The Biggest Challenge Each New NHL Coach Will Face in 2013-14 Season
It's a lot easier to turnover your coaching staff than it is to rollover an entire roster. At least that seems to be the prevailing logic around the NHL these days.
There were five coaching vacancies at the start of the offseason: the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers, New York Rangers and Vancouver Canucks were all in the hunt for a new bench boss. The Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning fired and hired a new coach during the regular season, meaning it's been a tough year to be a coach.
Not quite as tough as it was in 2011, when there were nine firings, but still pretty rough.
It seems that a lot of teams took the outcome of a 48-game, lockout-shortened season to heart, deciding to move on and find another man for the job. Coaching isn't a minefield full of the lost and wounded for no reason though.
It's a hard job, and securing the right man for it can be the difference between a lottery pick and a run at the Stanley Cup.
Who's Out, Who's In: The Dallas Stars weren't quite good enough to make the playoffs during Glen Gulutzan's time with the team, and when Jim Nill took over as the new general manager, a coaching change was almost a given.
The ex-Detroit Red Wings executive wasted little time in snatching Lindy Ruff from the unemployed coaches pool. The longtime Buffalo Sabres coach brings with him more than 1,100 games of experience and one of the more fiery demeanours around.
The Challenge: Implementing a new system or several new players can be a tough task. Ruff will be charged with doing both.
Nill saw the center position as a glaring weakness for the Stars (which it was) and aggressively sought to fix that problem. Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff are now all in the fold as new players, and will likely fill out the team's top three lines down the middle.
Will Ruff be able to successfully and quickly get the newcomers going while simultaneously lighting a new sort of fire under the butts of all the incumbents? If he can, then the Stars could surprise as a playoff team.
If it takes Seguin too long to settle in as a No. 1 center and either Peverley or Horcoff forgot their games when they moved to Dallas, it could be another long season in Texas.
New York Rangers
Who's Out, Who's In: The New York Rangers were pegged as Stanley Cup favorites heading into the 2013 season after acquiring All-Star sniper Rick Nash. He was viewed as the missing piece for a team that appeared ready to make the leap.
Those expectations were never met, and John Tortorella's head rolled all the way to Vancouver because of it. His players didn't sick up for him in exit interviews according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post, instead indicating that the coach's attitude was wearing thin.
After conducting several interviews with prominent possible coaches—including Mark Messier, according to Dan Rosen of NHL.com—the Rangers settled on Alain Vigneault.
The Challenge: New York has been built and structured to play Tortorella-brand hockey. The roster is chock full of guys with a lot of intangibles, and where some may fall short on the talent side of things, the effort is always there.
Pretty much the polar opposite of what Vigneault was dealing with in Vancouver with the Canucks.
It's likely that Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, Brad Richards and Derick Brassard will benefit from being let off the leash a bit. The big question is, what happens when Darroll Powe and Brian Boyle are asked to play a more offense-based and creative brand of hockey?
Also paramount to Vigneault's success is getting Brad Richards going. The player was very close to Tortorella and it'll be interesting to see if the new guy in the room can finally bring the best out of Richards.
Who's Out, Who's In: After just one season as head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, Ralph Krueger was shown the door. The young and promising team just didn't look good enough out on the ice to new general manager Craig MacTavish, who didn't hesitate long in making his coaching change after becoming the GM.
He tabbed Dallas Eakins to do the job that several coaches have failed at—to get the most out of the phenomenally talented young team, that is stocked to the brim with top prospects and former first overall selections.
The Challenge: Someone needs to step in and teach the Oilers how to be winners. None of the key players on the team have a whole lot of experience when it comes to stringing together victories and controlling the highs and lows associated with putting together a 40-win season in the NHL.
Eakins is charged with teaching the likes of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall how to be consistent winners at the NHL level. The pedigrees are in place, but the learning curve of being a top-end player and team in the best league in the world is steep.
The talent is there, in abundance. Edmonton just needs to find the right guy to coax the full potential out of this team, and it's likely the coaching carousel will continue until this team at least makes the playoffs.
Who's Out, Who's In: Joe Sacco was given four seasons to turn the once-mighty Colorado Avalanche into a consistent performer. After a surprising playoff appearance during his first year as coach, many around the league thought they were ready to turn things around in Colorado.
Three years later, the Avalanche won the draft lottery and the right to select first overall at the draft in 2013. That backslide was too much for the mile-high brass to handle, and the regime change went into full effect as the team hired Patrick Roy to lead the charge from behind the bench.
He's been getting his reps with the Quebec Ramparts of the QMJHL for the better part of a decade, and what he lacks in professional experience as a coach, Roy's accolades as a player should fill the respectability gap for the time being.
The Challenge: Roy was known as a ridiculously competitive player that brought as much attitude as talent to the ice on a nightly basis during his playing days. By the looks of things, he hasn't calmed down much in his old(er) age and he'll be bringing a larger-than-life demeanour to the Colorado bench.
So how will the youth the lines the Avalanche roster deal with being yelled at in French constantly? That kind of aggressive coaching style is either pass or fail. It either works very well, or it bombs teams off the edge of the standings without a trace.
Tack of the fact that Roy is a bigger star in Colorado than any of his current players, and there's a recipe for an interesting season for the Avalanche.
Who's Out, Who's In: After several seasons of not quite getting over the hump and into the winner's circle, the Vancouver Canucks decided to make a change behind the bench. Alain Vigneault was fired after winning the Northwest Division in six of his seven seasons and leading the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Final once.
Since that appearance in the Final, Vancouver has bowed out of the playoffs in an alarmingly easy fashion for two consecutive seasons, prompting this dramatic shift in ideology.
Where Vigneault was viewed as a "player's coach," the incoming John Tortorella is known as a brash bench boss that puts up with precisely zero BS.
The Challenge: Some folks may think that integrating Tortorella's mean streak will be the biggest challenge. What they're forgetting is that during his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Torts was kind of a nice guy.
He was convivial with the media and answered questions openly. Something snapped in New York, and Tortorella was more likely to make an intern cry than he was to give a straight answer.
He's a guy that loves to learn from his mistakes, so it's likely that the Canucks will be a mixture of those two personas. Two parts Tampa-One part New York will be the outcome.
That makes Tortorella's challenge a simple one to lay out: he needs to learn how to coach a hockey team with this much talent.
This is arguably the most skilled team that he's ever dealt with—no disrespect to the decidedly lunch-pail New York Rangers or the where-did-that-come-from Lightning—and getting the most effort out of the likes of the Sedin twins will be the defining area for Tortorella during year one.