NHL rumors: Coyotes, Sharks' Rocky Thompson could interview soon

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Alexander Barabanov scores late, but Sharks lose in OT to Coyotes

Report: Coyotes could interview Sharks assistant for head coach originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

One of the Sharks' now-former division rivals could target one of San Jose's current assistant coaches for its head-coaching gig.

The Arizona Coyotes, who will play in the NHL's Central Division next season after spending the last 22 seasons in the Pacific and West Divisions alongside the Sharks, announced Sunday they won't retain coach Rick Tocchet next season. The Desert Dogs could reach out to San Jose associate coach Rocky Thompson about the vacancy, The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported Sunday.

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Thompson, 43, joined the Bob Boughner's coaching staff ahead of this season, tasked with running the defense and the power play. The Sharks' power play ranks just 29th in power-play conversion percentage (14.2 percent), despite being middle of the pack in generating shots (51.76 per hour, 12th), chances (45.71 per hour, 16th) and expected goals (6.43 per hour, 13th) on the man advantage. Not coincidentally, San Jose has the league's fourth-worst 5-on-4 shooting percentage (10.3 percent).

Some of the Sharks' young defensemen have taken noticeable strides under Thompson's tutelage. Mario Ferraro is averaging nearly seven more minutes of ice time (22:27) than he did as a rookie (15:53), while 23-year-old rookie Nikolai Knyzhov will represent Russia at the upcoming IIHF World Championships in Latvia.

“At the beginning of the season, there wasn’t even a shot [of being asked], I guess," Knyzhov said Saturday morning (via San Jose Hockey Now's Sheng Peng). "But having that opportunity come my way shows the hard work pays off.”

RELATED: Sharks' Melnichuk fights nerves during first NHL start

Prior to joining the Sharks, Thompson coached the AHL's Chicago Wolves for three seasons, leading them to a Calder Cup Finals appearance. Before that, he coached the OHL's Windsor Spitfires -- partially owned by Boughner -- for two seasons. Thompson led Windsor to a 2017 Memorial Cup win in his final season. 

Thompson has developed a reputation as an up-and-coming, forward-thinking coach, so it was likely only a matter of time before he was linked to NHL head-coaching jobs. At least two more positions will be open this offseason, including one in the Sharks' division. The expansion Seattle Kraken are still looking for a head coach, while the Columbus Blue Jackets confirmed Sunday they aren't bringing back John Tortorella next season.

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