Sunday, February 12, 2006

Coach Of The Year

I think there is a fundamental flaw in the way the NHL picks their coaches of the year. Usually, the coach of the year is merely the coach of the most improved team in the standings. Although this method may sometimes pick a great coach, it is far from a perfect method. Often teams improve significantly for reasons that have little to do with coaching. Often teams will not be significantly improved despite having very good coaching. For example, once a coach is established for a few years in a city, great coaching is often taken foregranted as it exists every year in that city and any improvement or drop in the standings is due to other elements of the team and not coaching. As an example of this, in his thirty year coaching career Scotty Bowman was only named coach of the year twice. Was he not the top coach in the league more times then this? Often, the NHL was picking flash in the pan coaches on improving teams (like Orval Tessier and Bob Murdoch) over Bowman.

I expect that the leading candidate for coach of the year this season is Tom Renney of the New York Rangers. He has done a very good job with a team that is suprising many by leading the Atlantic Division. They were often picked to finish well outside the playoffs in last place in their division. The Rangers are a team that has improved siginficantly lead by NHL leading scorer Jaromir Jagr and Calder trophy candidate Henrik Lundqvist.

However, I think the best coach in the NHL is Jacques Lemaire of the Minnesota Wild. I would pick him for coach of the year. He has his Minnesota team in the playoff hunt in the toughest division in the NHL (Northwest Division) and he has done this on a team where Brian Rolston is their top scorer. Although Rolston is a solid player, most (if not all) other teams in playoff hunts have far better offensive weapons. Minnesota is not significantly improved in the standings from 2003/04, but why should they be? Lemaire has coached the team since they entered the NHL, so his coaching will not be an improvement from year to year. It is merely consistently great.

Jacques Lemaire should be named coach of the year should the season end today, but because of the poor method usually used I don't think he will garner serious consideration. Tom Renney is the the likely winner at this point, he has been a good coach, but I think Lemaire has been better.

What? No props for Lindy Ruff?

I'm not saying I disagree with you for picking Lemaire, he has done a great job with limited talent. Tom Renney & the Rangers would be nowhere without Lundqvist, but he too has done a great job.

However, Ruff has not had a full lineup since the end of October; had to play his backup goalie, who took the lockout year off, for almost 8 weeks; had an unproven #1 NHL goalie, who should be leading the the USA to a medal, but won't be able to; and has had each of his 3 top scorers out of the lineup basically for the last 3 months (Dumont, Briere & Connolly), plus a host of other injuries to other regular starters.

At least a mention is all I'm askin' for!
I think that either Ruff or Laviolette should win it. The Rangers have to much talent to garner winning the award and Minnesota doesn't have the results.
A team can have good coaching and not be at the top of the standings. Minnesota is a prime example.

You are falling into the trap the NHL usually falls into when they give coach of the year to the coach of the most improved team (especially if there is the perception that they do not have much talent).

It is merely a perception that Carolina (with Staal, Brind'Amour, Stillman, Cole, Gerber) has less talent then the Rangers do (Jagr, Straka, Sykora, Nylander, Lundqvist). There is no reality to it. Several months ago when the season began, any serious hockey fan would have told you that neither teams had much talent. This perception is not reality.

Buffalo is another story. I plan to write something about them when the NHL returns after the Olympics. They lack any big offensive stars (if I told you Ales Kotalik would be their top scorer in February and he was tied for 67th in scoring in the NHL - I am sure you would assume that the team is having an awful season). So why is Buffalo winning? Ryan Miller has had a very good half season (but he wasn't an answer last fall). Its hard to point your finger at one thing and say this is why Buffalo is doing well. Does that mean that we must assume that it is coaching? How many points is the average NHL coach actually worth? Is Lindy Ruff worth more than the average coach? If Ruff is such an elite coach why has the team missed the playoffs the last three years running and had many of their fans ready to replace him as soon as he stumbled this year?

The meaningful question is how do we know a team is well coached? The answer is not as simple as if a team is doing better than we expected them to it must be good coaching. But far too often the coach of the year is picked this way. These comments are examples of such.
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