Cronin looking to combine old and new school as next Ducks head coach

Greg Cronin’s vast coaching experience includes stops in New York, Toronto and Colorado. He will now lead the Anaheim Ducks.

ANAHEIM, Calif. – With a lid sealed tighter than a new Monster energy drink, general manager Pat Verbeek made sure no one knew who the Ducks were hiring to be their next head coach until the introductory press conference was announced.

“I wanted to (tell people) when Pat and I agreed (to be the head coach),” said Greg Cronin, who became the 11th head coach in franchise history on Monday. “Pat locked it down, that’s why nobody heard. Guys were texting me, ‘I hear a rumor you’re going there’. I ghosted them.”

The press conference––which lasted about 30 minutes––highlighted Cronin’s vast experience at the coaching level, which includes stops in New York, Toronto and Colorado. The latest stop lasted five years and was spent as head coach of the Colorado Eagles, the AHL affiliate for the Colorado Avalanche.

Cronin has connections to those who have come and gone in the Ducks organization. He was an assistant coach at the University of Maine when Paul Kariya won the Hobey Baker. Cronin also was on Randy Carlyle’s coaching staff when the former Ducks head coach was behind the bench for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the early 2010s.

May 12, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle (left) and assistant coach Greg Cronin (right) in game six against the Boston Bruins of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Boston 2-1. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Cronin also co-founded the U.S. National Team Development Program in 1996 and served as director of player development during the 1996-97 season before becoming the NTDP’s head coach the following season.

“One of the things we did with the U.S. national program when we started in ‘96 was we looked at different models,” said Cronin. “One was in Russia, how they had designed their program to build champions. They were just ripping through international hockey for decades and we had actually identified the ages from 13 to 15, that’s when motor skills start to ripen up a little and then after that the margin for growth kind of gets minimized as players grow and mature.”

“But it doesn’t mean you can’t have growth from there and I’ve always had that timeline in my head. So, what can you do with 19-22-year-olds? Pat and I talk about it a lot: at what point is a guy what he is? So, when you think a player has kind of maxed out his ability at a certain age, what can you do differently to get him to either rebrand himself or broaden that footprint that he’s playing on?”

Cronin was also the director of player development for the New York Islanders from 2002-2005, a period during which players like Raffi Torres and Rick DiPietro were just getting their feet wet in the NHL. He’ll have plenty of young players to work with in Anaheim. Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry are in line for big extensions this summer as restricted free agents while Mason McTavish is looking to build off of a strong rookie campaign.

Mar 12, 2023; Anaheim, California, USA; Anaheim Ducks center Mason McTavish (37) celebrates with right wing Troy Terry (19) and center Ryan Strome (16) and center Trevor Zegras (11) and defenseman Cam Fowler (4) and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (22) after scoring a goal during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Jamie Drysdale, too, is a restricted free agent but will likely see a smaller deal due to a majority of his 2022-23 season being wiped out due to a torn labrum. “I really like Drysdale,” said Cronin. “I feel like he really stuck out (when) I watched the game against Boston back in October. He’s a smaller guy but he does all the little things you need to do to defend well as a smaller defenseman.”

Cronin cited the Avalanche as a team that has smaller defensemen who are still able to defend well. “Look at Girard in Colorado, watch how he defends. He’s competitive, he’s relentless. We had (Devon) Toews in New York and he’s upped his game.”

Though he hasn’t yet been able to speak to any of his players, Cronin is looking forward to creating relationships with each and every one of them. He believes that creating depth and trust in relationships is key to getting the best out of players.

“You go all the way back again to when Pat was playing. We joked about this, guys got ripped apart in locker rooms and no one was there to put them back together. They had to do it themselves. You can’t do that today. I don’t think that works and it goes back to that relationship, the depth that you create in that and the trust factor when a player knows you care about them and that you’re invested in his growth.”

“I think that goes a long way and it’s like any relationship. There’s going to be some bumps in the road. There’s going to be a few times when they’re going to want to run me over in the parking lot and I’m willing to do that, as far as create that, as long as we know that we’re working together to create a vision and then execute it. The execution is the hard part. You can talk about it all you want, but doing it is hard.”

The rest of Cronin’s coaching staff has yet to be filled out. Assistant coaches Mike Stothers and Newell Brown are out of contract this summer but have been in discussion with Cronin––who knows both assistant coaches well––for the time being. Craig Johnson, who has one year remaining on his contract, is likely to return. Goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj, who was the Islanders’ goaltending coach from 2003-05, will retain the same position with the Ducks that he has held since the 2016-17 season.

Verbeek said that late into the second series of interviews with coaching candidates is when he began to feel comfortable with Cronin as the pick for the next Ducks head coach. “When I did my background on Greg, there wasn’t a negative word said from players to other coaches to other people that Greg’s worked with. So that’s why I feel comfortable with this whole situation.”

While the belief has been that the style of play will gear toward a more defensive-minded approach, Verbeek pushed back on that notion: “I think it’s going to be the complete opposite. We’re going to play hard and we’re going to play fast, and so part of fast is getting down the ice and getting in the offensive zone. The other part of it is puck possession. So, it may be defensive in the sense that we’re going to control the puck more.”

Cronin says the style of play that the team will have is that they will be tough to play against. “I believe in that and I think there’s a way that we play that makes people earn their ice. The technical part of it, the pace of it, the aggression behind it (all) has to be in sync when we’re playing that way. I think (against us) it’s hard to get scoring chances and it’s hard to get on the inside ice.”

“I think what I really liked about Greg is he has old-school principles but new-school methods to teaching,” said Verbeek. “I thought it was a great combination, something that I loved and I was really looking for.”