The NHL may be locked out, but beginning in just under two weeks, the AHL regular season will begin, so fans will at least get a chance to follow the growth of intriguing Canuck prospects like Chris Tanev, Zack Kassian, and Nolan Baumgartner.
Admittedly, one of those things is not like the other. Unlike Tanev and Kassian, who are just getting their NHL careers underway, Baumgartner’s time as a player just ended. The defenceman retired this summer to go behind the bench as an assistant coach with the Chicago Wolves. But make no mistake: for the first time in a decade, he too is a prospect in Vancouver’s system.
“It’s just like starting out when I was 20 years old in the pro ranks,” Baumgartner said. “I have a lot to learn.”
The opportunity to learn under someone he knows and admires — new Wolves’ head coach Scott Arniel — is a large part of the reason Baumgartner took the job. The former 10th overall pick began to be intrigued by coaching when he played under Arniel from 2007 to 2010 with the Manitoba Moose. Arniel even fostered Baumgartner’s burgeoning interest by occasionally letting him sit in with the coaching staff while the defender was out with injury.
“I got to go behind the bench a few times with Scott in the past when he was in Manitoba and I was injured,” Baumgartner told Brad Zeimer back in July. “He’d let me come on the bench and I’d run the D. I got a taste of it then and that’s when I knew it intrigued me and it’s just gotten stronger and stronger. Now that this opportunity has come up I thought I’d better jump on it.”
Between that and his role as a mentor to Kevin Connauton on the Wolves’ top pairing last season, it was clear to the Canucks that Baumgartner had the fire and the intellect to be a coach. Thus, when it came time to rebuild the staff following Craig MacTavish’s decision to leave Chicago for the front office in Edmonton, Vancouver approached Baumgartner about joining Arniel and retiring to the other side of the bench in early July.
“I was asked by Vancouver if I wanted to step into that role. A big reason was because of Scott. I really believe in a lot of the philosophies he teaches, I played under him, I learned a lot from him. For me it was a no-brainer to jump into this role.”
While it didn’t take much thought to accept the job, Baumgartner hadn’t given much thought to retiring prior to being offered it, either. He’d been a major contributor for the Wolves’ the season prior, playing 60 games, contributing 22 points and, as mentioned, skating on a top pairing. He felt he had plenty more to give.
“I wasn’t gonna retire at all,” he said. “I was gonna play a a few more years.”
But this was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. He was being offered a chance to take the logical next step in his career in a great learning situation. Plus, “it’s stability.” They offered him a three-year deal, the longest contract he’s had since being drafted in 1994.
The Canucks have to be happy with the coaching staff they’ve put together this year. With young guys like Baumgartner and Dan Cloutier in the mix, not to mention the return of Arniel, who worked well with them for four years before being hired by the Columbus Blue Jackets, it looks like they’ll have a little more control of the situation than they did in 2011-12. Last season with MacTavish at the helm was the first year in a long time where their NHL and AHL coaching staff seemed out of synch.
It wasn’t so much that MacTavish was a bad coach. It was just that he broke rank a little bit, implementing a style that he felt best fit the Wolves’ personnel — a trap system, with minimal specialized deployment — rather than a style that mirrored the big club. With the independence of the Wolves’ organization, no one was urging him to fall back in line, either. It was a departure from an arrangement the Canucks had enjoyed since Mike Gillis was hired back in 2007.
But Baumgartner says that the two franchises will be getting back in sync beginning this year.
“A big thing with us this year we’re gonna be on the same page as what Vancouver does too. You want your guys down here playing a similar style to the way they play there. If you get a guy called up, you don’t want him out to lunch up top. We’re gonna pay a very aggressive style this year. Sometimes we didn’t do that last year.”
It would be hard for the Canucks to get too upset about this, however, since the same could be said for them. While they didn’t play McTavish’s trap and they continued to heavily utilize zone starts, they did play a much more passive brand of hockey last season than Canuck fans had become accustomed to. But Baumgartner says Alain Vigneault and co. are going to recommit to the attack as well.
“You’re gonna see a change in the [Canucks'] style of play. I think it’s gonna be a bit more aggressive.”
Baumgartner only played 143 NHL games, a number that had to be a little disappointing for a player drafted 10th overall, especially one that had so much success in juniors. Baumgartner was the playoff MVP of his 1995 Memorial Cup team, a group that included Jarome Iginla and Shane Doan, among others. Then he had to watch them go on to lengthy careers while he bounced up and down between leagues.
But coaching might be his way back to the NHL.
“Just starting out, you never know where it’s gonna go. I’ve talked to a lot of guys that have gone into coaching. People say you might not like it once you start getting into it, but so far that’s not the case. I’ve been having a blast. I’m not in a hurry to be a head coach — I have a lot to learn on this side of it.”Tags: Don't forget Nolan Baumgartner, Nolan Baumgartner