Photo credit:Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
The case for Andrew Brunette as the Calgary Flames next head coach
9 months ago
There aren’t many teams with as much to be looking for as the Calgary Flames. They need a new general manager, a new coach, and all of that with the NHL Draft and free agency fast approaching.
There are plenty of internal and external candidates available for Flames management to look at and consider. From Ryan Huska and Mitch Love to even the recently-fired Gerard Gallant, there is a cornucopia of options. However, the one I want to focus on, and the one I think should be in the lead, is Andrew Brunette, currently associate coach with the New Jersey Devils and former head coach with the Florida Panthers for their Presidents’ Trophy season (2021-22).
The 49-year-old Ontario native took over behind the Panthers bench when Joel Quenneville resigned from the head coaching job following the emergence of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Kyle Beach scandal. In 75 games as head coach, Brunette’s record was 58-18-6, and plenty of players on the roster had career seasons, including current Flames Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar.
Brunette was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2021-22 (along with former Flames head coach Darryl Sutter), but parted ways with the Panthers after they opted to hire Paul Maurice as head coach rather than take the interim tag off Brunette following a loss in the second round of the 2022 playoffs. Now, he’s with the Devils, helping them with their power play, and has been given partial credit for the team’s big (and unexpected) turnaround this season.
But enough of his background, let’s get into his system. After a couple of seasons of Darryl Sutter hockey, Flames fans might be rejoicing to know that Brunette’s style of hockey could be considered as “exciting,” for lack of a better term. With Brunette comes speed and lots of puck possession. The 2021-22 Panthers sat second in shot for percentage (SF%), first in Fenwick for percentage (FF%) and Corsi for percentage (CF%), and second in expected goals for percentage (xGF%). They had the highest shots for per 60 minutes of play (37.83) and Corsi for per 60 minutes (67.16).
Below is the impact Brunette had on his team. The “Always” in black is what you need to be looking at per Micah Blake McCurdy, the creator of this visual. Per McCurdy, it represents his estimate of the coach’s system in general or “what you can expect before you look at any specific situations.”
The red numbers or the “score terms” are, according to McCurdy, “added to zero, by definition, so you can think of them as how the system changes based on the score (in addition to changing the personnel).”
The shell terms are “how the system changes in the third period when the team is either tied or leading.”
Essentially, there’s a whole lot of action happening under Brunette, with the x-axis in the visual being the change relative to the league average in xG for and the y-axis being the change relative to the league average in xG against.
In case you, the reader, might be confused or require more evidence (I wouldn’t blame you), below is a regularized adjusted plus-minus visual to provide a representation of just how incredibly dominant Florida’s offence was under Brunette.
Sitting comfortably above the second standard deviation and around the third (about 95% better than the average) is nothing but impressive. Not only did the Panthers do an excellent job of creating offence in the zone, but they did it by playing a fast, transition-based style of hockey. Below is a visual brought to us by Corey Sznajder of All Three Zones, and it’s not too tough to see that Florida loved their possession zone entries and those possession entries lead to tons of scoring chances.
For the Flames, not only would they be hiring another Jack Adams finalist (the caveat being his resume is short), but if Don Maloney was serious about moving his team in a more “progressive” direction, utilizing speed and skill over veteran leadership and physicality is precisely what Brunette will do. Of course, that’s not to say those two latter things aren’t important. There were players on the Panthers that were just that. However, the team’s goal was to be faster in every aspect of the game, which is a very fun brand of hockey to play and watch.
Not only did two of the players the Flames are giving big money have the best years of their respective careers under Brunette, but they were also utilized in ways that helped them succeed. It only feels right that he gets a shot in Calgary, given the kind of style his teams play and what Flames management has said about where they want this team to go.
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