Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Coach of the Decade: whom to consider

Mike Babcock
Record: 231 W - 118 L - 19 T - 42 OTL
Best years: Three division titles; 2002-03 (his lemons to lemonade year: coached an 8th 7th seed who beat Detroit and came within a game of a Cup) and 2007-08 (dominant Stanley Cup year - no team ever put the Red Wings at risk of elimination in the entire playoffs)
Fired?: No, but he left the Ducks for the Red Wings

Babcock is a quality over quantity guy. He's made the playoffs four out of five years as a head coach. He won one Cup and came within a game of another. His teams usually perform very well in the playoffs. Rarely will you ever find a loss pinned on Babcock.

Lindy Ruff
Record: 340 W - 252 L - 44 T - 47 OTL
Best years: One division title, 05-06 and 06-07 - both seasons ended with Conference finals losses.
Fired?: No

Lindy Ruff is the closest thing the NHL has to a Terminator or cockroach when it comes to being unkillable. As the longest tenured coach in the NHL, Ruff has been with the team since the 1997-98 season. In the last decade, he kept the Sabres from imploding while the club was in financial trouble and helped lead what might be a short-lived return to glory for the franchise.

What hurts him the most is that the team has missed the playoffs four times this decade.

Barry Trotz
Record: 296 W - 261 L - 53 T - 46 OTL
Best years: 05-06 (106 pts, lost in first round) and 06-07 (110 points, lost in first round)
Fired?: No

Barry Trotz is the only coach in the history of the Nashville Predators. Behind the bench since 1998-99, Trotz often made something out of nothing. In fact, with only a few big name guys over the last few years like Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott, the Predators have been remarkably competitive.

They've also made it to the playoffs for the last four seasons.

Unfortunately, they've also been kicked out before ever seeing the second round. As great a coach as Trotz is, it might be hard to overcome that hurdle.

Ken Hitchcock
Record: 307 W - 202 L - 52 T - 51 OTL
Best years: Three division titles, 99-00 (lost in SCF) and 03-04 (lost in Game 7 of Conference finals)
Fired?: twice

Hitchcock is a bit of a victim of timing in this case. He won his only Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1998-99, the season before "the decade" began. Indeed, the three years before 99-00 were the best years of his coaching career.

That being said, Hithcock still has had an impressive decade. He took two different teams to the Conference Finals and brought the Stars to the Cup finals against the New Jersey Devils.

Perhaps the biggest knocks are that he's been fired twice and missed the playoffs twice in a row as the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Still, the Stars hit their highest level under his tutelage. And the Flyers were one game away from the SCF because of Hitchcock. Finally, the Blue Jackets are in the mix for this year's playoffs which would be the first in the club's history.

Jacques Lemaire
Record: 277 W - 242 L - 55 T - 47 OTL
Best years: One division title, 02-03 (lost in Conf. finals)
Fired?: No

Even if his name will forever be associated with the neutral zone trap, Lemaire is still one of the most respected coaches in the NHL. While his teams have missed the playoffs four times, he's been able to coax some very successful seasons out of some minimally talented teams.

Ron Wilson
Record: 344 W - 228 L - 52 T - 46 OTL
Best years: four division titles, 03-04 (lost in Conf. finals) and 07-08 (108 pts)
Fired?: Twice

One of the best personalities in the NHL is also one of the best coaches. He lead both the Washington Capitals and San Jose Sharks from basement teams to perennial contenders. Along with being consistently quotable, Wilson's claim to fame is being ahead of the pack when it comes to technology.

Wilson shares the unfortunate distinction with Hitchcock of being fired twice in this decade. However, it's always a sign that you're probably a worthwhile coach when you barely blink and a new offer is on the table. Both Wilson and Hitchcock barely wasted a month before being chosen as the coach of a different team.

Other possible contenders: Dave Tippett, Claude Julien, Randy Carlyle (too brief), Scotty Bowman (only three years, but did win a Cup) and Joel Quenneville. Maybe even Pat Burns or Pat Quinn?


Earl Sleek said...

(his lemons to lemonade year: coached an 8th seed who beat Detroit and came within a game of a Cup)

Actually, Anaheim was the 7th seed that year. It's a nice Babcock story, but like everyone else wearing a cartoon duck mask he largely rode on the back of Giguere. Still a decent choice, but I don't know if we should overestimate his role in 2003.

jamestobrien said...

Ah, thanks Sleek. I figured that Detroit was the #1 seed that year.

And you're right: Giguere definitely carried the Ducks there.