The 2010-11 NHL Season brought a lot of changes to my top fifty rankings. Claude Julien, Randy Carlyle, and Barry Trotz entered the top fifty; displacing Harry Neale, Bob Berry, and Terry Crisp who had previously occupied their places. Of three Claude Julien (by virtue of his Stanley Cup win) ranks the highest. He is in a three-way tie with Newsy Lalonde and Pete Muldoon at 42nd place with 19 success points in his coaching career.
Randy Carlyle and Barry Trotz (with 17 success points apiece) are both tied for 47th place on my top fifty-chart along with Claude Ruel and Eddie Johnston.
What’s interesting is that all three new arrivals on the top fifty-chart have struggled through the first weeks of the 2011-12 season. Boston remains in last place in the Northeast Division. Nashville at first vied with Detroit for the Central Division lead before slumping briefly (the Predators are coping with injuries). Now they are in second place although they are barely above the .500 level. The Anaheim Ducks, too, are at .500 but in last place in the Pacific Division. (Anaheim is a lot like Detroit—balancing extremely old players with youngsters).
Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette became the 41st hockey coach ever to earn at least 20 success points last season. Right now Laviolette is tied with Don Cherry and Bob Pulford at the 39th spot. Although the Flyers got off to a good start they have been struggling with inconsistency on defense with stalwart presence Chris Pronger out with an eye injury and goalie Ilya Bryzgalov struggling to find his rhythm between the pipes. Also the Flyers are in a rebuilding mode balancing youngsters like Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds with veterans like Jaromir Jagr who has made fans forget he was away from the NHL for three years and is reasserting his point generating presence on the ice—working brilliantly alongside Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell while averaging a point per game.
If the Flyers can reassert their presence in the Atlantic Division and regain the lead and the divisional crown then Peter Laviolette has the potential to move several places up the top-fifty chart since there ten hockey coaches packed closely together with 22 to 26 success points between them.
The same can be said for Vancouver Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. He now has 21 success points as a coach and is tied with the late Sid Abel and Bob Hartley at 36th on my chart. However Vancouver (like the Boston Bruins) has struggled coming out of the gate. The Canucks are playing barely above .500 and have drawn the wrath of Don Cherry himself on HNIC.
The question for Vigneault and the Canucks is this: do they possess the character and willingness to overcome the crushing Stanley Cup defeat and do what Boston did last season—make an even greater effort which can lead them to victory in the Stanley Cup finals?
Or has the loss of 2011 sapped their soldierly spirit and left them adrift in their own psychological labyrinth?
Phoenix Coyote’s head coach Dave Tippett moved from 39th place to 34th place on my chart with a three-point effort. Tippett is now tied with the late Frank Patrick at 34th. If Tippett can do what he has never done before: win the Stanley Cup he has the potential to reach as far as 26th place on my charts.
Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff has the same potential to crack into the ranks of the twenties on my chart. Unlike last season (when the Sabres started poorly) Ruff has gotten the Sabres to come out of the gates more aggressively and right now the Sabres are vying with the Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators for first place in the Northeast Division.
Ruff is getting good offense from Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville while at the same time possessing the second best defense in the NHL.
Ruff is tied for 30th on my charts (along with the late Pete Green and Darryl Sutter) with 25 success points. He has the potential to move ten places up the charts.
At their present pace both Terry Murray and Ron Wilson have the potential to crack the 30 success point barrier at the end of this season. Terry Murray now has 27 success points and has sole possession of the 28th position on my chart.
Ron Wilson has 28 success points and is tied for 27th with Emile Francis. For Ron Wilson he (and the Toronto Maple Leafs) is at a metaphorical crossroads. After two consecutive last places finishes and three straight failures to reach the playoffs, Wilson is in a put-up or shut-up mode. The Leafs (like they did last season) have gotten off to a great start but unlike last year have not started to swoon. This time last year they had already begun their fade.
Even more fascinating about the Leafs this season is that their confidence level is rising and they are showing greater capability on the ice. Center Phil Kessel is already becoming a prime candidate for the Ross and Hart Trophies. Their October 29th victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins is a splendid example of their grit and toughness. The key word for Wilson and the Leafs is this: maintain.
Can they maintain their present level? If they can then their playoff slot is guaranteed. Everything flows from that basis.
Mike Babcock’s failure to reach the Stanley Cup finals last summer cost him a chance to become the 23rd hockey coach to earn at least 30 or more success points. Although Babcock and the Detroit Red Wings got off to a great start they have now struggling and slumping. The Red Wings continue to be a team that is coping with age, the retirement of key players, injuries, and the need to integrate young players into the team fabric.
Given Babcock’s enormous coaching talents and his past achievements I don’t believe the Wings slump will last long without Babcock making solid, decisive changes. His past record attests to that quality.
Mike Babcock is presently tied with the late Cecil Hart and the late Roger Neilson for 23rd place on my charts. Soon Babcock will enter even more rarified heights and will rub shoulders with the coaching greats of NHL history. He has the potential to pass Fred Shero, Pat Burns, Hap Day, and Punch Imlach on my top-fifty list; not a bad place to be.
Marc Crawford is no longer coaching in the NHL. Although he had a winning season his failure to lead the Dallas Stars into the playoffs cost him his coaching job. Since then he has not found a job in the NHL. Although he is only fifty years old one wonders if the final buzzer has sounded on a once brilliant coaching career. Crawford is presently 18th on my chart with 32 success points—in a tie with Montreal Canadiens head coach Jacques Martin who, too, is feeling the sharp edge of the axe against his neck.
Martin, with a two-point effort, tied Crawford on my chart but this season the Canadiens got off to the worst start in their illustrious history although they presently have a four game winning streak. Martin (and the Habs) is in the hot seat and only the mediocrity of the Boston Bruins is keeping them from the Northeast Division basement. In a sense is Jacques Martin facing the final buzzer of his NHL coaching career as well?
This time last year I wrote about how, with the retirement of Jacques Lemaire, Joel Quenneville now led all active coaches in success points. Then Jacques Lemaire came out of retirement to resume coaching the New Jersey Devils thus retaining his own personal lead among all active coaches with 35 success points.
Today Jacques Lemaire is retired once more and once again Joel Quenneville now leads all active NHL coaches in success points with 35 (that ties him with Lemaire, Bryan Murray, and the late Tommy Ivan).
Quenneville’s Chicago Blackhawks after a tentative start have roared into the Central Division lead and showing greater strength now than they did a year ago when they failed to retain their Central Division, Western Conference, and Stanley Cup titles.
If Quenneville can get the Hawks to maintain their pace and reach the Stanley Cup finals then he will become only the 11th hockey coach ever to earn 40 or more success points according to my rating system. He has the potential to pass Ken Hitchcock, Art Ross, and the late Billy Reay on my top-fifty chart.
We now know how the present occupants are faring in their quest for coaching glory but will there be any new applicants trying to reach the top fifty ranks?
That will be discussed in my next article.