Matt’s Top 50-Who rose? Who Fell? and Who stood still?

by | Oct 20, 2016

2015-2016

  1. Scotty Bowman         +309
  2. Toe Blake                    +195
  3. Dick Irvin                   +189
  4. Joel Quenneville  +128
  5. Glen Sather                +124
  6. Ken Hitchcock      +108
  7. Al Arbour                    +105
  8. Tommy Ivan               +95
  9. Lester Patrick             +89
  10. Mike Babcock        +88
  11. Hap Day                      +87
  12. Punch Imlach             +86
  13. Darryl Sutter          +86
  14. Mike Keenan               +85
  15. Fred Shero                   +83
  16. Pete Green                   +82
  17. Jack Adams                 +81
  18. Billy Reay                     +78
  19. Cecil Hart                     +77
  20. Alain Vigneault      +76
  21. Claude Julien          +75
  22. Bruce Boudreau     +73
  23. Art Ross                         +71
  24. Frank Patrick                +70
  25. Pat Quinn                      +68
  26. Bill Dineen                    +66
  27. Pat Burns                      +62
  28. Peter Laviolette      +59
  29. Dan Bylsma              +56
  30. Bryan Murray              +51
  31. Lindy Ruff                +50
  32. Jacques Lemaire         +49
  33. Terry Murray               +47
  34. Claude Ruel                  +46
  35. Jacques Martin            +45
  36. Don Cherry                   +43
  37. Emile Francis               +43
  38. Bob Hartley             +42
  39. Marc Crawford            +42
  40. Roger Neilson             +42
  41. Jimmy Skinner           +39
  42. Dave Tippett           +38
  43. Tom Johnson              +36
  44. Bob Johnson               +35
  45. Todd McLellan      +35
  46. Randy Carlyle            +35
  47. Ken McKenzie           +34
  48. Michel Therrien  +32
  49. Cooney Weiland       +31
  50. Gerry Cheevers         +31

This time a year ago my book Bench Bosses: the NHL’s coaching elite was released revealing who the fifty greatest hockey coaches of all time were after the end of the 2014/15 NHL season. Today with the completion of the 2015/16 season those rankings have changed. This article discusses which coaches moved up the charts; which coaches stagnated; and which coaches declined in value and ranking during the last season.

In my book I had Joel Quenneville ranked fifth between Glen Sather and Al Arbour. Last season Quenneville added six points to his career value and thus was able to go ahead Glen Sather to occupy the fourth position on the all-time list but if you notice above Quenneville has a long way to go before he can approach the top three of Scotty Bowman, Toe Blake, and Dick Irvin. He will need 2-3 more Stanley Cup wins to be able to come close to Blake and Irvin.

Like Joel Quenneville, Ken Hitchcock added six points to his coaching value thus allowing him to surpass the late Al Arbour for sixth place on the all-time list. The challenge for Hitchcock who has stated that this will be his last season as an NHL coach is whether he can surpass Glen Sather? To do that the St. Louis Blues will have earn triple-digits in team points, win the Central Division title, and win the Stanley Cup—a tall order but if the Blues can effect this then Ken Hitchcock will retire as the fifth-greatest head coach in NHL history according to my rating system—a lovely way to end an illustrious coaching career.

After years of glorious success coaching the Detroit Red Wings, Mike Babcock took his talents to Toronto and endured the first losing season since 2003/04 and the first last place finish in his entire NHL coaching career. Babcock lost seven points off his career value and saw his rank fall from ninth to tenth. If the Leafs suffer another sub-par season Babcock could lose his top-ten ranking altogether because he has Darryl Sutter nipping at his heels.

Sutter added six points to his career value and elevated himself four steps in rank from 17th to 13th according to my calculations. The Kings were denied the Pacific Division title when the Anaheim Ducks nipped L.A. for the division title at the end of the 2015/16 season. Had the Kings been able to maintain first place then Darryl Sutter would have definitely had cracked the top ten list because his career value would have been a +90 instead of the +86 which it is now. Winning the Pacific Division title would have placed Sutter between Tommy Ivan and Lester Patrick on the all-time list. The nice thing is Sutter can still crack the top ten if he can overcome a slow start and lead the Kings to triple-digits in team point and a playoff spot. If Darryl Sutter can lead the Kings to another Stanley Cup win then he could surpass the late Al Arbour for 7th place.

