Paul Jerrard: The summer’s most intriguing addition


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Photo credit: Lindsay A. Mogle, Utica Comets

From Glen Gulutzan to Dave Cameron, Brian Elliott, Troy Brouwer, and more, the Calgary Flames have been busy adding new faces this summer. But the offseason’s most intriguing addition might be the one flying most under the radar: new assistant coach Paul Jerrard. While not the most recognizable name in the coaching world, I’m very curious about Calgary’s new hire for a couple reasons.

Jerrard has flown under the radar for virtually his entire coaching career, in fact. Calgary will be his third NHL stop after stops in Colorado and Dallas. He worked for one year under, ironically, Bob Hartley in 2002-03 with the Avalanche and then spent two years on Gulutzan’s staff in Dallas between 2011 and 2013. Along the way he’s honed his craft extensively in the AHL with four different stops.

Upon announcing his hiring along with Dave Cameron earlier this month, Gulutzan spoke glowingly about Jerrard from the time they’ve worked together. The pair have been associated for the last seven straight seasons, working side by side in the Stars organization before joining the Canucks organization for the last three; Gulutzan assisted at the NHL level with the Canucks while Jerrard was assigned to Utica of the AHL.

On top of their strong working relationship, Gulutzan pinpointed two specific areas as chief strengths of Jerrard’s: working with defencemen and the penalty kill. It’s safe to say Calgary’s new head coach has made a good first impression on most, so hearing him put Jerrard over in those two areas certainly made me take notice.

The blueline

The Flames have a nice thing going for them right now on the back end. With T.J. Brodie and Dougie Hamilton both coming in at the age of 26 or under, the future is bright at the top of Calgary’s defensive depth chart. Additionally, Jyrki Jokipakka is just 24 while Tyler Wotherspoon, Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Brandon Hickey are all intriguing prospects for the organization. To have a coach with a nice track record of working with young defencemen seems like a good fit.

“It goes way back to Zdeno Chara in Lowell
for a stint,” Gulutzan told me earlier this month. “[He’s worked with] Matt Niskanen and Sheldon Souray and Stephane
Robidas. Developing young guys like Jordie Benn, who came out of the Central
Hockey League as a 23-year-old and developing him for two years and getting him
to the National Hockey League. He’s got a laundry list of defencemen he’s
worked with.”

While Brodie probably doesn’t need a whole lot more coaching, having the right guy work with Hamilton could pay huge dividends. While not all share my opinion, I believe Hamilton is on the verge of breaking through to the upper echelon of NHL defenders. If Jerrard’s track record is as successful as Gulutzan would lead us to believe, this could be a really good thing for Hamilton in year two with the Flames.

It goes beyond that, though. Along with the aforementioned Chara, Niskanen, and Benn, Jerrard has seen AHL defenders under his tutelage like Brett Clark, Mark Fistric, Johnny Boychuk, and Nicklas Grossman advance to somewhat lengthy NHL careers. How much of that credit goes to Jerrard is tough to quantify, though. After all, a coach with that much AHL tenure is bound to see numerous players move on to the next level regardless.

If he is able to help develop one or two of Calgary’s younger blueliners to make the jump, though, this ends up being a nice hire. Can he help Wotherspoon break through the glass ceiling if he starts the season in the NHL? Can he help refine and round out Kylington’s game if the promising prospect spends some time with the Flames this year? We don’t know the answers to these questions but they’re crucial ones to ask.

The penalty kill

Dreadful, awful, horrible, horriawful…all of these words applied to Calgary’s 30th ranked penalty kill last season. The Flames killed off just 75.5% of the penalties they took last year, equating to the opposition scoring once every four powerplay opportunities. In fact, with their last coaching staff, the best Calgary ever managed was 14th place on the PK during the lockout shortened 2013 season. Plain and simple, the Flames need to be better when down a man.

