Fri Apr 08 05:31pm EDT
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Every year around this time, some of the talk in the hockey world shifts away from playoff matchups and the draft lottery, and over to the coaches that are on "the hot seat."
If you're a hockey coach, you don't want to be seated there because it means you're probably going to get fired for how terrible your team is (unless you're Claude Julien in New Jersey and you get fired because you went 47-16-8).
This year's coaches who will probably be packing up their office once April 11 rolls around, per Darren Dreger: Ottawa's Cory Clouston, Florida's Pete DeBoer, Minnesota's Todd Richards and Colorado's Joe Sacco.
Not that this should come as a surprise to anyone. The combined point totals of those teams is, as you'd imagine, rather poor, with only Richards' club being lucky enough to break the mythic 80-point mark. The rest of the teams aren't even close.
But you have to wonder what those guys could have possibly, in a million years, done differently to make their clubs competitive. And where the blame really lies.
(Coming up: Why Vigneault deserves the Adams; Consensus on suspensions; and your Pearls of Biz-dom.)
Let's take Sacco and Clouston as the examples of guys that made the playoffs last year but failed spectacularly in doing so this year.
Joe Sacco is a guy that just last year found a way to bottle lightning for the first month and a half of the year and ambled along just well enough to sneak into the playoffs and earn to what appeared to be a very credible Jack Adams nomination. But then, as if by magic, the genius that so enraptured all of Denver last season vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and Sacco's reverse Midas touch turned a team full of golden youngsters to lead.
Last year, the Sens had 44 wins, and this year not so much. So what was different? Dany Alfredsson was healthy all year, they squeaked by on replacement level goaltending and, by far the most important consideration: They just so happened to pick up a quarter of their win total in consecutive games. Yes, 11-game win streaks sure go a long way to getting a team, any team, into the playoffs. But still, it was Clouston that led them there, right?
Or is it that the far, far more likely explanation is that these guys were handed two crap teams, exploited the hell out of favorable percentages for brief periods of time, eked into the playoffs and then regressed immediately once we found out the harsh truths only a new season can expose?
Things are a little murkier in the case of Richards and DeBoer, of course, as neither of these guys are running teams that have made the playoffs in a good, long while and probably won't any time in the near future barring an Ottawa/Colorado-type run of inexplicable success for a relatively brief period of time. But they, too, have rosters that were seemingly put together at random, featuring guys you can't believe are in the National Hockey League.
The point is that hearing about coaches on the hot seat is somewhat baffling to me. It's really difficult to imagine that anyone short of Scotty Bowman could have made a team backstopped by the downright gruesome sextet of Craig Anderson(notes), Mike Brodeur(notes), Brian Elliott(notes), Pascal Leclaire(notes), Robin Lehner(notes) and Curtis McElhinney(notes) not completely suck. And even then, Bowman MIGHT have snuck it into the playoffs with 92 points.
It really makes you wonder what GMs have to do to get fired these days, and where they think they get off giving a coach their walking papers for not achieving alchemy with garbage teams like these.
Pete DeBoer somehow survived the round of firing last summer, but now because he couldn't make a team that, by firing the GM, the organization essentially admitted the team was not good enough to win. But somehow DeBoer is now not good enough because he failed to get results with a team everyone on the planet knew would be terrible?
I understand that coaches make less money than GMs, and are therefore easier to get rid of at the end of the day. But the old adage is that, "You can't fire the players," and I don't see why that gives you license to fire the guy who can't get poor players to not play poorly.
It makes far more sense fire the guy who hired the players in the first place.
Speaking of coaches…
The other coaching-related talk going on right now is who deserves the Jack Adams. The general consensus seems to be that the award is probably going to one of Barry Trotz, Dan Bylsma or Alain Vigneault.
Yes, the Canucks are an incredibly good, deep, talented team with world-class players at every position. But as has been shouted from all available mountaintops, they have a very legitimate chance of being the first team since the expansion era to lead the league in team offense, defense, power play and penalty kill. That's really impressive for obvious reasons.
But the thing that's even more impressive, and I still don't understand how it's been done, is that his teams did much of that without a large portion of its original top-six defensemen in the lineup.
In fact, Vancouver played at an elite level in all three zones from October through April despite the fact that injuries forced Vigneault to use 14 defensemen. Fourteen. FOURTEEN. That's two entirely different defensive corps plus two other dudes. I can even see winning the division like that. But winning the Presidents' Trophy like a runaway train? That's unreal.
I can see having the best team defense in the league with a D group consisting of Dan Hamhuis(notes), Keith Ballard(notes), Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff(notes), Kevin Bieksa(notes) and Aaron Rome(notes). Through Wednesday night, those six guys had missed an average of 18 games out of the team's 80. So mix in Christopher Tanev, Lee Sweatt(notes), Yann Sauve(notes), Ryan Parent(notes), Evan Oberg(notes), Andrew Alberts(notes) and Sami Salo(notes) all getting at least a handful of games in relief.
People talk about the job Bylsma has done with the Pens given the injuries to lynchpin forwards Crosby, Malkin and Staal, and that's obviously a hell of a coaching job. But let's not forget that most of that 12-game win streak — a quarter of the team's Ws — came with both Crosby and Malkin healthy and playing far better than logic should allow. This isn't meant to denigrate Bylsma's accomplishments behind the bench, but that run really helped solidify the Pens' position.
For Vigneault, though, losing an entire D corps twice over, and still being by far the best team in the league in pretty much all measurable aspects? Yeah, that should earn you a Jack Adams every time out.
And speaking of the Canucks…
Know what's nice these days? Ever since the NHL finally, mercifully took a hardline stance against headshots, there is no more debate about whether guys should be suspended.
Case in point: Raffi Torres(notes) got four games for clobbering Jordan Eberle(notes) earlier this week. And even though Eberle admitted he put himself in a vulnerable position, the entire hockey world (save for lunatic fringe Canucks fans) said, "Yup, that's a suspension. No question." And then it was.
That's really great, both for player safety and because everyone will finally shut up about the NHL's iffy suspension policy. Probably. Maybe.
But the bad news is that now instead of it being about whether or not a guy should be suspended, the argument seems to be whether the amount of games was fair.
Win some, lose some, I guess.
Pearls of Biz-dom
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