Middletown, N.J., native, the 43-year-old Haviland spent three years working with Chicago's AHL affiliates in Norfolk and Rockford.
He won two East Coast titles -- in 2003 with the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies and in 2005 with the Trenton Titans -- and was the AHL's top coach in 2007.