With Jerrard and Gulutzan now in the fold, I’m optimistic we see some noticeable improvement. Jerrard’s reputation is one of a penalty kill specialist. It’s been one of the main areas he’s been in charge of over the last decade or so and he’s had decent results, specifically in the American League. His last five years in the AHL are plotted below.

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 5.26.02 PM

Now, killing penalties doesn’t rely solely on coaching and systems. That said, Jerrard has had some pretty good minor league PK units in recent years. He explained his philosophy to me a few weeks ago.

“To characterize the style we play is just
smart, aggressive pressure,” Jerrard said. “Aggressive is probably the number one thing we want
to go after but not every single time you can be aggressive. We want to make
sure that we are making the reads at the appropriate times to do the things we
like.”

Aggressive is a word we’ve heard a lot over the last four years with the Flames. Under Hartley and Jacques Cloutier, Calgary’s PK stressed a ton of pressure and led to a good number of shorthanded scoring chances. It sounds like Jerrard’s version of aggressive is a little more measured.

“Right from the faceoff, we want to make
sure we have an exit strategy how we’re going to get the puck out once we win
and if we lose the puck what we’re going to do to start our pressure. Once we
get it down we certainly want to kill as much as we can in the offensive zone
and we want to pressure through the neutral zone. We’re not just sitting back,
we’re trying to be proactive and try to force the powerplay into mistakes.”

Jerrard’s work in his last NHL stop wasn’t spectacular, though. The Stars were just okay in his two years there, ranking 13th and 17th. As such, there’s no guarantee Jerrard’s strong work the last two years in Utica is going to carry over because this isn’t an exact science. That said, I’m still interested to see how much improvement we this season. After all, there really isn’t anywhere else to go but up.

Cautious optimism

The reaction to Gulutzan’s hiring was mostly positive while Cameron’s addition was met with a largely opposite response. But because Jerrard joins the team without much name recognition, there wasn’t much reaction at all to his hiring.

As has been opined on many times, the impact of a coaching staff is debatable in a lot of cases. But after some of the things we witnessed under Hartley’s tenure, I think there’s a good chance this new staff has the opportunity to affect some positive change.

Jerrard isn’t going to be the difference between a playoff berth and a last place finish. But, if he’s able to help progress a few of Calgary’s young defencemen and if he’s able to turn around their horrid penalty kill, he could be a really nice fit.

  • freethe flames

    Coaching can have a great deal to do with making the playoffs; using the right players in the right situation can mean a great deal towards a team success. Teams can feed off a successful PK or PP.

  • beloch

    I was looking at the Flames’ PK (penalty kill) stats and saw something pretty funny. The Flames CF% (corsi for percentage = corsi for / corsi against) on the PK is actually sixth best in the league! I say this is funny, because this is a stat that lies.

    CF% is not an important stat on the PK because everyone’s CF% is terrible. When the ratio of CF to CA is so awful, you really want to suppress corsi events instead of trying to get a slightly better ratio. In other words, getting 2 more shots for per 60 minutes on the PK might improve your CF% by a substantial degree when compared to other teams, but it’s nowhere nearly as useful as preventing 10 shots against per 60 minutes.

    The reason the Flames PK CF% is so high is because their CF60 is fourth best in the league. Their PK CA60, on the other hand, is #26 in the league. CA60 (corsi against per 60 minutes) really is the important stat on the PK. This, combined with terrible goal-tending, is what made the Flames’ PK so terrible last season.

    The Flames need to tighten up defensively on the PK. Short-handed goals are fun when they happen, but teams don’t make the playoffs on the merits of short-handed goals. Smothering the other team’s offense and not giving up shots and goals on the PK is far more important.

    Hartley’s system actually wasn’t that high event overall last season (it was a bit above average), but his PK was (fourth highest in the league), and that’s something Gulutzan and Jerrard need to work on.

    • supra steve

      I’m making cookies with my free time today. 🙂

      Also considering if I should change my “name” to supra steve…recently acquired an ’88 Supra Turbo…AKA mid-life crisis. 🙂

  • Jumping Jack Flash

    I think the big question is how does the new coaching regime view the role of its stars like Johnny and Sam as it pertains to the PK. Is the risk of Johnny or Sam getting hurt blocking shots too great to put them in that position.

