December 01, 2009
(No, the first decade of the 21st century doesn't technically end until 2011. Save your bellyaching. But we've had nine NHL seasons and one stolen from us since 1999-2000, and Yahoo! Sports has decided it's time to rank the best and worst of the last "decade." Enjoy, and snark freely in the comments.)
Sports are big business and results are necessary. With markets that struggle to survive, good coaching is needed in order to display a good product on the ice to get fans in the building. No one knows that better than NHL coaches who have seen the revolving door in constant motion throughout this decade.
In the last decade, there have been 100 coaches in the NHL (including Cap Raeder and Al Arbour who both coached a single game). Only Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz have been with their teams since the Baha Men "Let the Dogs Out."
While there has been plenty of turnover behind NHL benches this decade, there have a number of coaches that were able to keep their jobs for an extended period of time, whether through inept upper management or the fact that they followed Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis' orders and just won, baby.
Now here's our list of the 10 best NHL coaches of the past decade ...
It wasn't until his third NHL coaching gig that Julien was finally given the chance to lay out his plan for the team for whom he had been given the reins. In Montreal, Julien had just one full season in three years there leading the Canadiens to the second round of the 2003-04 Stanley Cup playoffs. Moving on to New Jersey for the 2006-07 campaign, Julien guided the Devils to an Atlantic Division title, the second spot in the Eastern Conference and a 107-point season, third highest in franchise history ... before general manager Lou Lamoriello abruptly fired him with three games believing the team wasn't ready to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
Being one of the few coaches to have constant employment, Julien had settled in for this third season with the Boston Bruins and quickly brought them back to the playoffs after a two-year drought.
Julien has been behind an NHL bench for 226 victories this decade and been to the playoff three times (four if you count the aborted season in New Jersey). His turn-around in Boston earned him the 2008 Jack Adams Trophy and a multi-year contract extension in September that will finally allow him to settle into the role as coach and not keep looking over his shoulder.
Making a splash in first season as an NHL coach, Tippett led the Stars to a 111-point season, second-best in franchise history at the time, and a Pacific Division title. In the first two seasons after the lockout, Dallas posted back-to-back 50-win campaigns and finally got past the second-round of the playoffs in 2008.
Injuries derailed the Stars last season and a regime change ended Tippett's time in Dallas where he finished six wins behind Ken Hitchcock on the franchise wins list (271) and with his five playoff appearances, tied for second games coached in the postseason with 47. He also had the most popular mustache in Stars history.
After a busy summer that saw Wayne Gretzky step aside as coach, Tippett took over in Phoenix and currently has the Coyotes in the mix for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
After a Stanley Cup appearance in his first season with the Washington Capitals, Wilson was never able to recapture the magic he had in 1998. His final season in Washington coincided with Jaromir Jagr's(notes) arrival in D.C. After back-to-back Southeast Division titles, the Caps missed the playoffs in 2001-02 and Wilson was given his pink slip. Rebounding with San Jose the following season, Wilson took the Sharks to the playoffs four years in a row, including a trip to the Western Conference finals in 2004, and won the Pacific Division twice. Wilson is the winningest coach in Sharks history with 206 victories and has the third most wins among NHL coaches this decade with 367.
Now in Toronto, Wilson has been given the task of reversing the fortunes of the Maple Leaf franchise and has continued his love affair with the media:
Barring a Carolina Hurricanes-esque losing streak, Torts will have started and ended the decade as coach of the Rangers. He'll also have seen his most success right smack in the middle of his coaching career when he was bench boss of the Lightning.
Tortorella was an experienced assistant coach in the American Hockey League and NHL before he was given the task of turning the Lightning into a bunch of winners. Tortorella changed the culture in the Tampa Bay locker room and his no-nonsense attitude worked as the Lightning improved in each of his four seasons behind the bench. The apex of Tortorella's time in Tampa was a victory in the 2004 Stanley Cup and the Jack Adams Trophy. The 2003-04 season was the only time the Lightning surpassed the 100-point total in the standings and was the second straight Southeast Division title for the franchise.
When Tortorella returned to New York in the final quarter of the 2008-09 season, the Rangers took 26 points out of a possible 42 and qualified for the playoffs which they were a win away from upsetting the Washington Capitals before collapsing and losing in seven games.
Like Wilson, Tortorella has a fondness for the media, especially New York Post columnist Larry Brooks and the two combined for one of the great coach/report spats of the decade (NSFW audio).
