At some point in an athletes career, they realize their time is done. For some it is when they can no longer get a contract, in other cases they simply can’t making it onto the ice or playing field. When its time to say good-bye to their time as a player, many paths are taken. Some guys go into the broadcast booth having planned it out since junior hockey. Others just want to sit out porch and watch their kids play. A few will go with dramatic career changes that bring them someplace as far removed from athletic competition as the world of fashion or politics.
Having watched a lot of two particular players getting towards the end of their playing tenure, I wonder if the best use of their talents might be behind a bench. Having watched just about all of Hal Gill’s career, you can’t doubt for a minute he has a deep understanding of the game that allows him to take advantage of his average athleticism. He’s been invaluable in several systems under widely different coaches and playing philosophies. Given the number of coaches in the NHL now who were less gifted defensemen than he is, and who likely mentored less men along the way, a coaching position in the NHL, AHL or elsewhere might be the perfect occupation for the next twenty or so years for the towering Massachusetts native.
The other man is possibly even more interesting as a potential coach. Of limited finesse, and clearly a self-made player Shawn Thornton might just be the next Gordie Dwyer. As you no doubt know, Dwyer was a highly physical player who made the transition to major junior head coach. Along the way Dwyer more than double the number of wins his squad put up from first year to second. Thornton has proved a valuable asset to his teams over the years with his gloves on and off, demonstrating an understating of his teammates that allowed him to steer them in the teams best interest. During his professional career he’s played both wing and defense.
Both Thornton and Gill epitomize the adaptability needed to stay in the NHL long term, both have been a part of Stanley Cup wins, and seen all the changes the last decade or so have thrown at players, coaches, fans and the families of players. Either gentleman could be exactly the right cog to help an organizations move forward if they step behind the bench.