August 11, 2010
Summer 2009 saw the NHL welcome eight new coaches to its ranks, and the majority of them are returning for a second season. (Jacques Lemaire and Pat Quinn, unfortunately, are playing dominoes and swapping Alex Mogilny stories.)
What's startling about last year's coaching crop was how many difference-makers emerged from it.
Dave Tippett replaced Wayne Gretzky and led the Phoenix Coyotes to their best regular-season record in franchise history while taking home the Jack Adams. Joe Sacco defied expectations and led a Colorado Avalanche made of a dozen kids and an ice-girl leering goaltender to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. Jacques Martin managed to get the Montreal Canadiens' rebooted roster into the postseason, and then coached the team to the conference finals.
And Brent Sutter missed the playoffs for the first time in his NHL coaching career. That happened too.
This summer, there are six "new" head coaches in the NHL, including David Payne of the St. Louis Blue,s who went from interim last season to official bench boss in April.
Some of them are going to improve their team's performance from last season; others will begin a hasty journey to unemployment. Join us in examining their chances, won't you?
Craig Ramsay, Atlanta Thrashers
To put Ramsay's unwearied voyage to a head-coaching job in perspective, he was an interim head coach of the Buffalo Sabres the year the first "Lethal Weapon" movie came out. Yet in 2010, he's still not too old for this [expletive], Riggs.
Ramsay got this chance from his old friend GM Rick Dudley, who was the GM in Tampa Bay during Ramsay's tenure as associate coach. As a player, he was a defensive specialist; as a coach, he's promising an "aggressive and up-tempo game," which is exactly what coaches should say before going into a defensive shell during the last two weeks of the season if there's a sniff of the playoffs.
Will He Make The Thrashers Better? Yes, and not just by default. They were an 83-point team in the Southeast last season, and now they're the ThrashHawks after adding Dustin Byfuglien(notes), Andrew Ladd(notes), Brent Sopel(notes), Ben Eager(notes) and assistant coach John Torchetti. Goal-scoring is still going to be a mystery; Chris Mason(notes) as the co-starter (or starter) will not be one in goal.
Scott Arniel, Columbus Blue Jackets
After Guy Boucher spurned them, Arniel was hired from the Manitoba Moose (AHL) to take over. He seems like the right fit with the multitude of young players on the Jackets' roster, and seemed quite hungry for the gig.
He's also going to provide an antidote for the defensive style that characterized the franchise during the Ken Hitchcock years, which is why Nikita Filatov's(notes) being bandied about as a potential Top 6 winger.
Will He Make The Jackets Better? It's hard to image Arniel doing anything that will make them worse than the 32-win, 79-point disaster last season; Steve Mason(notes)? Sure, but not Arniel. His style is going to activate some of the offensive talent on this roster, even if the defense is like trying to choose which Rob Schneider comedy to watch on family movie night. Bottom line: He's going to work his ass off, and it's just a matter of whether he's been given the pieces work with. And if Steve Mason can, you know, be Steve Mason again.
Tom Renney, Edmonton Oilers
When Renney was hired as Pat Quinn's right-hand man, we figured it was just a matter of time until he ascended to the big job; we just didn't figure it'd be one year later.
Since then, he's assembled an impressive coaching staff. Former Oilers great Steve Smith, Kelly Buchberger and, most impressively, former Swiss National Team coach Ralph Krueger.
We all know the deal with Renney from his time with the New York Rangers: Defense, structure, and at times tedious hockey. But also three playoff appearances in three full seasons with the Rangers.
Will He Make The Oilers Better? Not immediately. This is still the worst team in the Western Conference, although not likely to the tune of 62 points again. The young players, Taylor Hall(notes) included, get a mulligan this year; but as Copper & Blue pointed out, Renney's promotion only means good things down the line for the Oil.
John MacLean, New Jersey Devils
MacLean joined the Devils coaching staff in Sept. 2002. Since then, he was passed over for the head coaching gig on at least three occasions until this year, when he finally got the job after one year coaching in the AHL.
He's the team's leader in goals. He also once thwarted a hostage situation at Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles (thought that may have been similarly-named guy, come to think of it).
Will He Make The Devils Better? This answer will come in the postseason, when MacLean will attempt to motivate the unmotivated and avoid getting outcoached as a newbie. In the regular season, the Devils have gone over 100 points in 11 of the last 13 seasons. They're no reason to think they won't again, with or without Ilya Kovalchuk(notes) for the next 17 years.
Davis Payne, St. Louis Blues
The former Peoria Rivermen head coach took over for the fired Andy Murray in January and finished strong (23-15-4). Most impressively, he turned the team around on home ice (12-5-2) where they had inexplicably been terrible for most of the year.
For more on Payne, we turn to Inglorious Backes from The Sporting News:
He's fantastic. He related to a lot of the guys. He's been through the battles, he's a younger guy. He was 39 last year so he has to be one of the youngest coaches in the league. He brought a lot of energy and expects his players to work and enjoy their time at the rink and play for each other. He simplified things as far as everyday life at the rink and also tried to get everyone on the same page.
So, players' coach. Worked last year; what about Year 2?
Will He Make The Blues Better? He's got a track record that makes us say "yes" and a new goaltender that stopped about 10,000 shots in the playoffs last season. At the end of the day, the Blues were a 90-point team in the Western Conference last season; Payne might have them right around that level again, although the offense will determine that.
Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay Lightning
The wild card of the bunch, but that's nothing new for the Bolts. GM Steve Yzerman has made some bold moves this offseason, including the acquisition of Simon Gagne(notes) up front. The boldest may have been landing Boucher, the former Hamilton Bulldogs coach who was arguably the hottest coaching prospect on the market.
Boucher, 38, would be both the youngest coach in the NHL and the least experienced. His only season of pro coaching experience came this season with Hamilton, the top affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Before that, he was a coach for three seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
He has three college degrees and has been called a master motivator, a team builder and a hockey genius. He developed a 1-3-1 forecheck that relies on mobile defensemen who can carry the puck.
"Aside from all the X's and O's, I think the greatest strength for guy is how he deals with the players, the psychology behind it," Darche said. "How he deals with the guys is unbelievable. He makes the fourth-line guys feel so valuable and involved. I've seen fourth-line guys playing three shifts a game, and they leave the game so happy. They make a good play and Guy will make a point to point it out, so you feel like you're contributing."
The sports psychology major has the hype; does he have the goods?
Will He Make The Lightning Better? There's a chance we're going to look at this hiring as a game-changer in the way we look at Sacco or Tippett. Boucher is surrounded by good assistant coaches, has a dynamic GM and a roster that, though it isn't flawless, presents enough talent up front and on the blueline for him to execute the system. Better than 80 points? They got there with Rick Tocchet, so we'd say so. A playoff team? Hey, it's the East ...