    Personally, I think strategically using Johnny on the PK changes both the dynamic of our PK and the opposing PP. it keeps the opposing PP in check with a real inherent risk of short handed goals….which was not the case last year.

    Other Marquee players like Crosby, McDavid, Toews, and Benn effectively kill Penalties but none of the have Johnny’s stature. This could mean Johnny’s 5v5 ice time will have to be cut back.

        • #97Train/McDavidCopperfield

          The Flames have the answer right under their noses when it comes to a scoring forward . Hamilton has been there all along. Hamilton isn’t exactly a stay at home shutdown ,clear the front of the net guy, so use him upfront. That way at least that way you get a forward.

          • Baalzamon

            Any excuse to say something negative about Hamilton, eh? Wow, I really don’t want to know what you guys will be saying about Larsson when you realize he isn’t better than Klefbom or Sekera.

            Imagine how much better things would be for the Oilers right now if you had drafted Rasmus Ristolainen instead of Darnell Nurse. Or if you had accepted the Nurse for Hamilton trade proposal from Boston. You’d still have Hall, for one thing, having never needed to trade him for Larsson.

    • L13

      Spending a shift killing penalties means you can’t spend that time playing in situations in which scoring goals is actually viable (as opposed to a highly unlikely event you hope to imply with your mere presence).

      Every great offensive player in the league is better utilised on the power play and at even strength than on the penalty kill. If your team doesn’t have other capable PKers or you have a truly extreme overabundance of goalscoring talent, sure, chuck one of those players on the PK. But the reason Erik Karlsson “doesn’t kill penalties” (he does, by the way, just not many of them) isn’t that he cannot do it, but that other people can–but can’t provide the same offensive threat in situations in which it is actually possible and necessary to score. Thus making him kill penalties, which he can do roughly as well as a bunch of other players, would mean limiting his time in situations in which his value is much, much higher than his teammates’.

      It comes down to this question: Would Gaudreau’s presence be more beneficial to our goal differentials on the PK than in other situations? The answer is almost certainly no and I hope I never see such foolishness from our coaching staff.

      • Jumping Jack Flash

        I view things a little differently when it comes to the PK. Your rational of either 5v5 or PP vs PK is far too linear. If Calgary has a weapon like Johnny on the bench when they a trailing in a game and killing a penalty they are doing themselves a disservice not deployin him.

        I think we agree that he does not have to be a mainstay on the PK, but he has hinted on several occasions that he is used to playing on the PK and would like a shot. It does not make sense to keep a difference maker on the bench in these situations.

  • freethe flames

    A good team will have 6 forwards who can play on the PP and 6 who can play the PK. Every forward needs to be able to contribute to either the PP or the PK, you cannot afford to have players who cannot do either; therefore there is no room for a Bollig and maybe even Stajan.

  • RKD

    I don’t think the PK can get any worse when you are 30th. Hopefully, Jerrad can teach them some useful methods on the pk and we see an improvement. Also, having better goalies should make a difference too. They need to do a better job of getting in the shooting lanes, cutting off passes and being aggressive with point men. They gave the opposition too much zone time and allowed too many passes so the other team could set up and do what they wanted.

  • Derzie

    As the cliche goes, your #1 PK’er is your goalie. The change we made this summer will make Jerrard look like a genius. Can’t get worse in nets, that’s for sure.

    • piscera.infada

      I’m not sure the point you’re making can really be overstated. To put it into perspective Elliott’s short-handed save percentage was more than a full tenth of a pecentage better than Hiller’s (.907 to .804). Likewise, the new backup, Chad Johnson was substantially better than all three of the goalies the Flames used as starters.

      Another huge issue though, as someone mentioned above, is how high-event the penalty kill was. Limiting that, plus much improved goaltending, will pay huge dividends for the team.