Monday, February 12, 2007

Why Michel Therrien Is A Poor Coach Of The Year Pick

A few days ago, I wrote that I think Jacques Lemaire of the Minnesota Wild is the coach of the year so far. I had two comments (one from RC Robert L of Eyes on The Prize and one from earthlypowers) that were pushing Michel Therrien as coach of the year. I think the idea of Therrien as coach of the year is a common, but poor one.

I think the best definition of coach of the year is the coach who's coaching creates the most wins for his club (as opposed to those wins created by the players). It is not easy to evaluate how many wins a coach produces (it's not even easy to evaluate how many wins a star player produces), so this leads to a relatively wide range of opinions.

Far too often, in order to incorrectly simplify the problem, the coach of the year goes to the coach of the most improved team. The improvement may come from coaching (a much better argument if this is the coach's first year with the club), but more often than not it comes from the improvement of the players on the team. There is no better way to make an average coach look great then to give him a young, talented, improving core of players. There is no team in the NHL that has a better core of young, talented, improving players than Pittsburgh. Given a competent (but not spectacular) coach this team would improve by leaps and bounds.

Earthlypowers writes in my comments section (in support of Therrien):

Michel Therrien is defenitely the coach of the year right now. Granted the Pens have a talented young group but all of them are just learning. Malkin-rookie, Staal-rookie, Crosby 2nd year, Fleury, Whitney, Malone etc. Not much experience there. Who is instilling the discipline, the work ethic and teaching all these kids the NHL level game? Of course they improved, they couldnt be any worse than they were last year, but Therrien has taught them a system and given them belief in the system and themselves. Give him the respect he deserves, the Pens are not only improved but look for them to go deep into the playoffs.

He lays out a very talented group of young players and then asks where the experience is. The experience comes from players such as Mark Recchi and Sergei Gonchar. However, I dispute that a team needs experience to win. There are several examples throughout history of young cores with little experience that won. For example, when Ottawa jumped from a last place 41 points to 77 points and a playoff spot (no overtime loss points in those days) in 1996/97 who provided the experience (I suppose the best answer is Randy Cunneyworth and Steve Duchesne - two players of lesser impact than Recchi and Gonchar). Teams with talented, young, improving cores make large leaps forward regularly and they often do it with a limited level of experience on the roster. There is no need for experience to significantly improve, if you have the talent. Thus, there is no need to explain a lack of it.

He goes on to ask Who is instilling the discipline, the work ethic and teaching all these kids the NHL level game? To some degree, the coach is. That is his job. If he is a competent, unspectacular coach he should be able to do this. However, players do not get as good as Crosby, Malkin etc. without usually having already learned discipline, work ethic and having a good idea how to play hockey at a high level.

Want a much more damning review of Therrien the coach? As recently as January 12th NBC Sports was writing that Michel Therrien should be fired. If somebody really is coach of the year, there should be no calls for his firing at mid-season. What has happened since then is a winning streak, but coach of the year should not be one winning streak away from calls for his firing.

The whole idea of picking a coach of the year as coach of the most improved team only makes sense if the coach didn't coach the team last year. Therrien did coach Pittsburgh for a large portion of last season (51 games). The improvement we see is from a team coached by Therrien most of the year to one coached by him all of the year. It doesn't seem like Therrien is the best explanation for the differences.

All that said, I think the poor method of picking coach of the year as coach of the most improved team will likely lead to Michel Therrien getting an Adams nomination. I will predict the nominees as Ted Nolan, Michel Therrien and whichever coach finishes first overall. Should the Islanders fade down the stretch and Pittsburgh continue to get hot, Therrien may actually win the coach of the year. That doesn't make him a good choice. He is lucky to be in a situation where an average coaching performance will lead to a remarkable improvement in his team. Replace Therrien with another average level NHL coach and you will see the same results. It is not coaching that is leading to the Penguins improvement. The Penguins improvement should not lead to the coach getting the credit as coach of the year.

Therrien is a much better coach than you or NBC sports thinks he is.

It is not the two rookies and the odd FA signing that has changed Pittsburgh's fortunes. If you recall Therrien's rant on his D at this point last season and look at where they are now, you will see the difference he made.

Choosing Therrien for the Adams is a worthy choice.
It is not the two rookies and the odd FA signing that has changed Pittsburgh's fortunes

Its the fact that Sidney Crosby has developed into the top scorer in the NHL and Evgeni Malkin is the top rookie and M A Fleury has become a solid goalie and Ryan Whitney has become a very good defender that has changed Pittsburgh's fortunes. They have a core of improving young stars and that is enough to improve any team.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?