Predicting Whether Each New NHL Coach Will Be a Success or Failure in 2017-18

Carol Schram@pool88Featured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2017

Predicting Whether Each New NHL Coach Will Be a Success or Failure in 2017-18

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    When the 2017-18 NHL season kicks off on October 4, seven teams will be have new head coaches behind their benches.

    In the salary-cap world, coaching changes are becoming more and more frequent. Joel Quenneville is currently the longest-tenured coach in the league, entering his 10th season with 700 regular-season games coached for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    In second place is Jon Cooper, who has been on the job for 344 games and just over four seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    This year's new crew features one man who has never stood behind an NHL bench, a few former assistants and several men with head-coaching experience—including one who earned a Stanley Cup with his new, old team. He's not the only one with strong ties—four of the seven have logged past playing or coaching experience with their new clubs.

    The definition of success will vary from one of these teams to the next. Some are looking to establish more stable long-term foundations, while others will aim to move back up into the playoffs—and beyond.

    Here's a look at the NHL's new bench bosses and a projection of how they will fare this season.

Rick Tocchet, Arizona Coyotes

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Background

    Rick Tocchet, 53, played 1,144 games on right wing for six teams during an 18-season NHL career. A prototypical power forward, he posted 952 points and 2,972 penalty minutes. Tocchet won a Stanley Cup as a player with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992.

    When his playing days were over, Tocchet moved into the coaching ranks as an assistant—first with the Colorado Avalanche, then with the Phoenix Coyotes and the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was promoted to head coach of the Lightning after Barry Melrose was dismissed in November 2008 and held the position until the end of the 2009-10 season.

    In the fall of 2014, Tocchet returned to the NHL as an assistant with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He stayed there for three seasons and was part of the Penguins' Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2016 and 2017. 

    After Dave Tippett and the Arizona Coyotes parted ways on June 22, Tocchet was hired as the team's new coach on July 11.

               

    Expectation

    The Coyotes were looking for someone to shepherd their young players to stardom on a path like the Chicago Blackhawks followed a decade ago. General manager John Chayka said at Tocchet's introductory press conference he had found the best man for the job.

    "He's one of the best communicators I've come across not only in hockey but probably professionally as well," Chayka said, per Dan Rosen of NHL.com. "Then you start talking to people around Pittsburgh and even his time here [in Arizona].

    "He's a guy who has played the game at a high level, been a first-line player. He's also played lower in the lineup at times during his career. I think he can just relate to the players. He's very firm. He can motivate. He can be aggressive in his approach but he can also have that big brother kind of approach with our young players and I think that's going to be helpful moving forward."

                

    Success or failure?

    As well as bringing in Tocchet, the Coyotes have made some savvy player moves during the offseason, shoring up their goaltending position with Antti Raanta, their defense with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers and their forward group with Derek Stepan.

    The forward ranks are still thin, but that leaves plenty of room for young talents such as Max Domi, Anthony Duclair, Dylan Strome, Clayton Keller and Lawson Crouse to take charge offensively with their collective speed, skill and enthusiasm.

    The bar for success is low after the Coyotes missed the playoffs for the last five seasons. Now with stable ownership, expect Tocchet's group to make a significant move up the standings this season.

Phil Housley, Buffalo Sabres

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    Background

    Phil Housley, 53, played 1,495 games on defense for eight teams during a 21-season NHL career. His 1,232 points rank him fourth all-time among defensemen and tops for an American blueliner. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2015.

    After his playing days ended, Housley returned to his home state of Minnesota to coach high school hockey. In 2013, he came back to the NHL, spending four seasons as an assistant coach with the Nashville Predators. 

    Housley was hired on June 15 to succeed Dan Bylsma behind the Buffalo Sabres bench.

                 

    Expectation

    A beloved figured in Buffalo thanks to his eight seasons with the team as a player, Housley and new general manager Jason Botterill are aiming to turn around a Sabres team that's rich with young talent but failed to take meaningful strides forward under its last tandem of Bylsma and GM Tim Murray.

    "He gets the most out of his players," Botterill said about why he tapped Housley for the job, per the Associated Press (via Sportsnet).

    Housley's coaching accomplishments include the development of the standout defense corps in Nashville and a gold-medal win as head coach of the U.S. team at the 2013 World Junior Championship.

                  

    Success or failure?

    Elite former players aren't known to become good coaches, and Housley will be under a white-hot spotlight in hockey-mad Buffalo, but he's in a position to succeed.