6. Jacques Lemaire - Minnesota Wild, New Jersey Devils
Chances are, if you flipped to one of your NHL Center Ice channels and saw Lemaire behind one of the benches, you immediately changed the channel for fear of watching trap hockey for three hours.
While Lemaire's system may not have been popular with fans, it had glimpses of success for the first coach in the history of the Wild franchise. After finishing at the bottom of the Northwest Division their first two years in the NHL, Lemaire's Wild shocked their way to the Western Conference final in 2002-03, upsetting the Colorado Avalanche in the opening round and putting an early end to Patrick Roy's final season. The Cinderella story earned Lemaire his second Jack Adams trophy.
The following two seasons saw Minnesota take a step back before Lemaire finished his tenure in the Twin Cities with three straight 40-win campaigns, including the Wild's first division title in franchise history in 2007.
Now back in New Jersey, where he won his only Cup as head coach, Lemaire hasn't missed a beat with the Devils as they sit near the top of the Eastern Conference.
5. Barry Trotz - Nashville Predators
If there's a coach who deserves an award for doing so much with so little, it's Trotz. The only head coach the Predators have ever known, Trotz was given time by the Nashville organization to implement his style and after a few building years, success is hitting the market. Despite being in a non-traditional hockey market and the ownership questions a few summers ago, the Predators have created a diehard hockey base in Nashville. Four straight 40-plus win seasons and four consecutive playoff berths
Despite some moments on the coaching chopping block, Trotz has helped build the Predators franchise on the ice and proven doubters wrong about his team consistently.
4. Lindy Ruff - Buffalo Sabres
Ruff is another example of a head coach making the most out of being one of the "have-nots" in the NHL for a long time. The Sabres successes under Ruff this decade haven't been consistent, but four playoff appearances, including two straight trips to the Eastern Conference finals in 2006 and 2007 highlighted Buffalo teams that were very strong Stanley Cup contenders. Also on Ruff mantle is the 2006 Jack Adams Trophy and 2007 President's Trophy.
During Buffalo's two best seasons this decade, Ruff became the first Sabres coach to post back-to-back 50-win seasons and in 2008 became the seventh head coach to win 400 games with one franchise.
He's led two different franchises to five 100-plus point seasons and led the 1999-2000 Dallas Stars to a second straight Stanley Cup finals appearance. Moving to Philadelphia in 2002, Hitchcock won an Atlantic Division title and compiled a 130-67-18-21 record with the Flyers, taking them to the Eastern Conference finals in 2004.
Currently in his fourth season with the Blue Jackets, Hitchcock's system has seen improve in each of his first three seasons there, including last season's accomplishment of making the playoffs for the first time in team history. The Civil War buff also won his 500th game last season and most recently reached the 1000 game milestone behind the bench.
2. Joel Quenneville - St. Louis, Colorado, Chicago
If there was surprise when researching this list, it was being reminded of how successful Quenneville was at the beginning of this decade with the St. Louis Blues.
Four straight seasons of 98-plus points, a President's Trophy, Jack Adams Trophy and five straight playoff berths highlighted the final half of Quenneville's reign with the Blues. St. Louis would have had more than one Central Division title had they not found themselves looking up at the Detroit Red Wings after four straight second place finishes.
After three 95-point seasons in Colorado, Quenneville replaced Denis Savard in Chicago four games into the 2008-09 season and guided them to the Western Conference finals, where they fell short to the Red Wings. One win away from 500 wins, Quenneville is surrounded by talent that will further his head coaching successes.
1. Mike Babcock - Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Detroit Red Wings
Hard to believe, but Babcock is only in his seventh season as an NHL head coach. In his tenure as a coach he's only missed the playoff once (2003-04) and failed to get out of the first round a single time (2005-06). Babcock is also accustomed to deep playoff runs having made the Conference Finals in four out of his first six seasons as well as coaching in three Stanley Cup Finals. He's also a man who has a keen fashion sense.
Taking over the Red Wings in 2005-06, Babcock has watched his Detroit teams amass four straight 50-win, 100-point seasons and take home a Cup in 2008 and fall a game short in 2009. While Babcock has been surrounded with a stable organization and loaded with on-ice talent, his players have bought into what he's preached -- and that is the No. 1 accomplishment if a coach wants to find success.