The discussion began when the staff tried to rank the best coaches in the league. Babcock, Trotz, Julien? Quenneville, Vigneault, Boudreau? Laviolette, Cooper, Maurice? We debated on the exact order, but something became glaringly obvious - the coaches with the most recent success have had virtually no playing time at the NHL level.
We all know there are exceptions. Mike Milbury took the Bruins to a Stanley Cup Final in 1990. Darryl Sutter's coaching career can drive a car, and is almost old enough to buy cigarettes. But recently, the Gen Xers have started to see the players they grew up with are putting on a suit and tie and lining up behind the bench. Men who played against young gun Jaromir Jagr are now figuring out a gameplan to stop ageless wonder Jaromir Jagr. Hell, half of them played for the Haftword Whalers during the 90s. But how many are actually good at what they do?
First, we needed to set parameters for our study. There have been 360 coaches in the NHL and you're out of your mind if you think I'm going to compare & contrast the player & coaching careers for Newsy Lalonde. We also know that a large amount of coaches who played, really only had a cup of coffee at the NHL level. We want to know who excelled at both. And we primarily want to look at coaches that started after the lost season of 2005. Sorry, Darryl Sutter.
Our coaches must meet these requirements...
- They played in the NHL between 1985 and 1995.
- They played at least 200 career games in the NHL.
- They've started coaching since 2005.
It turns out, some of the worst coaches in recent memory, actually are the best player coaches on this list.
|Coach||From||To||Player GP||Coach GP||W||L||OTL||Pt.%|
* - All data collected on October 14th, 2015 from Hockey-Reference.com.
Let's get this out of the way first. Great coaches like Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter? Didn't qualify for this list. Sutter is on his third stint at coaching in the NHL, and while he had plenty of success with Calgary, and is by point-percentage the best coach in the league with the Kings (.641), he had losing records during his six years with San Jose and Chicago. Also, Quenny is right behind him in the "just missed" category, as the only other coach with a point-percentage north of .600. A handful of guys just below them hover in the .500 range, including Lindy Ruff, Craig MacTavish, Dave Tippett, and the all-too-well-known Mike Sullivan. And Gerard Gallant, current coach of the Florida Panthers, technically started his coaching career in 2004 with Columbus, took a hiatus for 8 years, and just missed the cutoff. Sorry gents.
It leaves us with a bunch of recognizable names. Some for the right reasons, most for the wrong reasons. It wouldn't surprise you to see that Dan Bylsma is the best player-turned-coach since the 2005 lockout, leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup and getting the nod for the US Men's Olympic National Team. It might surprise you though to see that Patrick Roy is next on this list, with a .614 point-percentage in albeit a much smaller sample size. The data was pulled before Wednesday's drubbing against the Bruins, so he's actually got one more in the loss column, and by the eye test none of us would see him as a great mind of a coach, at least not right now.
From a playoff push to packing your bags.
Guy Carbonneau was successful for a couple seasons before the top-seeded Canadiens got blown out in the second round in 2008. He lasted 66 games the following season before getting the axe. Brent Sutter similarly led his first team in the New Jersey Devils to two straight playoff appearances, but lost in the first round both times. He then went on to miss the playoffs for three straight years with Calgary. And the 5th-best coach in the modern era? Yup. That's Randy. Randy Carlyle had multiple years of success with the Anaheim Ducks during the mid-2000s, including a Stanley Cup to his name. His five playoff appearances though couldn't help him when the '11-'12 Ducks stumbled out of the gate to a 7-13-4 start, and he was let go, only to be picked up later that year by Toronto. He's since been known as the man who coached the losing team in the It was 4-1 game.
After our Top 5, this list gets damn hilarious. Adam Oates (7th) vomited all over the ice at the Verizon Center, initiating a gameplan that led to Alexander Ovechkin scoring 51 goals but finishing the season with a +/- of -35. Dale Hunter (9th) wasn't much better when he took over for Bruce Boudreau, using every forward group imaginable to block shots. Yes, he did lower the Caps' GAA from 3.31 to 2.61. But he also lowered their scoring production, from 3.18 GPG to 2.53 GPG. He ultimately took the team to the second round of the playoffs, but wasn't brought back by management when they realized their team on the cusp of the Eastern Conference Finals was averaging just 2.07 goals per game in the postseason.
Then we have the fun bunch. The coaches who were surprisingly given more than a season only to be cut and never heard from again. The biggest bust among them is obviously Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky coached the Coyotes for four full seasons, never finishing higher than 4th in the division. He had a winning record just once. And Gretzky himself has more career goals (894) than every player on the 'Yotes during those four years, combined (884). Trent Yawney on the other hand might be the most important coach in Chicago Blackhawks history, despite having the worst point-percentage on this list among coaches who lasted a full season. After bottoming out and winning just 26 games during the 2005-06 season, the front office brought Yawney back for a 2nd season. Expectedly, Yawney was just as awful in 2006, with a .381 point-percentage before getting canned 21 games in for Denis Savard. So why is he so important? Well the bottom-feeding the Blackhawks did during Yawney's tenure allowed them to pick up Jonathan Toews in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, and Patrick Kane in 2007.
It's been reported before that the best players rarely make good coaches. When the talent needed to reach the NHL and have sustained success comes so naturally, it's nearly impossible articulate the actions to lesser players. You can't quantify awareness. There's no formula to improve someone's hockey IQ, as noted in the PT article above.
According to Canadian gold-medal hockey player Therese Brisson, "Recently retired hockey players who played at high levels rarely make the ideal coaches for youth hockey. They know what to do, but they can't communicate how they do it!" She says that given the choice between a skilled hockey player and an experienced physical education teacher to help at the youth hockey camps she now runs, she will always take the teacher. "Teaching skating skills is one of those problem areas," Brisson says. "How exactly do you skate faster?" Being able to communicate this type of information comes from coaching experience, not from playing experience.
Are there people who are successful at both? Of course. Joel Quenneville played over 800 games in the NHL, and he's coached nearly 1400. Craig MacTavish played over 1,000 games, and coached 656. But there are far fewer Quennevilles, Sutters, Tippetts, and Ruffs. And there are a plethora of Gretzkys, Yawney, Olczyks and Oateses.
With Craig Berube being let go after last season, and Todd Nelson only having 168 games under his belt as a player, Patrick Roy is the newest player-turned-coach from this list at the helm of an NHL team. He's the only player-turned-coach to start coaching after 2010 and still remain active. In fact, Roy and Bylsma are the only two active coaches in the NHL to have started coaching after the 2005 lockout. Now that the players from the late 90s are starting to creep into suits, who will be the next player to coach an NHL team? Will we see a Mark Recchi? Paul Kariya? Dominik Hasek? Who on the Bruins do you see as a coach? And will they succeed? Or fail like so many great ones before them?
We all know that answer. It's future Jack Adams winner, Zac Rinaldo.