Benchmarks: Zero Club

Long before it committed journalistic suicide, the News of the World was renowned for its lurid exposes and moral finger-waving about personal corruption. A typical News of the World expose would always name the corrupt parties with the following priggish line, “we name these guilty men.”

And so when it comes to listing those NHL coaches who earned zero success points during the 2010-11 season I, too, would like to name these guilty men: Craig Ramsey, Joe Sacco, Jack Capuano, Scott Arniel, Peter De Boer, Clory Clouston, and Tom Renney.

Using my rating system for measuring coaching success earning zero points is the ultimate sin an NHL coach can commit but how do we assess the level of failure among the members of the Zero Club featured in this article?

Just as there can be a measuring system for success there can also be a measuring system for failure.

My system for measuring failure is as follows. A coach can earn failure points for doing the following:

1)      coaching a losing season

2)      His team finishes with a point percentage lower than .400%

3)      His team finishes in last place

4)      His team fails to make the playoffs

Craig Ramsey, who lost his head coaching once the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg, earned two failure points for coaching a losing season and failing to reach the playoffs.  The Thrashers were two points below .500 and were 13 points behind the eighth-seeded Rangers in the Eastern Conference stakes. The Thrashers for a brief time looked promising by early January but faded badly afterwards.

Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche also earned two failure points for coaching a losing season and failing to make the playoffs. Sacco’s record was much worse than Ramsey’s. The Avs were 14 points below .500 but what’s most shocking is how badly they collapsed. By mid January they were 24-16-6 and looking good when they went into a horrific tailspin going 6-18-2 in the second half of the season. Unlike Craig Ramsey at least Joe Sacco has retained his coaching job but one wonders if the Avs continue their precipitous slide next season whether Sacco will remain at the helm?

Jack Capuano, Scott Arniel, Peter De Boer, and Clory Clouston all earned three failure points in 2010-2011. In addition to coaching losing seasons and failing to make the playoffs they also finished in last place in their respective divisions.

Jack Capuano took over as head coach of the New York Islanders after 17 games into the 2010-11 season and didn’t do too badly. Under Capuano the Islanders played barely under .500 but couldn’t get out of the basement. The Islanders are trying to rebuild using promising young players like Michael Grabner but the process will be slow.

Scott Arniel suffered the same fate as Joe Sacco. Arniel got the Blue Jackets off to a great start but by Thanksgiving the Blue Jackets slowly faded until they went below .500 and finished in last place.

Former Florida Panthers head coach Peter De Boer was in the same boat as Sacco and Arniel. By mid-January the Panthers were slightly above .500 but went into an awful collapse going 9-20-7 in the second half of the season and in the process losing his coaching job with Florida.

(De Boer has rebounded, having been recently hired by the New Jersey Devils to replace Jacques Lemaire as head coach although the word “replace” seems problematical considering Lemaire’s enduring impact on the Devils team. Coaching legends like Jacques Lemaire are hard to replace. Peter De Boer has enormous shoes to fill and considering the fact that De Boer has earned only one success point and seven failure points according to my rating system as an NHL coach, he has his work cut out for him.)

Clory Clouston, the former head coach of the Ottawa Senators, never got started last season. The Senators struggled all season and for one day in late November were at .500 before slowly, inexorably collapsing to a last place finish in the Northeast Division after making the playoffs in 2009-10.

But the award for the worst coaching job in the NHL during the 2010-11 Season goes to Tom Renney, head coach of the Edmonton Oilers. He was the only NHL coach who scored the grand slam of earning all four failure points; the only coach to have a point percentage lower than .400

It was also the worst coaching performance in his eight seasons of NHL coaching. The Oilers were briefly close to the .500 level in early December but collapsed and descended into fifth, never to leave.

Ever since the Oilers let Craig MacTavish go as head coach the team has resided in the NHL basement, spending two years as the worst team in the league; the only benefit being that they’ve won the NHL draft lottery. The Oilers have young talent but the question remains when will the talent bloom and when will the Oilers regain their winning form again?

There is an eighth coach who, technically under my rating system, should be placed in the Zero Club: Jacques Lemaire.

Even though the New Jersey Devils did finish with a losing season and failed to make the playoffs (thus earning Lemaire one failure point) I cannot place Lemaire into the Zero Club simply because of the yeoman turn-around he performed with the Devils. I would like to discuss Lemaire’s glorious effort in the weeks to come after this series is over because if Lemaire had coached the Devils for the entire 2010-11 Season there is no way the Devils would have had a losing season and no playoff appearance.

I cannot write off Lemaire’s magnificent career by linking him with the other members of the Zero Club.

Jacques Lemaire deserves a much grander memorial to a glorious career and he will receive it at the proper time.

Next week’s column will feature: the Unlucky Ones.

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