Sep 082010
 

“In training camp, most coaches give players binders full of rules,” Wayne Gretzky once said.

“Glen [Sather] only had one rule: don’t embarrass the coach.”

Gretzky’s anectode is quaint and funny at first blush. The irony, of course, is that Wayne eventually became a binder-guy coach. Not that The Great One had a choice. In the modern NHL, the differences between each team, and in fact between winning and losing, are minute.

One reason for this is that the coaching role has blossomed, dominating what happens at every moment on the ice. The introduction of system-play and more sophisticated pre-game preparation have reduced in-game mistakes to a minimum.

15-years ago folks like Rogie Vachon, Pierre Page, Ron Low, Rick Ley, Terry Crisp, Jim Schoenfeld, Rick Bowness, Jacques Demers, Mike Milbury, Colin Campbell, Nick Beverley, Jim Wiley, Mario Tremblay, Dave Allison and Steve Kasper could hold NHL head coaching positions.

Today there isn’t a single franchise who would ask any of these men to lead their teams into a season.

If the NHL was once a ballet for its performers, today it has become chess-on-ice for its coaches.

In this two-part series, here is a look at the league’s chess players heading into the 2010-11 season.

First from the Eastern Conference:

A Grade

Lindy Ruff – Buffalo

The NHL’s longest tenured coach. Among coaches with 40 or more playoff wins, Ruff is in the top 6 in terms of career winning percentage.

B+ Grade

Peter Laviolette – Philadelphia

Having taken both the Hurricanes and Flyers to the Cup final cements his rep as a top-level guy. Laviolette did a masterful job in Philly last year, taking over a messy dressing room and a lost on-ice product.

John Tortorella – New York Rangers

He’s a Cup winner and master manipulator (both of players and media). Demeanor makes him easy to root against, but there’s real substance here.

B Grade

Dan Bylsma – Pittsburgh

Less than two-seasons as a head coach but has a Cup to his resume. Player’s coach who loosened the shackles on the Penguins best players. One of the great communicators behind the bench.

Claude Julien – Boston

One of the league’s premiere defensive coaches has yet to have that success carry him beyond the second-round.

Cory Clouston – Ottawa

The baby-faced drill sergeant has done a good job taking on the complacency that stymied the Senators before his arrival.

B- Grade

Jacques Martin – Montreal

Let’s get this out of the way: his defensive approach in last year’s playoffs – I’m exaggerating, but basically having all five players stand in front of Halak – drove me crazy. A great defensive mind, his hatred for all things offense has hindered his teams chances in three decades now.

C+ Grade

Bruce Boudreau – Washington (Fired watch)

One of the great minor league coaches of our time has enjoyed terrific regular season success at the NHL level. The post-season has been a different story all together. 2010-11 is a make-or-break season for Boudreau.

Ron Wilson – Toronto (Fired watch)

He’s one of the stronger teaching coaches in the NHL and a bench boss that demands accountability from his players. Historically has worn out his welcome though and Toronto’s showed little improvement under his
watch.

Peter DeBoer – Florida

The two-time OHL Coach of the Year gets his players to compete using an old-school, hard-nosed approach. Panthers were surprisingly competitive in his first year, but took a step back in 2009-10.

Guy Boucher – Tampa Bay

One of the most heralded rookie coaches of the last decade, we’ll see if his innovative 1-3-1 forecheck works at the NHL level. If it works, he could zoom up this chart.

C Grade

Scott Gordon – New York Islanders

Former AHL coach of the year led the Isles to an 18-point improvement over the 2008-09 season. Still, he’s not exactly burdened by expectations coaching this squad.

John Maclean – New Jersey (Fired watch)

Brent Sutter felt Maclean was ready two years ago to coach the Devils and said so publicly. Maclean has promised to open up the offense a bit, but is that wise with a 97-year old Marty Brodeur in net? Don’t forget – Lou has a short leash on his coaches.

Craig Ramsay – Atlanta

Whether it was as a player or an assistant coach, Ramsay has always been known as one of the great defensive minds in the game. It will be interesting to see him adapt that philosophy in Atlanta, a team without much scoring talent. Always well-liked.

C- Grade

Paul Maurice – Carolina (Fired watch)

Has never coached a team to more than 91 points, and has only one 40-win season to his credit.

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