It’s feast or famine – beat them or beat it – for NHL coaches these days

Peter Laviolette (Getty Images)

The coaching business in the NHL is about to get crazier thanks to the pending free agency of Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock, who almost assuredly will set a new record for a coach’s salary whether he stays in Detroit or moves on to a new place of employment. So, that has to mean better times are ahead for all coaches, right? A whole, “rising-tide-lifts-all-boats” thing, right?

Not so fast. Because although Babcock’s pending spike in pay may very well result in higher salaries for more members of the coaching fraternity, there’s other forces at play here: the increasingly rapid turnover of coaches at the NHL level – and this year, the early success of most off-season coaching changes.

There were six such changes in hockey’s best league this summer. Let’s take a brief look at how they’re working out: In Nashville, Peter Laviolette has the Predators off to a 5-0-2 start (including a big 3-2 win over Chicago Thursday) that makes them the last team in the league without a loss in regulation. In Washington, former Predators coach Barry Trotz has steered the Capitals to a strong showing out of the gate (just one loss in regulation in six games) and his relationship with star winger Alex Ovechkin is beginning on the right foot. In Pittsburgh, Mike Johnston is working with a significantly rejigged roster, but the Penguins have points in four of their first six games and should be fine. In Vancouver, Willie Desjardins has reinvigorated a Canucks squad that had been wholly deinvigorated under John Tortorella.

Things aren’t working out that well for all the new coaches. Read more

Paul Maurice lets profanity fly as Jets spiral downwards

Jared Clinton
(Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

I guess you could say Paul Maurice is a bit fed up.

Who could blame the Winnipeg Jets coach, really? After a decisive 6-2 defeat of the Arizona Coyotes on opening night, the Jets have been able to muster just two goals in their next four outings. That’s not a typo.

Following the Jets’ 4-1 loss at the hands of the Calgary Flames – a game in which the Flames were playing their final road game of a six-game road trip – Jets’ winger Blake Wheeler reportedly spoke to media about whether it was the players’ responsibility to hold each other accountable for their on-ice performance.

The question was then posed back to Paul Maurice in his press conference on Monday. While you can watch the whole press conference below, and there are certainly some great sound bites, you should fast-forward to the 8:30 mark for the goods. Read more

Mike Babcock has turned down at least one firm offer to stay with Wings – source

Ken Campbell
Mike Babcock (Getty Images)

Well played, Mr. Babcock. Well played.

Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, the undisputed prize catch among potential unrestricted free agents after this season, came into the Center of the Hockey Universe™ and managed to get out of the morning skate without addressing his future. That he did so in a hockey market that many speculate would be a prime destination for him if he decides to leave the Wings made it all that more impressive.

Babcock and the Red Wings have vowed to not make his contract situation a distraction and he did a good job of it, helped along by a broadcast media scrum that, for reasons only known to them, did not even broach the subject. Babcock only spoke of his personal situation when pulled aside after the cameras were turned off.

“My situation is great,” Babcock said. “I’m in love with my wife and I have three great kids at home and I coach the Red Wings. I’m from Saskatoon and I love my life. See you guys.”

With that he departed down the hallway to the Red Wings bus, but as long as he remains unsigned, the question will continue to be asked. It would be absurd to suggest there have not been talks between the team and Babcock about a new deal. After all, he and Red Wings GM Ken Holland speak every day. (On a related note, Holland and new Toronto Maple Leafs president and former Red Wing Brendan Shanahan spent much of the Red Wings morning skate chatting in the stands of the Air Canada Centre.)

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THN Analytics: Slow start? Firing the coach might not be the fix

Randy Carlyle (Getty Images)

By Benjamin Wendorf – special to THN

As the fervor dies down from the fever pitch of opening games, NHL teams and their fanbases shift into the time-honored ritual of agonizing over early-season results. A few coaches begin to feel the walls close in, and regardless of testaments of faith by upper management, at least one will be fired in the first few months. Do teams carry out these decisions wisely? What kind of measures can help us determine if it’s a good move?

Reaching back to the THN Analytics stats primer, the best team measures we can use relate to regression and possession. For regression we can use “PDO,” or a team’s shooting percentage plus save percentage (for historical comparisons, I only use the first two periods to avoid the effects of “protecting” leads). It’s often expressed as a whole number like 980 or 1000, rather than their actual values of .980 or 1.000. Teams that are far above or below a range of about 990 – 1100 pull heavily (or regress) towards that range the remainder of the season. PDO is a great metric for this kind of study because its measure speaks directly to a team’s success in scoring or preventing goals.

