When it comes to assessing an NHL team’s chances for lasting success, one will have to get pretty deep into the analysis before coming to a discussion about a team’s assistant coaches—if there’s a discussion at all.
When a team is dedicated to building a winning culture, the focus is appropriately drawn to which men will be sitting on the bench. However, the men standing behind it represent a vitally important component of winning as well—notice that word was “men” not “man.”
To be sure, the head coach of a hockey team represents the most important voice put into players’ ears, but the men flanking him aren’t just there for window dressing. So when a team sees their assistant coaching staff change over as often as—well, window dressing—the potential effect on the team’s success should not be ignored.
This is, of course, a well-worn scenario in Detroit.
As Ansar Kahn at MLive.com points out in his discussion of the search, Peters is the fifth assistant in six years to leave Detroit en route to his own head coaching gig.
While head coach Mike Babcock is no doubt the most important presence behind the bench, the consistent exodus of second bananas makes for a somewhat inconsistent message delivered to the players from year to year.
Assistant coaches are often the ones who take charge of special teams, run the defense units, monitor player development and work to develop younger players in practice—their job is not inconsequential.
Just as a forward combination or defensive pairing can become consistently effective when playing together season after season, a unified and consistent chorus of instruction and feedback from a team’s coaching staff can be equally important.
When that input is constantly changing from season to season, the message and the results will understandably start to get a bit muddled.
Indeed, consistency of message is one of the reasons the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings sought to promote John Stevens to associate head coach.
Like Peters in Detroit, Stevens could likely have left LA to take the helm of another club, but the commitment to winning and the requisite need for consistency behind the bench was important enough to Kings general manager Dean Lombardi to make sure Stevens was taken care of.
But Detroit need not look west to know how important a consistent coaching staff is to winning Stanley Cups.
While Scotty Bowman’s importance to Detroit winning Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998 and 2002 cannot be overstated, he had assistants Barry Smith and Dave Lewis alongside him for all three.
When Mike Babcock took over head coaching duties in the 2005-06 season, he brought with him Todd McLellan and Paul MacLean. Three seasons later, each man raised the Stanley Cup over their heads.
So now, as yet another of Mike Babcock’s assistants heads off to captain his own ship, the value of consistency and commitment to winning in Detroit seems a topic worthy of discussion—if not some worry.
As Greg Eno recently noted on The Winged Wheeler, Peters’ departure represents yet another branch springing out of Babcock’s “coaching tree,” and just as the road to the Stanley Cup once ran through Detroit, the fast-track to a head coaching gig seems now to run directly through Hockeytown.
As Babcock weighs his own options relative to his future in Detroit, the Red Wings should in turn seek to establish a coaching staff that has a chance of sticking together for more than a season or two.
A team’s assistant coaching staff isn’t typically looked upon as a key component to long-term success. However, the Red Wings’ own championship history, as well as the importance other teams are placing on sticking with a winning team behind the bench, suggests that the revolving door currently installed on Detroit’s assistant coaches office needs to be replaced.