Retreads


In yesterday’s post on the hiring of Mike Yeo and Glen Gulutzan by the Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars, respectively, I included a throwaway sentence about successful teams and retread coaches:

While it’s true that former AHL coaches like Bruce Boudreau, Dan Bylsma and most recently Guy Boucher have enjoyed success with their teams, it was a pair of NHL re-treads – Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault – who found themselves the last men standing at the end of the season.

I included that line because I thought it was an interesting fact, and because I think there are a bunch of journeymen coaches out there that are quite good at their chosen craft and who often get short shrift among fans and the media because they have worked for an NHL team in the past and been fired.

Also in yesterday’s post was a link to a piece by Bryan Reynolds of Hockey Wilderness, as well as a quote with some commendation for the Yeo hire. Left unquoted were these two segments:

I was terrified that the Wild were going to hire what I call a “stop gap coach.” That is what McTavish [sic] or Hitchcock would have been. Stop gaps to put a band-aid on the problem and pretend it will stop the bleeding. The Wild were not a very good team. They still aren’t. Bringing in a coach that can draw a little blood from the stone and get three or four more wins is not what the organization needed. They need someone who can take the reigns, ride out the rough patch, and make it better long term…

Stop gaps are great. Putting fires out is commendable. These things do not build winners. Craig McTavish [sic] was not going to take this team to the Stanley Cup. Mike Yeo probably won’t this year either. The trade off is what happens in five years, or even in two. Who is the best choice for the organization in the long term? I think Fletcher nailed it.

Those paragraphs aren’t unique in what they express; I’ve heard variants of them from other writers in other cities over the years. Yet I’ve never taken the time to find out if there’s any factual basis to them. After the jump, I intend to do so.

Evaluating coaching is a difficult thing to do, and I don’t intend to try and do it here. However, it’s very easy to identify coaches that have either had team success or are regarded as especially good at their craft. Coaches that have been behind the bench of a Presidents’ Trophy winner, or a Stanley Cup finalist, have enjoyed team success; coaches that have won a Jack Adams trophy are regarded (by NHL broadcasters, at any rate) as the best in their field in a particular year. Are coaches who enjoy those distinctions generally on their first job out of the AHL, or on a second (or third, or fourth…) tour of duty with an NHL club? Let’s have a look.

Jack Adams Award Winners

  • 2005-06: Lindy Ruff, Buffalo – eighth NHL season, first NHL team
  • 2006-07: Alain Vigneault, Vancouver – fifth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2007-08: Bruce Boudreau, Washington – first NHL season, first NHL team (previously AHL head coach)
  • 2008-09: Claude Julien, Boston – sixth NHL season, third NHL team
  • 2009-10: Dave Tippett, Phoenix – seventh NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2010-11: To be announced
  • Average tenure: five NHL seasons, two NHL teams

Presidents’ Trophy Winners

  • 2005-06: Mike Babcock, Detroit – third NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2006-07: Lindy Ruff, Buffalo – ninth NHL season, first NHL team
  • 2007-08: Mike Babcock, Detroit – fifth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2008-09: Todd McLellan, San Jose – first NHL season, first NHL team (previously NHL assistant and AHL head coach)
  • 2009-10: Bruce Boudreau, Washington – third NHL season, first NHL team (previously AHL head coach)
  • 2010-11: Alain Vigneault, Vancouver – ninth NHL season, second NHL team
  • Average tenure: five NHL seasons, first NHL team

Stanley Cup Finalists

  • 2005-06: Peter Laviolette, Carolina – fourth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2005-06: Craig MacTavish, Edmonton – fifth NHL season, first NHL team (formerly NHL assistant)
  • 2006-07: Randy Carlyle, Anaheim – second NHL season, first NHL team (formerly AHL head coach and NHL assistant)
  • 2006-07: Bryan Murray, Ottawa – 16th NHL season, fifth NHL team
  • 2007-08: Mike Babcock, Detroit – fifth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2007-08: Michel Therrien, Pittsburgh – sixth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2008-09: Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh – first NHL season, first NHL team (formerly AHL head coach)
  • 2008-09: Mike Babcock, Detroit – sixth NHL season, second NHL team
  • 2009-10: Joel Quenneville, Chicago – 13th NHL season, third NHL team
  • 2009-10: Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia – eighth NHL season, third NHL team
  • 2010-11: Claude Julien, Boston – eighth NHL season, third NHL team
  • 2010-11: Alain Vigneault, Vancouver – ninth NHL season, second NHL team
  • Average tenure of winner: sixth NHL season, second NHL team
  • Average tenure of runner-up: eighth NHL season, third NHL team

It’s a silly exercise in some ways, because realistically it shows something that we already knew: a shiny new coach with little or no big league experience can win the Stanley Cup, and a long-time coach who has been hired and fired more than once can win the Stanley Cup.

I don’t think it’s fair for a team to ignore a good young coach just because he hasn’t had a chance to prove himself as an NHL head coach before. I also don’t think it’s a good idea to write off a good veteran coach as a band-aid or stop gap just because he’s been fired once or twice before. As with the NHL Draft, where ‘best player available’ is almost always the wisest choice, ‘best coach available’ is the way to go when hiring a coach.