    The Sabres have some excellent talent in place and will benefit from a full season of production by Jack Eichel. Housley also has the skill set to refine a Buffalo back end that ranked 21st in goals against last season.

    All eyes are on the Carolina Hurricanes to take a big jump forward in the Eastern Conference. The Sabres are also set to be one of the Cinderella teams of the 2017-18 season.

Ken Hitchcock, Dallas Stars

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Background

    Ken Hitchcock, 65, is a lifelong coach who did not play hockey at any meaningful level. He got his start behind the bench with the WHL's Kamloops Blazers in the mid-80s, then transitioned to the NHL in an assistant's role with the Philadelphia Flyers in 1990.

    In 1993, Hitchcock took on his first head coach role with the Kalamazoo Wings of the now-defunct IHL. That apprenticeship lasted two-and-a-half seasons before he was given a chance to run the Dallas Stars' bench in the NHL starting in January 1996. He led the Stars to a Stanley Cup in 1999.

    Over the last two decades, Hitchcock has coached 1,454 NHL games with the Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets and St. Louis Blues. He was relieved of his duties in St. Louis on February 1, 2017.

    Hitchcock was hired on April 13 for his second tour of duty with the Stars, succeeding Lindy Ruff behind the Dallas bench.

                 

    Expectation

    Hitchcock is a taskmaster who is known for his teams' suffocating defensive style of play. That may seem an odd fit for a Stars team full of flashy run-and-gun players such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov, but Hitchcock's systems should be of tremendous benefit to a team that finished 29th in goals against last season.

    "To me, Dallas Stars hockey is reckless energy with proper positional play, and I'll bring that forward," Hitchcock told reporters at his introductory press conference, per Sean Shapiro of NHL.com. "But I don't ever want to lose that reckless energy that they had last year."

                   

    Success or failure?

    Hitchcock joins a team that is poised for improvement.

    The group as a whole took a step backward last season after finishing first in the Western Conference in 2015-16. A rebound is to be expected, especially with a major upgrade in goal thanks to the arrival of Ben Bishop and the addition of two-way center Martin Hanzal and reliable defenseman Marc Methot.

    Add in Hitchcock's fresh voice and sharp coaching mind, and the Stars are poised to shoot back to the upper reaches of the standings this season.

John Stevens, Los Angeles Kings

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    Reed Saxon/Associated Press

    Background

    John Stevens, 51, played 53 games on defense for two teams over parts of five seasons during his NHL career. 

    When his playing days ended due to an eye injury, Stevens transitioned to an assistant role with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms during the 1998-99 season. In the fall of 2000, he started six seasons as the Phantoms' head coach, winning the Calder Cup during the NHL's 2004-05 lockout year.

    Stevens moved up to the Philadelphia Flyers as an assistant coach to start the 2006-07 season and was quickly promoted when Ken Hitchcock was fired after eight games. He guided the Flyers until 26 games into the 2009-10 season, and then he became an assistant with the Los Angeles Kings in the fall of 2010.

    During his seven seasons as a Los Angeles assistant, Stevens served four games as head coach between the Terry Murray and Darryl Sutter eras in December 2011. He has two Stanley Cup rings from the Kings' 2012 and 2014 championships.

    After Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi were relieved of their duties on April 10, Stevens was promoted to become the Kings' new head coach on April 23.

                    

    Expectation

    Stevens needs to get the Kings scoring after they finished 25th in the league in goals for last season. Jeff Carter was almost alone in carrying the load with 32 goals and 66 points.

    The Kings need production from $10 million man Anze Kopitar, who scored just 12 goals last season. They'll also be counting on returning sniper Mike Cammalleri and a healthy Marian Gaborik to chip in offensively.

                    

    Success or failure?

    By promoting Stevens and new general manager Rob Blake from within their organization, the Kings have signalled a fresh start but will still be using a familiar roster—and mindset.

    Backed into a corner due to salary-cap limitations, the Kings couldn't make big moves to boost their scoring in the offseason. Kopitar should bounce back but counting on a pair of 35-year-olds to be a team's key offensive triggermen is usually a fool's game.

    With the improved Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames now taking up playoff real estate in the Pacific Division, Stevens will be hard-pressed to coach his Kings back into the postseason mix.

Bob Boughner, Florida Panthers

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    Background

    Bob Boughner, 46, played 630 games on defense for six teams during a 10-season NHL career.