Possession is currently best measured by Fenwick Close, but we can go further back in NHL history by using a team’s shots-for in the first two periods divided by both teams’ shots-for in those periods, called two-period shot percentage or 2pS%. It runs side-by-side with Fenwick Close, has a strong relationship with outscoring, and provides about 50 more years of data.

Using these two measures, we can look at a large body of coaching changes in NHL history. Through 140 coaching changes (minimum 20+ games for each coach), the before-and-after of PDO and possession is telling:

Screen shot 2014-10-16 at 7.42.33 PM

Historically, the changes have barely registered an uptick in possession (that 0.4% is worth a little less than one more goal-for), but that PDO shift would be good for about 14 more goals-for. In other words, NHL teams tend to cut bait when bad luck, not necessarily bad leadership, seemed to be the bigger problem. For comparison’s sake, I also put together a complete list of 97 coaching performances where the coaches had significantly low PDOs through the first 20 games but didn’t get canned: Read more

Nashville Predators still want to be defensive monsters, says Shea Weber

Ryan Kennedy
Nashville's Shea Weber (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Nashville Predators had been a pretty consistent playoff team, despite the fact the franchise rarely had an elite forward in the lineup. But that dearth of scoring seemed to catch up to them the past two seasons and the Preds found themselves on the outside looking in.

This year, Nashville has a new coach in Peter Laviolette and to outsiders, it seemed like a good choice based on style: Laviolette is known as a coach who can coax goals out of his team. But according to the Predators, they don’t want to get too far away from their bread and butter; the staunch defensive club created by former bench boss Barry Trotz.

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Lame Duck? Mike Babcock doesn’t care – & neither should Red Wings fans

Adam Proteau
Mike Babcock (Getty Images)

In just about any other NHL market, a coach entering the final year of his contract with no extension would be given lame duck status. It’s the reason that, for instance, the most recent bench bosses of the Toronto Maple Leafs (current head coach Randy Carlyle and his predecessor, Ron Wilson) received extensions by the final year of their initial contracts despite delivering less-than-ideal results. If they were allowed to play out their deals without any guarantee they’d be back the following season, fans and media would speculate until their heads exploded – and, more importantly, the players they were responsible for might not buy into their on-ice vision.

However, for every rule, there’s a exception – and in this case, the exception is found in the person of Red Wings coach Mike Babcock, who doesn’t have a new deal in place beyond the 2014-15 campaign. Call him a lame duck if you want, but understand virtually every other coach in hockey would kill you where you stand to be so lame.

Babcock said he wouldn’t negotiate an extension once the season begins, and barring a last-minute agreement, it looks like he’s going to wait until next spring to get something done – or move on to another challenge. And that’s fine. His boss, GM Ken Holland, signed a four-year extension in August and their working relationship is strong and successful enough to withstand the pressures and questions of him working without a safety net.

If anyone is singularly focused on his job and immune to the chirping of fans and media, it’s Babcock. Read more

Fancy stats: Is Colorado playing with fire?

Ryan Kennedy
Avs hero Semyon Varlamov (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Colorado Avalanche coach Patrick Roy has proven that throughout his career, from winning the Stanley Cup as a rookie goaltender to winning the Jack Adams Award as a rookie NHL bench boss last season (and let’s not forget all those overtime games he won en route to the 1993 Cup).

But with Roy and Avalanche GM Joe Sakic coming out against advanced stats in a recent article by Nick Cotsonika, could it be that the golden boys are about to get tarnished?

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Turns out, money will be an object in Babcock negotiations

Ken Campbell
Ken Holland and Mike Babcock (middle).  (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. – The most intriguing off-ice story of this season will be Mike Babcock’s future with the Detroit Red Wings. Until Babcock re-signs with the Detroit, the questions will continue to follow this team.

And here’s one to ponder: If John Tortorella is worth $2 million a year sitting in his barcalounger, what is the man many consider to be the best coach in the NHL worth? Will Babcock be the first to break the bank and be paid like his NFL counterparts?

The first assumption is that money will not be an object, that the Red Wings will give Babcock all the money and all the term he wants and that if Babcock leaves, it will be for a better situation. There is no salary cap on what coaches can be paid, so that begs the question, why would a superstar coach such as Babcock not make $5 million a year? Joel Quenneville, who has won two Stanley Cups in the past four years, is believed to be the highest-paid coach in the NHL at about $2.5 million, which is ridiculously low because it’s less than the average player salary.

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