Note how closely grouped together are Alain Vigneault, Claude Julien, and Bruce Boudreau. A.V. added six points to his career value and was able to move two steps in rank (passing Julien in the process) from 22nd to 20th. If the Rangers can earn triple-digits in team points and win the Metropolitan Division then Vigneault will definitely crack the top 15 ranks (he only needs 7 points to do so). Claude Julien has been running to stand still for the past two seasons, failing to make the playoffs both times. He has not enhanced his coaching value by any means and has diminished his Average Season Rating considerably (from +6.818 to +5.769, a significant loss). Claude Julien has already earned two strikes but can he survive a third strike against him?

Bruce Boudreau added ten points to his career value by leading the Anaheim Ducks to the Pacific Division title in 2015/16 thus elevating himself three steps in rank but the fact that he still remains a heartbreak coach (as discussed in my book Bench Bosses) continues to haunt and diminish his legacy. Indeed Boudreau is in a four-way tie for fourth place in the heartbreak coaching stakes with eight playoff appearances without ever reaching the Stanley Cup finals. The Ducks allowed Nashville to overcome a 3-2 series deficit in the first round and lost to the Predators while playing wing-less hockey. Gabby lost his job (only to be hired by the Minnesota Wild) but can Gabby still continue to advance in leaps and bounds or will he be confined to tiny baby steps while trying to coax the underachieving Minnesota Wild to playoff success? One wonders if Boudreau, like Claude Julien, will soon be stagnating in terms of his coaching value.

Peter Laviolette, Dan Bylsma, and Lindy Ruff are also closely grouped together as well.  Laviolette brilliantly revived his coaching career by leading the Nashville Predators to their third second round playoff appearance in their franchise history. Laviolette has a good chance to surpass the late Pat Burns on the all-time but to crack the top 25 Nashville will have to earn triple-digits in team points and win the Central Division title (a tough task). Dan Bylsma’s return to NHL coaching when he took over the Buffalo Sabres saw his career value decline three points and lose three steps in rank (from 26th to 29th). Bylsma’s challenge is whether he can stop the slide, get the Sabres to a winning season and playoff appearance by guiding the young phenoms he has on his team? The odds do seem to be against him on that score. Lindy Ruff engineered a brilliant comeback by adding ten points to his coaching value by guiding the Dallas Stars to the Central Division title in 2015/16. Ruff set new peaks in career value and career ranking by vault 11 steps in ranks from 42nd to 31st with his sterling effort. The key for Kindy Ruff will be whether he can take the Stars even further? If the Stars can repeat as Central Division champions, score triple-digits in team points and win the Stanley Cup then Lindy Ruff will crack the top 25 ranks.

Bob Hartley started off the 2015/16 season with a +45 coaching value but his failure to get the Calgary Flames to win and make the playoffs cost him three points off his coaching value; saw him lose four steps in rank; and cost him his head coaching job with the Flames. One suspects that Bob Hartley will not be returning to the NHL coaching ranks again.

Dave Tippett, Todd McLellan, and Michel Therrien all saw their coaching values and their rankings all decline in 2015/16. Dave Tippett lost three points off his coaching value and lost one step in rank. Todd McLellan saw his coaching value decline by seven points (because Edmonton finished last in the Pacific Division in 2015/16) and his ranking decline from 38th to 45th. If Edmonton experiences a repeat performance in 2016/17 of what they failed to do in 2015/16 then Todd McLellan will no longer rank among the top 50 coaches according to my calculations. Michel Therrien entered the top 50 ranks in 2014/15 but saw his value decline by two point when the Habs failed to have a winning season and failed to make the playoffs in 2015/16. Like Todd McLellan Therrien’s place among the top 50 hangs in the balance. If Montreal has a losing season and fails to reach the playoffs then Michel Therrien too will no longer rank among the top 50.

Randy Carlyle has returned to NHL coaching after losing his coaching job with the Maple Leafs in 2015 and, ironically enough, he has returned to Anaheim, trying to instill some fire and discipline into the deadened Ducks and restore them to championship hockey but he, like Tippett, McLellan, and Therrien, runs the risk of losing his top 50 ranking if he experiences a sub-par season. If Ducks only earn 65 team points or less or if Anaheim finishes in last place in the Pacific Division then Randy Carlyle will no longer rank among the top 50.

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K’Andre Miller on the Verge of Stardom

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