Considering the utter lack of job security among NHL head coaches, and who’s out there as possible replacements, I feel pretty good about Brent Sutter being in Calgary.
I write this post in light of the New Jersey Devils hiring Jacques Lemaire. Again. Mainly because the move got me thinking about the amount of overturn in NHL coaches since the last offseason.
The following coaches have been fired from jobs since the end of the 2007-08 regular season: Paul Maurice, Joel Quenneville, Ron Wilson, John Tortorella, Marc Crawford, Jacques Martin, Ted Nolan, Denis Savard, Barry Melrose (lol), Peter Laviolette, Craig Hartsburg, Michel Therrien, Tom Renney, Guy Carbonneau, Jacques Lemaire, Craig MacTavish, Tony Granato and obviously Mike Keenan.
That’s 18 names, and that’s not including Sutter, who left of his own volition.
That’s 60 percent of the league that’s given their coach walking papers in the past 13 or 14 months. And of those 18, nearly half have found work coaching for different NHL teams. Maurice went from Toronto to Carolina, Quenneville went from Colorado to Chicago, Wilson went from San Jose to Toronto, Tortorella went from Tampa to New York, Renney went from New York to Edmonton (kinda), Sutter went from New Jersey to Calgary, and Lemaire went from Minnesota to New Jersey.
What this shows, to me at least, is not only a lack of imagination on the part of many GMs league-wide but a fear of the unknown and evidence that a good coach is very hard to find.
The lack of imagination is evidenced by the incestuous trading of coaches from team to team because it’s easier to say, “Who’s that guy that just got the boot in Tampa?” than it is to say, “Who do we think could work best with our team?” And, interestingly, first-time head coaches in the NHL this year did pretty well, for the most part. Ask Danny Bylsma (who won a Stanley Cup) or Todd McLellan (who won a President’s Trophy) or Cory Clouston (whose winning percentage with the freaking Senators was .618) or Pete DeBoer (who had the Panthers far closer to a playoff spot than they deserved to be).
In all, first-year NHL coaches put up a 211-183-59 record, taking 481 points from 453 games (or an average of 87 points over the course of a season). And that’s with three first-time coaches piloting the three worst teams in the East and three of the four worst teams in the league (the Islanders, Lightning and Thrashers) for at least the majority of the season, all three of which were situations in which Scotty Bowman couldn’t have coaxed a .500 season from his charges. In addition, Bylsma and Clouston only coached a combined 59 games in the regular season, and lost just 14 in regulation.
But that’s apparently not good enough for NHL GMs, who would rather sign guys that weren’t good enough to coach in Tampa and Toronto and Minnesota. Why give someone that has proven to be objectively bad at their job (this means you, Paul Maurice) a chance to potentially ruin your team? Granted, it kind of worked out for the Hurricanes, who fell ass backwards into a great last few months before fluking their way past two of the three-best teams in the East (both in seven games) before getting curbstomped by, you guessed it, a team with a first-year coach.
But with all the coaching overturn and the rampant practice of hiring retreads that couldn’t cut it elsewhere, it’s very rare that a team gets as lucky as Calgary did in pulling a high-quality coach like Brent Sutter, albeit through highly dubious circumstances about which I am not at all unhappy. He took a New Jersey team that I think is pretty comparable to Calgary’s and turned out two playoff appearances and an average of 48.5 wins and 102.5 points in a very tough division. Obviously the playoff appearances left more than a little to be desired, but I guess that will all work itself out, right?