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The 10 Longest-Tenured NHL Coaches and the Biggest Strength of Each

Erik CottonCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2017

The 10 Longest-Tenured NHL Coaches and the Biggest Strength of Each

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    Life as an NHL coach these days is pretty boring.  That's a change for what's usually the most unpredictable profession in all of sports.  So how do you keep your job in a league that has so much turnover?

    If we had started the regular season on time this year, there would already have been a couple coaching changes. 

    As we go through the list of the 10 longest-tenured coaches in the NHL, realize that only half of these guys have had their current positions for five years.  Compare that to 11 coaches in the NFL who've had their jobs for that long.

    We'll examine each coach's biggest strength as well, something that's allowed these men to prosper while so many others have failed.

10. Joe Sacco, Colorado Avalanche

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    We start with the least-tenured of this group, Joe Sacco of the Colorado Avalanche.

    Sacco was hired on June 4, 2009, a day after Tony Granato was fired. 

    He stepped in and led a team many predicted to be a bottom-dweller in the West to a 95-point season in 2009-10.  The 26-point improvement over '08-'09 marked the biggest turnaround in the NHL since league expansion in 2000.

    In his rookie campaign behind the bench, he was nominated as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year.

    Although Colorado has failed to build on that success over the last two years, the 43-year-old was re-signed through 2014.

    His biggest strength, as Mark Kiszla of the Denver Post reports, is the no-nonsense approach to coaching he takes:

    "Sacco's not cuddly or colorful. He's a grinder. Gives an honest day's work. Doesn't play favorites. A boss that players respect, if don't always like."



9. John Tortorella, New York Rangers

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    The most "fiery" man behind the bench in this list is definitely John Tortorella of the New York Rangers.

    He, like a lot of these guys, worked his way up through the minors before he finally landed a job with the big boys.  Tortorella had coaching stints in the ECHL and the AHL, including winning a Calder Cup with the Rochester Americans in 1996.

    He was hired for his first NHL head-coaching gig by the Tampa Bay Lightning in January 2001.

    In six and a half seasons with Tampa, he led the franchise to their first and only Stanley Cup championship in 2004.  That summer, Tortorella also won the Jack Adams Award.

    Since taking over the Rangers from Tom Renney on February 23, 2009, he's led them to the playoffs three out of four years.  That includes last year, when New York won 50 games for only the third time in franchise history.

    Tortorella's biggest strength is his emotional involvement and passion for the game.  He's not afraid to take on referees, fans or the press, and as a player, that's incredibly reassuring.

8. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh Penguins

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    It always seems like former players who struggled to stay in the NHL end up becoming the most successful coaches.  Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins is no exception.

    When Michel Therrien was fired on February 15, 2009, the former penalty-killing specialist initially replaced him on an interim basis. 

    But after going 18-3-4 and posting the second-best point total in NHL history for any coach in their first 25 games, the interim status didn't last long.

    Four months later, he was hoisting the Stanley Cup as the Pens beat the Detroit Red Wings in seven games.

    Bylsma also won the Jack Adams Award following the 2010-11 season.  Pittsburgh remained in contention despite playing much of the year without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    As Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette commented, his biggest strength comes from his ability to communicate well with his players.  That allows him to challenge them on a daily basis without coming off as abrasive while doing so.

7. Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Joel Quenneville is another former player who had a solid, if not spectacular, career that has enjoyed immense success behind the bench.

    After leading the St. Louis Blues to seven straight playoff berths between 1997-2003, he took Colorado to the second round twice in his three years in Denver.

    When Denis Savard was fired on October 16, 2008, only four games into the season, Quenneville took over in Chicago.  He inherited a talented team led by youngsters Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

    The Blackhawks quickly became one of the most entertaining teams in the NHL.  They were big and intimidating with loads of scoring depth.

    More importantly in 2009-10, the Windsor native went on to coach the Hawks to their first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.

    Quenneville excels at shaking his lines up to spark his team.  He demands two-way hockey out of his players, and he usually gets it.

6. Todd McLellan, San Jose Sharks

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    Despite the fact the San Jose Sharks have won three division titles since Todd McLellan took over from Ron Wilson on June 11, 2008, he may find himself on the hot seat once this season begins.

    As GM Doug Wilson told CSN Bay Area (via Yahoo Sports):

    I believe in Todd. We've gone to the final four, he won a Cup in Detroit, he knows this game. But, there are some things we will all sit down and have to get better [at]. We don't believe in excuses and avoidance, and there are some things that are quite apparent that have to be fixed for us to be successful.

    Now, there's no denying McLellan's track record speaks for itself. 

