The top 50 ranks are like the stock market: constantly fluctuating.
Coaching reputations rise or fall. Today’s coaching genius can become tomorrow’s coaching failure.
Every season the top 50 list is wiped clean and written anew. As mentioned before in last week’s column, Dave Tippett, John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette, and Alain Vigneault entered the top 50 with their coaching performances last season—displacing hockey coaching greats Harry Sinden, Bob Johnson, Eddie Gerard, and Tommy Gorman from the top 50.
This Season the following five men: Carolina’s Paul Maurice, Nashville’s Barry Trotz, Boston’s Claude Julien, Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle, and Washington’s Bruce Boudreau stand on the cusp of coaching greatness. With the exception of Boudreau (who has earned 11 success points thus far, while the other four coaches have gained 14 success points. Even so all five coaches are one or two years away from entering the rarified heights of the top 50.
The 2010-11 NHL season will see one or more of these men reach that pinnacle…and beyond. With the exception of Maurice the others represent the future of NHL coaching. Of the five only Maurice and Carlyle have made Stanley Cup finals appearances—Carlyle the only one with a Stanley Cup win. The others have been denied that particular grail and are still striving for it.
With the hockey season three weeks old the two frontrunners for glory among the five are Trotz and Boudreau. As of today Trotz’s Predators are atop the NHL Central and have the best record in the NHL. The Predators have never won a divison crown nor have they ever gone beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. A division crown and even a first round playoff win would represent a professional triumph for the Predators franchise (and a personal triumph for Trotz) as well as a major step forward in the development of the Predators franchise.
Washington’s ignominious loss to Montreal in the first round of the 2010 playoffs after winning the President’s Trophy was a crushing blow to a glorious season and, in a way, invalidated the glow of winning the Trophy. The challenge for the Caps (and Boudreau) is to take their game to the next level. The Caps have not reached the Stanley Cup finals since 1998. Boudreau himself has not reached that level either.
As it stands right now, the Caps are at cruising speed. Offensively they are playing slightly above average; defensively, below average. It is the latter trait which must be overcome if the Caps are to contend for the Stanley Cup. Under Boudreau, the Caps have never dominated defensively. Their best defensive performance was last season when they finished 16th in the NHL. That lack of defensive prowess and their weakness in the penalty-kill were two key factors in their playoff loss to the Habs.
Julien and the Boston Bruins share the same predicament but from a different angle. Whereas Boudreau and the Caps are an offensive-minded team that needs to improve defensively, Julien and the Bruins are a defensive-minded team that needs to improve offensively if they are to compete for the Stanley Cup.
The Bruins second-round playoff loss to the Philadelphia Flyers (after leading the series 3-0) was a devastating blow for Julien and the Bruins. The Bruins had the second best defense in the league last year and yet they allowed the Flyers to convert time and again on power-play opportunities in Games 4-7—thus insuring their defeat.
Offensively, the Black and Gold were next-to-last in the NHL in overall offense and 27th in power-play offense last season. If they want to win the Stanley Cup they need more firepower. As it stands right now they have started exactly where they left off last season. They are in third place in the Northeast Division. They have the best defense in the NHL and they are next-to-last in goals scored, though they have improved their power-play offense somewhat (they’re ranked 17th right now).
Bringing up the rear are Maurice and Carlyle. This season marks Maurice’s 14th season of NHL coaching and he only has fourteen success points which means he has hovered at mediocrity for almost of his NHL coaching career.
The only reason why Maurice is mentioned in this article is because he caught lightning in a bottle during the 2001-02 season when he reached the Stanley Cup finals. If he had fallen short during that season he would not be worthy of discussion and yet he has fourteen success points and he has a shot at breaking into the top 50 list this season if he can have a winning season and a playoff appearance. Right now the ‘Canes are at .500
Maurice has better odds of becoming the tenth hockey coach to earn 12 failure points. He has 19 and (as mentioned in last week’s column) he is second to Ron Wilson among active coaches in failure points. If you’re wondering what the criteria for earning failure points are it’s the following: 1) coaching a losing season; 2) finishing with a team point percentage of less than .400; 3) finishing in last place; and 4) failing to make the playoffs.
The biggest shock is Carlyle. The Anaheim Ducks have faltered coming out of the gate this season and are in third place in the Pacific Division.
Last season was Carlyle’s worst performance in his coaching career. Although the Ducks had a winning record they failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since Carlyle took over in 2005.
The Ducks defensively have taken a turn for the worse. Last season they finished 22nd and 24th in defense and penalty-killing respectively—both of which were the worst performances ever under Carlyle.
This season the downward trend continues and Carlyle is facing the sternest challenge yet in his remarkable coaching career.