Mike Eaves linked to NHL opening

University of Wisconsin men's hockey coach Mike Eaves has done a lot of winning since returning to Madison to lead his alma mater. In nine seasons behind the Badger bench, Eaves has amassed a .573 winning percentage, one national championship in 2006, and a runner up finish in 2010. Unfortunately for the Badgers, the program may fall victim to it's own success. According too Tom Gulitti of the NorthJersey.com Fire & Ice blog, "There are whispers that Mike Eaves is possibly getting ready to leave the University of Wisconsin." Gulitti said two messages left for Eaves this week were not returned.

The job that Eaves would be leaving for is the head coaching opening for the NHL's New Jersey Devils. That job opened up when Jacques Lemaire retired in April for the 47th time. Eaves name has come up in the past when the Devils have been looking for a coach because of similar coaching philosophies between himself and Devils GM Lou Lamoriello.

Wisconsin has been an NHL factory since Mike Eaves took over the program in 2002. Eaves and the Badgers have placed an amazing 15 players in the NHL over that span. That number is expected to grow once again next season when Brendan Smith (DET), Jake Gardiner (TOR), and Cody Goloubef (CBJ) all could make their NHL debuts. Current players Justin Schultz and Craig Smith are also all but locks to end up in the NHL some day.

More on Eaves potentially leaving for the NHL after the jump.

It's not the first time Eaves has been talked about in conversations about potential NHL head coaches. No stranger to the league, Eaves played in parts of 8 NHL seasons before hanging up the skates for good. Additionally, and more importantly Eaves has NHL coaching experience as an assistant with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where he spent three seasons each.

Eaves name gained traction when this surfaced in Sports Illustrated earlier this year in a feature written by NHL on NBC commentator Pierre McGuire.

"Wisconsin's Mike Eaves is a top NHL coaching prospect. An excellent communicator and a shrewd tactician, Eaves, 54, became the first U.S.-trained coach to win gold at the World Juniors, in Helsinki in 2004."

Another big reason why Eaves name has been floated for the position is because of the known affinity Devils superstar forward and looming free agent Zach Parise has for Eaves. Here are two quotes from Parise that should give you an idea on his thoughts towards the Badgers bench boss.

"Another coach that has coached in the NHL before and I had him for a few international tournaments is Mike Eaves. He is now at Wisconsin and I’ve never been so prepared to face an opponent as when I was playing for him. It may be a little different in an 82-game schedule, but he did a great job of having players understand their role on the team and got them to do that to the best of their ability."

"Great coach, great systems and gets his players to play. Very demanding."

Wisconsin State Journal beat writer Andy Baggot spoke to Mike Eaves about potentially leaving for the NHL a mere two and a half weeks ago. At that time Eaves confirmed to Baggot that he had not received any interest from NHL teams about current coaching openings meaning any talks that might be going on with the Devils have came very recently.

One important note to remember is that Mike Eaves signed a contract extension in late April that is not set to expire until after the 2015-2016 season. That means most likely that the Devils would have to pay a buyout fee to gain his services.

If Eaves were to leave for New Jersey, and I'm not insinuating that he's going to, there would be no shortage of candidates for an opening in Madison. Mark Osiecki (Ohio State head coach), Don Granato (former AHL head coach), Mark Johnson (Badger women's coach), Tony Granato (Penguins assistant), and George Gwozdecky (Denver head coach) are all alumni of the University of Wisconsin.

John Hynes (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, AHL head coach and former UW assistant), Bill Butters (Badger assistant), Ron Rolston (NTDP U18 head coach), Rico Blasi (Miami head coach), Kevin Patrick (Muskegon, USHL head coach, former UW assistant), and Jeff Blashil (Western Michigan head coach) are some other names that could be considered for the job.

It remains to be seen if Eaves has the intentions of ever making the jump to the NHL but if he were to go, he's certainly in the time frame to make the move. At 55 Eaves still has plenty left in the tank but told Baggot two weeks ago that he doesn't see himself coaching into his 70's like Red Berenson at Michigan.

I would be remiss if I didn't point out how flattering it is for the Wisconsin program that Eaves name is held in such high regard that he would be considered for a position like this. It's clear that NHL franchises see what Eaves has done developing players at Wisconsin. The Badgers have been lucky to have Eaves behind the bench for the past nine seasons. Hopefully they have him around for nine more.

chuckschwartz(at)live.com
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