John Tortorella became the first American-born coach to reach the 500-win mark, but Peter Laviolette managed the feat in fewer games and the numbers point to him being the best American NHL coach of all-time.
John Tortorella is used to making headlines, but when he did so as the first American-born coach to win 500 games in NHL history, it was reason to consider Tortorella among the greatest American-born big league coaches of all time. He has the Stanley Cup, the Jack Adams Award, the milestone 500th win and he’s climbing the all-time wins list with each passing victory.
But it’s hard to argue that Tortorella is the greatest American coach the NHL has seen with Peter Laviolette hot on his heels.
On Sunday, Laviolette did what Tortorella had done one month earlier: he became a 500-game winner, the second American-born NHL bench boss to hit the half-grand mark. The thing is, though, Laviolette’s climb to win No. 500 has been more impressive than Tortorella’s and it would seem as though it’s only a matter of time before Laviolette finds his way back on par or above Tortorella on the all-time wins list. And purely statistically speaking, it’s hard to argue with Laviolette being not just the better of the two bench bosses, but the best American-born NHL coach in history.
For some, putting Laviolette in the same conversation as Bob Johnson or Herb Brooks is akin to hockey heresy. There’s reason for that. The accomplishments of Johnson and Brooks are legendary. Johnson is arguably the greatest coach the NCAA has ever seen, a Hall of Famer twice over and a Stanley Cup champion with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91. Johnson had his NHL tenure cut short, tragically passing away in November 1991 to brain cancer. Brooks was likewise a standout coach in the NCAA, a Hall of Famer three times over and most famous for leading the United States to gold at the 1980 Olympics. Sadly, Brooks passed away in August 2003 as the result of a car accident.
The legacies of both Johnson and Brooks are untouchable and their importance to the game as coaches in the United States will never be matched. For both, though, their greatest work and most lasting mark was made outside the NHL — Johnson at University of Wisconsin, Brooks for his part in the ‘Miracle On Ice.’
It’s hard to know where Johnson’s career would have gone had he been able to continue coaching. The 1991-92 Stanley Cup seemed a given, at the very least, but beyond that it’s impossible to say. He finished with 234 wins in 480 games behind the bench, and went 41-35 in the post-season. As for Brooks, he coached 506 games and has a perfect .500 points percentage — 219 wins, 219 losses, 66 ties and two defeats in extra time. In the playoffs, Brooks went 19-21. From a purely statistical point of view, neither matched what Laviolette or Tortorella has accomplished in the NHL.
So if Johnson and Brooks are removed from the discussion, the debate comes down to Laviolette and Tortorella, with a handful of present-day coaches sprinkled in. Despite who’s added to the mix, though, it’s hard to choose anyone but Laviolette as the best American-born coach the league has seen.
While Tortorella was the first to 500 wins, it took him 1,028 games to pick up the milestone victory. By comparison, Laviolette added win No. 500 to his resume in game 970. The 58-game difference in coaching tenures is significant, too, because Laviolette is only 12 games back of Tortorella for the title of winningest American-born coach in league history. Tortorella has a career points percentage of .544, and Laviolette bests that with a mark of .577. And when it comes to the post-season, Laviolette has a decided edge.
Over the course of their respective careers, both Laviolette and Tortorella have seen the playoffs eight times. Over that span, Tortorella has been one-and-done on four separate occasions, while Laviolette has advanced to the second round five of eight times. Both have two post-season runs that went beyond two rounds under their belt and both have a Stanley Cup victory — bookending the lockout with Tortorella winning in 2003-04 with Tampa Bay, Laviolette in 2005-06 in Carolina — but Laviolette has the edge with a second trip to the final. He led Philadelphia to an Eastern Conference championship in 2009-10 and came two wins shy of adding a second Cup to his trophy case.
From a win percentage standpoint, Laviolette holds the edge, too. In 102 playoff games, his teams have won 52. Tortorella’s squads, by comparison, are below .500 in post-season action, dropping 43 of 89 games.
As far as accolades go, the only thing separating the two is a Jack Adams Award. Tortorella won coach of the year for his job in Tampa Bay during the Lightning’s title-winning season, and there’s a fair chance he’s adding a second Jack Adams this season for the job he’s done in turning around the Blue Jackets. Laviolette, on the other hand, is a two-time finalist, coming a single vote shy of the award in 2005-06. Tortorella can have the individual awards, though, because there’s a good chance it’s Laviolette who holds the edge in victories when both coaches call it a career.
The debate about who is a better bench boss — Laviolette or Tortorella — is likely to continue until their careers are done, and it’s only going to get more crowded at the top. In just eight seasons, Dan Bylsma is already at the 300-win mark at the helm of a young Sabres team that is building for the future, Mike Sullivan’s Penguins have won 63 of 100 games under his direction and recently fired Jack Capuano is knocking on the door of his 235th win, which would put him one ahead of Johnson.
But right now, if you had one game to win and needed to choose one American-born coach, Laviolette’s numbers have shown that he’s the best bet to get the job done.
The usual suspects -- Bergeron, Kopitar, and Toews -- appear to be out of the discussion for the Selke Trophy. Here are five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
When it comes to handing out hardware at the NHL Awards, the Selke hasn't been all that tough to figure out in recent seasons. For the last five years, the same three players have dominated the voting. Patrice Bergeron, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have accounted for all five wins, as well as eleven of the fifteen finalist spots.
But this year is shaping up like it could be different, with all three players slumping offensively. Maybe that shouldn't matter, since the Selke is supposed to be a defensive award. But over the years, it's morphed into a trophy that recognizes two-way play, which means you need to be scoring to get much consideration. If you pro-rate the lockout year, nobody has won the Selke with fewer than 55 points in the salary cap era. None of the Big Three are on pace to get there this year.
With half a season left to play, that could still change. And it's always possible that in the absence of a slam dunk candidate emerging somewhere else, voters could opt to play it safe and go back to one of the old familiars. But for the first time in years, the Selke really does seem up for grabs.
So who has a shot? Assuming that Bergeron, Toews or Kopitar don't take the trophy home this time, here are the five names that seem to have the best chance at stepping in.
Ryan Kesler, Ducks
The case for: The veteran is having his best season since 2011, and is on pace for about 65 points while playing tough minutes for a first-place Ducks team. His advanced stats won't blow anyone away, but they're good enough that the analytics guys shouldn't push back too hard, and everyone loves a good comeback narrative.
The case against: While it wouldn't be held against him by voters, Kesler doesn't really fit our "new blood" theme; he was the last player to win the award before the Bergeron/Toews/Kopitar trinity took over, and he finished third in the voting last year.
More importantly, there's at least an argument to be made that linemate Andrew Cogliano deserves the award, too. If that line of thinking catches on, the two could end up splitting votes and knocking each other out of the running.
Mikko Koivu, Wild
The case for: While it's meant as a single-season award, voters tend to like to treat the Selke as more of a career achievement; it's rare for somebody to win the award without having built up a resume over the years. That works in Koivu's favor, as he's been considered a strong defensive forward for a decade now, finishing as high as fourth in the Selke voting back in 2009. He hasn't come especially close since, but he's had votes every year.
New coach Bruce Boudreau has leaned heavily on Koivu in the defensive zone, and his ability to handle the duties has been a big part of Minnesota's unexpected success. With the Wild emerging as one of the one of the year's best surprises, voters will be paying attention.
The case against: Koivu's all-around numbers are good but not great, and he's benefitting from a sky-high on-ice save percentage and PDO that's unlikely to continue. With Devan Dubnyk looking like the Vezina favorite and Boudreau having a shot at the Jack Adams, voters might figure that their ballots are already getting crowded with Wild names.
The case for: Backlund seems to have emerged as a trendy dark horse pick in recent weeks. It's well-deserved: his numbers are excellent, and he's posting them in tough minutes for a young Flames team that asks a lot of him. His offensive numbers aren't jaw-dropping, but he's leading the team in scoring, and that should be enough to satisfy those "two-way" demands if he can keep it up.
The case against: While Backlund's been an underrated defensive player for a while now, he's never received a Selke vote. Again, you can argue that that shouldn't matter, but history has shown that it does. That could make it tough for him to get enough votes to win outright.
Aleksander Barkov, Panthers
The case for: At 21, Barkov would fit the new blood narrative perfectly. And he's already on voters' radars after finishing sixth in last year's balloting. He checks most of the boxes that voters tend to look for, posting solid offensive stats and strong possession numbers. And in a season where the biggest story has been the emergence of the next generation of star players, you could see the voters turning to one of the best young two-way forwards in the game.
The case against: Barkov is hurt right now and has already missed two weeks, so if he's not back soon he probably falls out of the running. He's also been playing a more offensive role this year under new coach Tom Rowe, which may be good for the Panthers, but probably not for his Selke chances. And given how things are turning out in Florida this year, voters may not be interested in having many Panther names on their ballot.
Nicklas Backstrom, Capitals
The case for: If building up enough support to win the award is a long-term process, this could be your guy. Backstrom generated plenty of Selke buzz last year, but finished just outside the top ten for the second straight year. It helps that he's putting up the sort of big offensive number that voters like to see. And after years of largely playing in Alex Ovechkin's shadow, he seems to be settling in as one of those guys that everyone in the hockey world decides has been underrated for too long. What better way to make it up to him than with some awards ballot love?
The case against: In terms of pure numbers, you could make a good case that Backstrom's defensive game was better last year than it is now. That won't necessarily hurt him with voters who feel like he's finally due, but it could keep him from getting the kind of widespread groundswell of support that would help push him past a strong candidate like Kesler.
Honorable mentions (and why they won't win):
- Brad Marchand (Bruins): He's getting some buzz, and has earned votes in the past. But has he really become a better option than Bergeron right now? And if not, how can you win the Selke when you're not the best defensive forward on your own team?
- Nazem Kadri (Maple Leafs): He's a relatively new candidate who'll face the same uphill climb as Backlund, with the added disadvantage that plenty of people don't seem to like him.
- Sidney Crosby (Penguins): He's been underrated in his own end for years, and you could see him getting some consolation ballots if voters decided to break for Connor McDavid for the Hart. But right now, the Crosby focus is still on the MVP race.
- Joe Thornton (Sharks): He gets votes every year and finally had his first top five finish last season, so the timing seems right. But his offensive numbers are down this year.
- Ryan O'Reilly (Sabres): He's been in the mix before. But the Sabres' disappointing season may doom him; there's never been a first-time Selke winner from a team that didn't make the playoffs.
- Jordan Staal (Hurricanes): He'd face the same hurdle as O'Reilly if the Hurricanes miss the playoffs, although these days that seem less and less likely. He may have the best case of anyone in this section.
Sean McIndoe has been writing about the NHL since 2008, most recently for ESPN and Grantland. He spends most of his time making jokes on twitter, where you may know him as @downgoesbrown. He appears weekly on TheHockeyNews.com.
The Blackhawks think they can help Jonathan Toews out of his scoring funk by getting him a proven left winger.
The Chicago Blackhawks are jockeying with the Minnesota Wild for top spot in the Western Conference, but there is some worry over their scoring this season. After 47 games, the Blackhawks have only scored 12 more goals (132) than they have allowed (120).
Center Jonathan Toews' offensive struggles are an area of concern. With 22 points in 38 games, the Blackhawks captain is on pace for 42 points. That's well below last season's 58-point output and his 66-point effort of 2014-15.
A back injury that sidelined Toews for nine games earlier this season could still be nagging him. However, the lack of a proven scorer on his left side is also an issue. David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune, Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times, and Brian Hedger The Athletic.com believe addressing that issue should be a priority for Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman.
In recent years, Bowman's displayed a willingness to swing deals near the trade deadline to bolster his roster for the playoffs. He'll have over $3.3 million in cap space to work with by the March 1 trade deadline. If he can bank a little more, he could have room to bolster Toews' left side.
Haugh, Lazerus and Ledger believe there's no shortage of possible options. They note James van Riemsyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Gabriel Landeskog of Colorado Avalanche have surfaced of late in the rumor mill. Both are young and under contract beyond this season. Potential rental players include Landeskog's teammate Jarome Iginla, Martin Hanzal of the Arizona Coyotes and former Blackhawks winger Patrick Sharp, who's now with the Dallas Stars.
Given Bowman's trade-deadline history, he'll likely be busy again this year. Taking on long-term options such as van Riemsdyk or Landeskog will be expensive, both in salary and return. With the Blackhawks hosting the 2017 draft, Lazerus doubts Bowman will part with his first-round pick. He also claims the GM is reluctant to move his current young roster players.
Bowman could go the more affordable rental-player route. Earlier this month, he was rumored to have interest in Iginla. He also has a trade history with the Coyotes, having acquired center Antoine Vermette prior to the 2015 deadline. And of course, there's the connection with Sharp.
WHY THE DEVILS SHOULD SHOP SCHNEIDER
Should the New Jersey Devils lose ground in this year's playoff chase, GM Ray Shero could consider getting an early start on his off-season roster plans.
Offense remains a persistent issue for the Devils. Despite the addition last summer of left winger Taylor Hall, their goals-for per game average is a paltry 2.22. Only the Arizona Coyotes (2.02) and Colorado Avalanche (2.05) are worse.
Defense and goaltending, once among the Devils' strengths, are also suffering this season. They've given up too many shots-against per game (31.2). Starting goalie Cory Schneider is having an off-year, with a 2.69 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
The New York Post's Larry Brooks suggests Shero consider shopping Schneider. Though the 30-year-old netminder has a no-trade clause, Brooks speculates he might waive it to join a team with a more immediate future. He wonders if the Devils could get a young puck-moving defenseman from the Dallas Stars, provided Shero agrees to take back one of the Stars' current goalies (Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi) in a package deal.
Unless Schneider demands a trade, Shero won't move him. Still, the Devils GM was willing to make a bold move last summer by acquiring Hall. He might not land a big fish at the trade deadline, but he'll likely be busy again this summer searching for a significant deal.
The Devils also carry considerable salary-cap room this season (over $17 million) and have depth in draft picks. Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sunbelieves Shero has room to take on a bad contract or two from a cap-strapped club if some good prospects are included. Unless those prospects are top-notch, however, Shero's unlikely to waste his cap space.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
Clarke MacArthur won’t be able to return to the Senators’ the lineup this season after suffering his fourth concussion in 18 months. MacArthur was injured during a training camp scrimmage and last suited up on Oct. 14, 2015.
For the second straight season, a concussion has cost Clarke MacArthur a year of his career.
MacArthur had been skating off and on with the club over the past couple of months in an attempt to get back onto the ice for game action in what has now been more than 15 months. MacArthur was last able to play in an Oct. 14, 2015 game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but after skating only 6:05 in that outing, MacArthur hit the shelf and he’s yet to return.
The major concussion issues started during the 2015-16 campaign when MacArthur suffered two head injuries in less than a month spanning across the pre-season and into the early days of the regular season. Those two concussions left MacArthur questioning whether he’d be able to return to the game, which made his comeback to the Senators to start the campaign so great to see. However, only days into training camp, MacArthur was injured again, suffering a concussion on a dangerous hit from teammate Patrick Sieloff in a training camp scrimmage.
Shortly after suffering that concussion, MacArthur took to Instagram to announce that he was “encouraged by how my body has reacted in the days since the injury” and said that he had intended to return this season. Unfortunately, per Dorion’s announcement Friday, that won’t be the case.
In December, MacArthur acknowledged that returning to action following four concussions in roughly 18 months didn’t come without any uncertainties, but said he felt it was something he needed to do in order to fulfill some of the five-year, $23.25-million deal that kicked in to start the 2015-16 season.
“It’s a risk,” MacArthur told Garrioch in early December. “For sure it’s a risk but it’s my risk, but I feel I’ve completely come around full circle…I haven’t been able to fulfil anything in this contract I’ve signed, and that’s a kind of cloud over top of me.”
Dorion said this isn’t necessarily the end of the line for MacArthur, however. According to Garrioch, MacArthur will continue to work out and his aim is to return tot he lineup at some point in the future.