    He has served as an NHL assistant coach twice, with the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks, but the majority of his coaching experience has come with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. He led the Spitfires to Memorial Cup wins in both 2009 and 2010 and remains the team's president and one of its owners.

    Boughner was hired on June 12 to succeed Tom Rowe behind the Florida Panthers bench.

                     

    Expectation

    The Panthers are reversing course after dropping from first to sixth in the Atlantic Division as they hemorrhaged 22 points in the standings in 2016-17. Dale Tallon has been reinstated as the team's general manager, and Boughner says his coaching style is predicated on passion.

    "No. 1 is consistency of compete (level)," he said at his introductory press conference, per Jim Cerny of the Sporting News. "And we have to play in units of five, play fast, and the (defense) has to be involved. It's a simple system. I think (the players) will love to play this way."

                      

    Success or failure?

    The injury-riddled Panthers finished 23rd in scoring last season but have parted ways with five of their top eight scorers from 2016-17—Jonathan Marchessault, Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen and Jason Demers. In their place are two former Panthers—Russian import Evgenii Dadonov and PTO candidate Brandon Pirri—along with new acquisitions Radim Vrbata and Jamie McGinn.

    Panthers starter Roberto Luongo is returning after offseason hip surgery and, at 37, leads all active goalies in games played by a mile with 966, compared to second-place Henrik Lundqvist's 742. It's only a matter of time before the veteran's age-related decline begins in earnest.

    Boughner could succeed at building a more cohesive Panthers team this season, but with his current roster, a return to the playoffs will be a long shot.

Travis Green, Vancouver Canucks

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    Background

    Travis Green, 46, played 970 games at center for five teams during a 14-season NHL career.

    After his playing days ended, he joined the coaching staff of the WHL's Portland Winterhawks, where he won a league championship in 2013. From there, he moved on to spend four years coaching the Vancouver Canucks' AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. Green guided the Comets to the Calder Cup final in 2015.

    Green was promoted on April 26 to succeed Willie Desjardins behind the Canucks bench.

                     

    Expectation

    "I'm not sitting up here saying, 'Hey, we're going to win the Stanley Cup next year,'" Green said of the Canucks, who finished 29th in the NHL standings in 2016-17, at his introductory press conference, per Kevin Woodley of NHL.com. "But I will tell you we're going to get better. We're going to start the process to building the right culture."

    For the Canucks, that culture shift means integrating more young players into the lineup and implementing the succession plan for life after the retirement of longtime franchise fixtures Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

                    

    Success or failure?

    Green's communication skills and his more uptempo approach to the game should help the Canucks take a step up from their dismal 2016-17 season, when they were also the most injured team in the NHL.

    The Sedin twins took a dip offensively last season, with 50 points for Henrik and 44 for Daniel. Green will need to find a way to squeeze more production out of the 37-year-olds, especially on the power play, if the team hopes to push for a playoff spot. 

Gerard Gallant, Vegas Golden Knights

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Background

    Gerard Gallant, 54, played 615 games at left wing for two teams during an 11-season NHL career. 

    After his playing days ended, Gallant spent two years as a minor league assistant before moving up to become an assistant with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2001. He became Columbus head coach on January 1, 2004, and lasted nearly two years.

    After that, Gallant served as an assistant with the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens. He also spent three years coaching the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, where he won two league championships and one Memorial Cup.

    Most recently, he spent two-plus seasons as head coach of the Florida Panthers before being relieved of his duties on November 27, 2016.

    Gallant was named the Vegas Golden Knights' first coach on April 13.

                      

    Expectation

    Winning is not the initial goal for the Golden Knights—a team that's more concerned with putting the pieces in place for long-term success. Gallant knows the drill; he was with the Blue Jackets during their early years.

    "You look back at that time in Columbus and the fans were excited, the building was excited every night. The team worked hard," he told reporters at his introductory press conference, per NHL.com. "We didn't have a whole lot of success early on there, but I know one thing; when we came to the rink, it was fun, they worked hard and competed hard."

                     

    Success or failure?

    It's win-win for Gallant in Vegas' inaugural season. Losses mean a better slot in next year's draft lottery. Wins stoke the flames of hope for a fanbase that's accustomed to plenty of razzle-dazzle when it comes to entertainment options in Las Vegas.

    Preseason isn't usually a strong indicator of regular-season performance, but Gallant and his motley crew of players have come out of the gate strong with a 3-1-0 record in their first four exhibition games.

                   

    Coaching bios courtesy of HockeyDB. Stats from NHL.com.