25 November 2008

NHL Coach - a thankless role?

"If you aren't fired with enthusiasm, you will be fired with enthusiasm." - Vince Lombardi
It's fair to say that nobody is attracted to coaching in the NHL (or any other pro sports) for the job security. As of today (24 November 2008), 19 out of the 30 head coaches in the league started their current job since the end of the 2005/06 season and 10 of those have only a quarter of a season under their belts (if you exclude Tony Granato's first incarnation as main man behind the Avs bench).

While there is certainly some pressure on a handful of these men already (hello, Mr Keenan), looking towards the 11 long(er)-serving coaches shows that only three have not taken their team as far as a Conference Final.

Barry Trotz is widely accepted to have done a good job in Nashville, particularly with ever-weakening resources over the last few years, and it seems unlikely that Gretzky would ever be fired before he chooses to walk away. Hence, my spotlight shines on Tom Renney.

Given this lead-in, you might think I was going to advocate Renney's firing. Not true. I recognise and also get frustrated by a lot of the things he is criticised for (such as line-tinkering, letting the team sleepwalk through too many non-divisional games and, above all, the continually awful powerplay), but I still struggle to understand the level of dissatisfaction that appears to emerge every time the Rangers hit any sort of skid. Maybe it is just the infamous NYC fan attitude that means the critics always shout louder than anyone else?

I'll be clear - every coach does have a shelf life and sooner or later Renney will have to lead the team past the second round of the playoffs, but the negativity now (and over much of the last two years) puzzles me. Through the glorious Muckler/Low/Trottier years, I was crying out for a coach who could just bring some basic organisation and defensive structure to the team - actually making the playoffs being a complete pipe dream at that point. So I don't see the last few years being any sort of failure. I also don't see the team yet being at the point where it should be seen as an automatic Cup contender this year.

[As if to prove I'm not totally soft, I'd be delighted for Sather to be replaced yesterday...]

Post-script (2 February 2009)
A couple of changes since I first wrote this - Laviolette and Hartsburg out in Carolina and Ottawa respectively. I'm not sure whether Paul Maurice's return makes the average tenure of the coaches in the league higher or lower.

Also fair to say that Mike Keenan seems to have ridden out the early-season pressure in Calgary, with finger-pointing being more evident in Vancouver and Pittsburgh now. My negativity over the Rangers' performance has also increased since the first two months of the season.

Post-post-script (27 May 2009)
Nothing ages faster than an article on coaching, eh? Several more have gone - including some of the long-servers - namely, Lemaire, MacTavish, Renney, Therrien, Carbonneau and Keenan, with Granato seemingly on the brink (again).

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