    He won a Calder Cup with the Houston Aeros in 2003 and was an assistant on the Red Wings when they won a championship in 2008.  But can he get the Sharks over the hump?

    His biggest strength throughout his coaching career has been his work with the power play.  This team needs to exhibit that in the upcoming year if it wants to be atop the Pacific Division again.

5. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins

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    Much like Joel Quenneville did with Chicago, Claude Julien brought the Stanley Cup back to a city that had gone decades without one.

    When the Boston Bruins won the Cup in 2011, they erased 39 years of playoff disappointment.  That was thanks in large part to the man calling the shots.

    Somehow, before being hired in Beantown on June 22, 2007 to replace Dave Lewis, Julien was fired twice in a span of 14 months.

    Both the Montreal Canadiens and the New Jersey Devils showed him the door in that timespan.  His record between those two teams you ask?  Only 66-40-14.

    Regardless, Boston fans are thrilled he found his way to the Bruins bench.  In addition to the Cup win, Julien also earned his first Jack Adams Award in 2009.

    He's a master at getting the most out of his players, especially offensively.  For a team lacking a true scoring star, it still manages to be near the leaders in goals per game every year.

4. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver Canucks

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    Another castoff from Montreal is Alain Vigneault, who's entering his seventh season as the head man for the Vancouver Canucks.

    Much like Claude Julien, he's enjoyed an immense amount of success since the Habs fired him in 2000.

    The Quebec City native was hired before the 2006-07 season to take over for Marc Crawford.  He proceeded to lead the Canucks to a 105-point campaign as well as winning his first Jack Adams Award.

    So far through his six years in the Northwest, Vigneault's teams have won five division titles and topped 100 points all but once.

    They have yet to win a Cup, though, falling to the Bruins in seven games in the 2011 Finals.   

    As Thomas Drance of CanucksArmy.com points out, Vigneault brings a lot to the table:

    He has many strengths, including his innovative zone based line matching and his use of micro-stats like scoring chances.  Also, his understanding of how to protect his best offensive players and take advantage of favorable matchups.

3. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings

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    Of all the coaches we've discussed thus far, Mike Babcock has the most experience.

    His resume has stints in the WHL, Canadian college hockey and the AHL.  He began coaching at 25, and at this point, has been behind the bench for almost as many years.

    Babcock enjoyed immediate success in the NHL.  He led the Anaheim Ducks to the 2003 Finals, where they ultimately lost to the New Jersey Devils in seven games.

    Declining an offer to remain in Southern California, Detroit hired him on July 15, 2005.  That filled the position vacated by Dave Lewis (again).

    2007-08 saw the Wings defeat the Pens in six games for the 49-year-old's only Stanley Cup championship.

    Babcock became the first coach in NHL history to lose a Game 7 with two different teams the following year when Pittsburgh got its payback.

    He's a coach that leads by example.  His father instilled in him the value of hard work, especially when you're in a position of leadership.  That has earned him the utmost respect from his players.

2. Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators

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    The last two men in this list have been with their current teams for what amounts to an eternity in professional sports.

    Barry Trotz is set to begin his 13th campaign as coach of the Nashville Predators.  He's the only man they've ever had behind the bench since the team's inaugural season in 1998-99.

    Hired the summer before on August 7, 1997, Trotz was three years removed from winning the 1994 Calder Cup with the Portland Pirates.

    The Manitoba native finally advanced to the second round this past spring, losing to Phoenix in six games.

    He deserves a ton of credit for keeping a team that's always had limited offensive abilities competitive every year.  Nashville has never had a bonafide scoring star on its roster.

    His ability to succeed despite these circumstances is a huge strength, one that's helped him keep his job this long.  Ownership in Nashville needs to give him more tools to work with.

1. Lindy Ruff, Buffalo Sabres

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    Finally, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL is Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres.

    Out of this entire group, Ruff had the most established career as a player.  He played parts of 13 seasons between the Sabres and the Rangers, including scoring a career-high 20 goals in just 54 games in 1985-86.

    Buffalo's former captain has taken his teams to three Eastern Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final since being hired on July 21, 1997. 

    Many forget he replaced reigning Jack Adams winner Ted Nolan after Nolan was fired.  He went on to win the same award himself in 2006.

    Ruff, however, is under a ton of pressure coming into this year after the Sabres disappointed throughout 2011-12.  Buffalo finally has ownership ready to do whatever it takes to win, so his leash is now shorter than ever.

    Despite that, he still brings the type of fire to coaching he did to the ice.  Ruff will go to bat for his guys, but he's also incredibly demanding of them. 

    For some (see Derek Roy), that intensity became tiring.  But for most, that expectation serves as the best motivator.

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