Benchmarks: The Unlucky Ones

Using my rating system when a coach has a one-point season, it means he either had a winning season and failed to reach the playoffs or he had a losing season but was able to make a playoff appearance (yet failed to reach the Stanley Cup Finals).

Six coaches during the 2010-11 NHL Season achieved such a result: Paul Maurice, Ron Wilson, Brent Sutter, Davis Payne, Marc Crawford, and Todd Richards. All of the six had winning seasons, yet failed to reach the playoffs.

The one who did the best job was Marc Crawford. Crawford led the Dallas Stars to a 95-point season and by the All-Star break had his team leading the Pacific Division. But then the Stars collapsed, going into two significant slumps in February and March before finishing in last place. This was the second time in a row Crawford had led the Stars to a winning season only to finish at the bottom of the Pacific Division. That replay led to Crawford’s immediate ouster as head coach, and as of today he has still not been hired by any other NHL team—which leads one to wonder whether the final buzzer may have sounded on Crawford’s illustrious NHL coaching career.

Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter was the next-best member of the “Unlucky Ones” club. He led the Flames to a second place finish in the Northwest Division but never was in a position to challenge the Canucks for the division lead. Still Sutter finished only three points away from the eighth-seeded Blackhawks.

Paul Maurice of the Carolina Hurricanes failed to crack my top fifty rating list. He needed three success points to do so and he failed once again. The Hurricanes, despite the splendid play of Calder Memorial Trophy winner Brian Skinner, were never in the Southeast divisional race though they were only two points behind the eighth-seeded New York Rangers in the conference playoff race. The only thing good about Maurice’s performance was that he engineered an 11-point improvement during the season but if Paul Maurice is ever going to rank among the top fifty hockey coaches of all time then he needs to get the Hurricanes to excel even higher—a difficult task when one is playing in the same division with the Washington Capitals and the resurgent Tampa Bay Lightning.

Davis Payne coaching his first full NHL season failed to surpass his performance from the previous season. The St. Louis Blues finished three points lower in the standings than they did in 2009-10 despite getting off to a quick start last October. As the season wore on the Blues gradually faded away to finish out of the playoff race.

Former Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards only slightly improved his team’s performance from the previous season. The Wild only gained two team points and moved up one place in the Northwest Division standings but the Wild got off to a slow start; improved greatly in January but during the last twenty games of the season went into a 6-12-2 swoon that cost them a playoff slot and Richards his job.

Of the six members of the “Unlucky Ones” club, the worst performance goes to Toronto’s Ron Wilson. After two consecutive losing seasons and last place finishes, Wilson led the Leafs to their first winning season since 2008. It was rough for Wilson and the Leafs. After winning their first four games of the season (and setting Leafs fans’ hearts aflutter, the Leafs went into a horrible slump that eliminated them from playoff competition before the New Year came.

It wasn’t until the end of February that the Leafs made it back to the .500 level. The Leafs went to earn a winning season but still fell short of the playoffs.

For Wilson, his three seasons with the Leafs have been a Valley Forge for his coaching career. Whatever luster he has gained with his previous coaching stints is being dissipated rapidly with his failure to get the Leafs to return to post-season play. One wonders how much longer Leafs management will put up with this continued mediocrity and one wonders if Wilson (like Marc Crawford) is approaching the final buzzer of a once illustrious coaching career.

Next Week’s Article will feature “The Deuces.”

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