The Reality of NHL Coaches Outside Leaf Nation

If we look back at the recent coaching changes in the NHL, it offers an inside look at how teams approach things, especially when things were at their worst.

In San Jose, the Sharks improved for 4 straight years under Darryl Sutter but then started to slide and though successful, he was quickly ushered out of Sillicon Valley. He was an excellent coach and still is now with the Flames. He made the playoffs and got close but close did not buy him another full year behind the bench.

In Dallas, like the Sharks, the Stars found success and even went as far as winning the cup and appearing in the finals the following year. It set high standards there and as a result, when they started to fade, out the door went Ken Hitch*****. He was even let go right before the Olympics in ’02 despite being a top assistant for Canada. He too is a very successful coach nowadays. He is firmly implanted behind the Flyers bench. But talented or not, when his Stars failed to produce, he wasnt kept because of past performance.

In Phoenix, Bob Francis won coach of the year but all that bought him was a ticket out of town the following year. Once you reached a level of success, if it cannot be maintained, then changes needed to be made. Wayne Gretzky is known for being impatient and when his standards of excellence were not met, he pulled the trigger despite Francis past record.

In Detroit, Dave Lewis was a loyal team guy who bided his time and received his chance to be head coach when Scotty Bowman retired. He won a presidents trophy and had back to back 100 point seasons. The result for him was getting replaced behind the bench. The Wings have set a standard for playoff excellence and when that wasnt met, the coach took the fall.

In Philadelphia, the Flyers have been a top team since 1997. However they have had behind the bench the likes of Terry Murray, Roger Nielson, Craig Ramsay, Bill Barber and now Ken Hitch*****. No cups meant new coaches. Barber was Bobby Clarke’s teammate, friend, just lost his wife to cancer and won coach of the year. An early playoff exit later and Clarke fired his friend. Loyalty doesnt get in the way of success in Philly.

In Ottawa, Jacques Martin was one of the main reasons why the Sens went from laughingstock to a top team. In 7 years he took the worst team in the NHL to a perennial 100 point team today. But constant playoff failure was his downfall. The Sens had about as much success as their Ontario cousins, yet immediately found a need for a new coach and direction.

In Colorado, the Avs had one of the league’s brightest and up-and-coming young coaches in Marc Crawford. He in fact helped them win a Stanley Cup. Those high standards got him fired when he failed to meet them in subsequent seasons. The same thing happened to Bob Hartley who was also a bright young coach who won a cup with the Avs. He too took the fall while the team was still a successful outfit.

The examples are endless. The Devils have won 3 cups with 3 different coaches, The Islanders finally returned to the playoffs and thanked Peter Laviolette for his trouble by firing him. The Canes reached the final and the owner fired Paul Maurice despite being very close once they started to sag. The Blues won the presidents trophy under Joel Quenneville and gave him the pink slip. The examples are endless.

However, the coaching carosel stops in Toronto as no matter what, the coach stays. In many if not all the examples above, a long losing streak, playoff failure, or a new GM has led to the in*****bent coach getting let go. Not in Leaf Nation however. Recently I have said that Leafs coach Pat Quinn was a good coach and wasnt the entire problem in Toronto. But after seeing what has happened the last 2 weeks, and especially the last game by the Leafs against Buffalo, there is no doubt in my mind that his time is up.

Last night was yet another example of poor in-game coaching, zero accountability and a confusing distribution of ice time.

In the worst of times, teams usually ride their top player and leader to get through the difficulties. But on the Leafs, it is unknown who the coach really thinks is the team’s top player. Jason Allison was the leader in ice time among forwards last night, an almost 3 minutes more than Sundin. In fact the trend has been to have equal ice time across the board as Quinn. Last night Sundin had about the same amount of ice time as 2 rookies, Alex Steen and Kyle Wellwood, their supposed 2nd line centre and not top centre in Allison and Nik Antropov and questionable player at best. In fact the most confusing stat was to see 7 forwards receive more ice time in the first period than Sundin, when the captain should be out there early to get the team off to a good start and set the tone. Sundin has struggled this year, there is no doubt about that. However he has played 2 pretty strong games in the last two and instead of feeding off that and seeing how well his captain is doing, the ice time is as usual restricted.

