Season Preview: The Impact of Coaching Changes Part 2 and Ranking the Western Conference Coaches

As discussed in yesterday’s post, changing a coach at mid-season, rather than in the off-season, seems to have a greater positive impact on team performance.

Examining all the coaching moves since the start of the 2005-06 season reveals some other interesting tidbits:

  1. Only four coaches hired at mid-season led their teams to a worse performance than the coach they replaced:
    • 2009-10 Philadelphia: Peter Laviolette (.535) replaced John Stevens (.540). One could argue these are almost equal results.
    • 2008-09 Tampa Bay: Rick Tocchet (.397 winning percentage) replaced Barry Melrose (.438). Funny how Melrose was ridiculed for his performance returning to the bench, while Rick Tocchet demonstrated himself to be just as incompetent.
    • 2008-09 Montreal: Bob Gainey (.500) replaced Guy Carbonneau (.583)
    • 2005-06 Los Angeles: John Torchetti (.417) replaced Andy Murray (.564)

  2. The best improvement by a coach hired in the off-season:
    • 2009-10 Phoenix: Dave Tippett (+28 points after replacing Wayne Gretzky)
    • 2009-10 Colorado: Joe Sacco (+27 points after replacing Tony Granato)
    • 2010-11 Tampa Bay: Guy Boucher (+23 points after replacing Rick Tocchet)
    • 2007-08 Boston: Claude Julien (+18 points after replacing Dave Lewis). You’re not likely to see any of the four names replaced on this list named as NHL head coaches ever again.

  3. The worst performance by teams after hiring a coach in the off-season:
    • 2008-09 Colorado: Tony Granato (-27 points after replacing Joel Quennville)
    • 2010-11 New Jersey: John Maclean + Jacques Lemaire (-24 points after replacing Jacques Lemaire)
    • 2009-10 Edmonton: Pat Quinn (-23 points after replacing Craig MacTavish)
    • 2006-07 Los Angeles: Marc Crawford (-21 points after replacing Andy Murray + John Torchetti)

One final note – for all the talk that Pat Quinn’s coaching time had passed after that brutal 62-point performance for the Oilers, it’s worth noting Tom Renney led an stronger Edmonton team to exactly the same number of points the following season.

Here now are the coaching rankings for the Western Conference:

 A Grade

Mike Babcock – Detroit
Last Year (A)

The best coach in the game? Probably. The demise of the Red Wings has been increasingly predicted over the last few years, and yet it never seems to actually happen. Credit the coach, who knows exactly the right buttons to push to motivate each player.

Barry Trotz – Nashville
Last Year (B+)

Nashville fell a sniper short of upsetting Vancouver in the second round. That’s not Trotz’s fault, who clearly outcoached Alain Vigneault during the series. He’s among the best in the league.

B+ Grade

Joel Quenneville – Chicago
Last Year (B+)

Getting the Blackhawks – a team gutted by so many moves in the offseason that the players probably needed name tags in training camp – into the playoffs last year was an underrated coaching accomplishment.

Alain Vigneault – Vancouver
Last Year (B-)

You coach a team into the Cup Final you get to move up these rankings. Yet, he still has an inexplicable man-crush on Aaron Rome; has turned once-promising Keith Ballard into an ECHL’er; and is at least partially to blame for the unsportsmanlike attitude that permeates Canuck culture. Last year was likely the pinnacle of Vigneault’s coaching career.

B Grade

Randy Carlyle – Anaheim
Last Year (B)

Carlyle headed into last season at a crossroads, with whispers of his having lost the room heard around the league. Instead, the coach and team rallied to a playoff spot. He did a great job not only integrating Cam Fowler into the lineup, but protecting him and his confidence.

Dave Tippet – Phoenix
Last Year (B)

Performed another coaching miracle getting the Coyotes into the playoffs last year, but faces his greatest challenge trying to do that without Ilya Bryzgalov in 2011-12.

B- Grade

Tom Renney – Edmonton
Last Year (B-)

The Oilers featured stronger systems play and a better dressing room atmosphere last year, but failed to improve in the standings. A terrific coaching “teacher,” at some point Edmonton brass will have to ask themselves if Renney has the chops to take a team far into the playoffs. That’s a question that’s still a few seasons off though.

C+ Grade

Terry Murray – Los Angeles (FIRED WATCH)
Last Year (C+)

Let’s make it two years in a row for Murray to find his name on the “Fired Watch.” Expectations haven’t been this high for the Kings since Gretzky was in town. An adequate bench boss, he hasn’t coached a team out of the first round since the Flyers made the Stanley Cup in 1997.

Todd McLellan – San Jose
Last Year (C)

Won a classic series against the Detroit Red Wings (and coach Mike Babcock) and got his team to the Conference Final for the second year in a row. And yet, he still hasn’t really helped the team shed its underachieving label.

C Grade

Davis Payne – St. Louis (FIRED WATCH)
Last Year (C)

With the Blues expected to rise in the standings this year the heat is on Payne, who is also in the final year of his contract. Injuries crippled the team last year, but St. Louis was also inconsistent and prone to weak first period efforts.

Brent Sutter – Calgary (FIRED WATCH)
Last Year (C)

Still looking for the same success in the NHL that he had coaching junior hockey. He seemed a bit more flexible handling his roster once brother Darryl was out of the mix. Still, with a veteran-laden squad like the Flames, it’s playoffs or bust.

Joe Sacco – Colorado
Last Year (C+)

Sacco, heralded as a great communicator after his first year as coach, had a tough second season. The team looked unprepared at times and Sacco’s seemingly random benching of players was odd (Chris Stewart was a healthy scratch before being dealt).

Scott Arniel – Columbus (FIRED WATCH)
Last Year (C)

You know what the definition of a square-peg and round-hole problem is? Meshing Arniel’s puck possession gameplan with the Blue Jackets roster last year. It didn’t work. The personnel is stronger this year in Columbus, so now it’s up to Arniel to deliver some results.

Glen Gulutzan – Dallas
Last Year (N/A)

Another rookie head coach, this time taking over from “The Hair” (aka Marc Crawford). Despite team assurances, it does look like Gulutzan’s price-tag (ie. cheap) played a part in his being hired over other coaching options (Craig MacTavish, Ken Hitchcock, etc). Gulutzan has had an impressive minor league coaching career, particularly in the ECHL. You know who else had a pretty impressive ECHL coaching career? John Brophy, who’s actually in the ECHL Hall of Fame. Just sayin’…

Mike Yeo – Minnesota
Last Year (N/A)

Yeo takes over from Todd Richards, promising to bring offensive hockey to the Wild. The former Penguins powerplay coach is young (39) and, well, eager, as his visit to Finland to meet with Mikko Koivu can attest. He only has one season of head coaching experience though, and the ditches along the NHL highway are full of wannabe assistants who couldn’t make it as head coaches.

You may also like...

%d bloggers like this: