Where Joel Quenneville Ranks Among the NHL's Best Coaches

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2014

Where Joel Quenneville Ranks Among the NHL's Best Coaches

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    The presence of a solid head coach can keep an NHL team from going into long slumps that can turn a potentially strong season into a disaster.

    The Chicago Blackhawks know that Joel Quenneville is a lot more than a solid presence behind their bench. He ranks third on the all-time list of NHL coaching victories, but his win total is just a part of what makes him one of the best coaches in the league right now. 

    Six current NHL coaches have won at least one Stanley Cup, but two of those coaches have struggled quite a bit in playoff competition since leading their teams to the championship. Ken Hitchcock of the St. Louis Blues has been lauded as a top coach since he took over at the helm of the Dallas Stars in 1995-96. He led the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup, but his teams have failed in six of their last seven postseason series.

    Peter Laviolette led the Carolina Panthers to an unexpected Stanley Cup in 2005-06, but he was fired by the Philadelphia Flyers early last season after his team did not make the playoffs in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. While he led the Flyers to the 2010 Eastern Conference championship, his teams' postseason performances have been uneven.

    Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Darryl Sutter are the only current coaches who rank with Quenneville for consistency. 

    All four coaches have won at least one Stanley Cup and have regularly been able to get top efforts from their teams. In this feature, we will rate each coach, using these four categories as our guides: strategy, psychology, motivational ability and media relations.

4. Claude Julien, Boston Bruins

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    Number of Stanley Cups: One

    Last Stanley Cup: 2010-11

    Claude Julien led the Boston Bruins to the 2011 Stanley Cup when they became the first team to secure three seventh-game triumphs on the way to the title. (The Kings matched that feat this year.)

    Perhaps the most impressive part of that Stanley Cup run is that it came on the heels of a 2010 collapse, when the Bruins fell short despite having a 3-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers in the conference semifinal round.

    That kind of baggage would have weighed down and drowned many coaches, but Julien built off it, and his strong team had a powerful psychological edge when it took the ice in the playoffs the following year.

    Julien excels at finding the best matchups for his teams and rolling four lines when opponents tend to shorten their bench. That was a key aspect to the Bruins run in 2013, when they got to the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years but lost an epic confrontation to Quenneville and the Blackhawks.

    Julien excels in his honest dealings with his players and the media, but his low-key demeanor prevents him from having the inspirational ability of Babcock or Quenneville.

    Julien's Bruins appeared to be stronger than the Montreal Canadiens when the two teams met in the conference semifinal this season, but his team was unable to secure the victory despite winning the Presidents' Trophy and playing the seventh game of the series at home.

    That's a negative on Julien's resume that he will try to overcome in 2014-15.

3. Darryl Sutter, Los Angeles Kings

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    Number of Stanley Cups: Two

    Last Stanley Cup: 2013-14

    Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi appeared to be making a rather desperate move when he hired Darryl Sutter to be the head coach early in the 2011-12 season. Sutter had been successful in previous coaching assignments in Chicago, San Jose and Calgary, but his teams had never won the Stanley Cup in 12 previous seasons.

    Sutter appeared to lack vision and an ability to relate to his players. There was no doubt about his toughness or will to win, but he did not appear to be creative or inspiring.

    Appearances can be deceiving, and Sutter has been a different coach with the Kings than he was earlier in his career. Five years away from the job mellowed him slightly, and he was able to have a few lighter moments with his players.

    Instead of showing the demeanor of a statue, Sutter related to his players and energized them. While he has never been fond of conversing with the media, he has led the Kings to two Stanley Cup titles in the last three seasons.

    Sutter is quite underrated as a strategist. His propensity for changing his lines and moving his players was a decisive factor throughout the 2014 postseason.

    His Kings rebounded from an 0-3 first-round deficit to beat San Jose this year, and they also secured seventh-game road victories over Anaheim and Chicago before trouncing the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup Final.

    Sutter's Kings played with confidence throughout their playoff runs in 2012 and 2014, and that's testimony to the coach's talent and ability.

2. Joel Quenneville, Chicago Blackhawks

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    Number of Stanley Cups: Two

    Last Stanley Cup: 2012-13

    Joel Quenneville ranks third in regular-season coaching victories (706) behind Scotty Bowman and Al Arbour. When Quenneville passed Dick Irvin to move into third place last season, he modestly accepted his accomplishment and deflected praise by merely looking ahead to the next game on the schedule.

    While Quenneville had success with the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche prior to coming to the Blackhawks early in the 2008-09 season, he has grown tremendously during his run in Chicago.

    Quenneville's unique deployment of his roster has helped him lead the Blackhawks to two Stanley Cups in the last five seasons. He often separates superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane during the regular season, but he has put them together at crucial moments in the postseason, which has brought about some spectacular results.

    Quenneville is a strong psychologist and a master motivator. He is not hesitant to pull players from the lineup or threaten their playing time when they are not performing up to expectations, but he is also sensitive to his their needs and insecurities. If he delivers a harsh rebuke in the media one time, he will often praise them the next time out.

    As a result, his players leave everything on the ice for him. There is a certain fear that comes with playing for Quenneville, but there is an even greater amount of satisfaction when a player rises above expectations and plays the way his coach demands.

1. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings

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    Number of Stanley Cups: One

    Last Stanley Cup: 2007-08

    Mike Babcock is clearly one of the most respected coaches in the NHL. He was selected as head coach of the Canadian Olympic team, and he helped that team secure both the 2010 and 2014 gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi, respectively.

    When Babcock was named head coach of the Red Wings prior to the 2005-06 season, he was taking over a strong team with championship aspirations. That's a difficult task for any coach, but Babcock was able to put his own imprint on the team even as it remained a strong contender.

    The Red Wings earned the 2008 Stanley Cup and got back to the Stanley Cup Final the following year. While they suffered a heavy loss when Nicklas Lidstrom retired after the 2011-12 season, Babcock has adjusted seamlessly from leading a veteran, contending team to guiding a youthful, learning team.

    Few coaches have Babcock's command of strategy. His ability to understand his team's strengths and weaknesses and pit them against the opponent's gives the Red Wings an advantage. He will push his players hard individually, as he knows how to play the psychological game to get the most out of them.

    Babcock also does an exceptional job of motivating his team. He will use traditional coaching ploys like employment and playing time to get the most out of his players, but he will also find other tools to get the most out of them.

    He is also direct and hard-hitting with the media, as he is unafraid to challenge his players by sending a message through the press and speaking his mind.