I would love to see the likes of Jagr, Ovechkin, Kovalchuk, Alfredsson, Thornton with set ice times and structured shifts and to see those teams roll out 4 lines regardless of the time of the game and situation. It would result in something like Jed Ortmeyer playing about 3 shifts and a couple minutes less than Jagr, or Matt Bradley getting equal ice time as Ovechkin. How much success would those teams have if they didnt live and die by their top players?

I fail to understand why those 2nd rate players and rookies warrant as much ice time as the team’s supposed top player and leader. This is especially true considering most nights those players dont show up and dont put forth the effort. We have actually seen Sundin put in that effort the last two games, but without any reward. In that Buffalo game, Jason Allison had probably one of his worst outings with several horrific givaways, missed chances and an own goal. Yet there he was sent out every other shift. Kyle Wellwood made a lazy defensive play, played too individualistic and turned the puck over regularly but he managed to play just 1 minute less than the Captain. And I dont need to say much more about Antropov who is far too lazy and undisciplined to warrant a spot even in the lineup never mind 20 minutes of ice time. And I do realize Andy Wozniewski is a rookie playing his 2nd career game. But after that one, I would be surprised if he played again. Horrible is how i define his performance. Yes he had to be used thanks to the injury to Berg, but they threw him in the fire on some key penalty killing assignments and it cost the team dearly.

Perhaps a timeout at that key moment to keep his top defenders on the ice was warranted. Instead Quinn threw out a raw rookie like he was an all-star. It only underscores the complete lack of smart in game coaching Quinn has displayed.

And here’s another example, the goal by Alex Ponikarovsky was one developed thanks to hard work and energy by the trio of Ponikarovsky, Antropov and Jeff O’Neill. It was actually one of the few shifts where I saw O’Neill inspired and playing smart. A more innovative coach would have probably noticed how well those 3 worked together and would have kept them together to keep the momentum going. In fact they played a couple of shifts together last night and did very well. But immediately, Quinn threw out his 4th unit that barely played in order to get his lines back to normal and he immediately put O’neill back with Steen and Allison for another period and a half of useless play. Things are not working, so when you see things that are, and when you are struggling, those opportunities should be jumped at.

When Pat Quinn started out, it was fine, and if he was early on in his time with the Leafs then he would definitely get the benefit of the doubt out of respect. But he has been around 8 years and they are no better now….some may say worse off now…..than before. It is time for a change when the results never improve. Unfortunately in Leaf land with it’s country club ways and it’s not what you know but who you know attitude, nobody takes the fall when they should. The accountability is not only non-existent on the ice but in the board room as well.

They finally managed to fire the GM of the basketball team which the conglomerate MLSE also owns, but only after he left the Raptors in ruins, not while he was leading the team to that fate. And because the coach is close with the owner, he automatically survived the chopping block despite a poor record. The same is happening with the Leafs, except no one takes the fall and status quo is the only solution.

To have friendships, or upcoming opportunities unrelated to the NHL dictate the status of the coach completely shows the utter ignorance of the franchise and it’s total lack of commitment to winning. In any other business whether in sport or not, when results dont happen the way they are expected to be, those running the ship take the fall. it’s that simple. They dont get to hang around 8 years and in fact be guaranteed full employment for the foreseeable future. The many examples listed above for other NHL franchises is how business is run around the world. And until the Maple Leafs remove themselves from their dillusional world of arrogance and selfishness, the results will never change.

This actually can be summed up best how the attitude is in Leaf Nation with a quote from Wade Belak

“a couple of wins and we’re back on top of the world”

That in itself is pathetic.