Saturday, October 01, 2005


NHL Brainstorm! Part 2

Intros, preamble and Part 1 are here, or just scroll down. Also, before we get going today, I should let you know that we bowed to extreme pressure from diversity groups, and have added a Canucks fan going forward.

Ginna Dowler lives in Victoria, publishes Gin & Tonic (Refreshing!), and sleeps in one of those old jerseys with the V pattern (apparently a few escaped the bonfire).

Onward! Here's query #2:

What is the biggest unknown for you in the upcoming season, or what will you be most curious to see?

Whether or not the referees will continue to call teams for obstruction-type penalties. If the refs stick to enforcing the rules by the book then the players will (eventually) learn and it will be a fun season to watch. If they don't, we're in for some seriously boring clutch-and-grab hockey.

How much fighting is there going to be in the new clutching-and-hooking-free environment? A cleaner game could create fewer occasions for fights, but then again, it could force players to settle arguments more often in a way that is relatively risk-free to both teams in terms of creating a power play. I have no way of guessing whether we'll see twice as many fights, or half.

The biggest unknown for me isn't related to play. I'm curious to see what will happen to the NHL in the US, given the lack of major television exposure. If the game can't be revived down south, and fast, what will happen to the marginal US teams? This has the potential to radically change the league. Funny how a couple of years ago we were worried about the Canadian teams. What a difference an 85-cent dollar makes.

Whether Wayne Gretzky will be an awful coach. I just don’t see this being a success story. I don’t think Gretzky has any interest in coaching the Coyotes. I think he was pushed into this situation in order to put some butts in the new seats at Glendale Arena. Furthermore, I don’t think a player who has played and continues to see the game as well as Gretzky is capable of helping players who can’t play near the level he played at. This isn’t a knock on Gretzky, by the way. Name three successful offensive players in the NHL who have been able to become successful NHL head coaches. Myself, I can’t think of even one

How the American franchises do in terms of attendance and local exposure. Sure the fiscal system seems to be encouraging, but the league is still in trouble if franchises start to fail under the new rules (both CBA and on-ice rules). If teams like Atlanta, Carolina and Florida see a 30-50% drop in attendance, then I could see more drastic changes taking place within a handful of years, including the possibility of teams moving or contracting outright.

Uh, how poolies choose to handle shootout goals. Also, will a Sidney Crosby rule need to be instated?

Conventional wisdom seems to hold that the usual suspects will find themselves with even more dire attendance problems than pre-lockout. On the other hand, conventional wisdom once held that putting hockey teams in Anaheim, Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa, Miami, Raleigh/Durham, Nashville or Atlanta (twice!) would be a silly idea. Personally, I suspect the novelty factor will kick in again and league-wide attendance will be modestly to significantly better than in 2003-2004.

But what I would be most curious to see, without a doubt, is a full, minute disclosure by the NHL of just how the goddamn salary cap works.

Whether the new rules actually stick is the obvious choice here. Beyond that, I think I'll be interested to see what happens at the trade deadline. I'm guessing lots of player movement as teams try to retool their team by giving themselves cap room. This could be fun, especially considering that the Oilers have lots of cap room available.

I want to know if the Penguins are going to be any good. If you picked Mario Lemieux, Ziggy Palffy, and John Leclair in the 1st three rounds of your hockey pool, your new nickname would be “Backbrace” (or maybe “Day-to-Day”). I can see the potential: obviously, so can the folks who have bet them down to 9 to 1 to win the Cup. But they also have an unproven coach, a non-defensive defense, a mediocre goalie, and dubious speed and depth. Only a conference placing of 1st or 15th would stun me come April.

See you tomorrow for our third installment.


Indeed. Career line: 853GP, 366G, 835pts. The exception that proves the rule?

Ah, but can you name two more?

Does anyone think Gretzky is going to be a good coach?

BTW, I heard on 1260 yesterday that when they did the Top Ten moments in Vancouver sports history on TSN this week, Number One was the Whitecaps winning the NASL Championship in 1979. Can anyone verify this? It makes me so happy.

They asked Kevin Lowe about this yesterday, and he said that NHL head coaches are becoming more like NFL positions - i.e., managerial. I this respect he believes that Gretzky will be excellent, and that he is smart enough to surround himself with good hockey people to do the detail work.

I think that is probably a pretty fair assessment.

A good parallel might be Larry Bird's coaching career in the NBA.

I think that kind of proves Andy's point, really. Bird had a successful coaching "career", but it wasn't spectacular, nor very long.

The fact that he's basically the modern gold standard for superstar turned coach tells you everything you need to know about how uncommon it is.

I don't think Lemaire is a particular exception. There are never many coaches who retire as successes, so any retrospective view of coaches is going to consider three or four of them "failures" for every one who "succeeded."

Unless "successful offensive player" is just a synonym for "forward", I think you'd have to count Larry Robinson and Red Kelly. Red Berenson was a genuine offensive star and a Coach of the Year. And I'm kinda surprised that no one has mentioned this, but Darryl Sutter does have a 40-goal rookie season on his resume.

As a rule, I think you'll find that star players suffer from being rushed into the coaching ranks. They are often chosen as caretakers, or as desperate gambles, by struggling teams seeking to increae the gate. I don't know of any obvious reasons guys like Wayne Cashman or Alex Delvecchio couldn't have been decent coaches if they'd hung around. Obviously there is a huge, genuine basic question whether Gretzky can communicate his knowledge of the game, but to a large part it all depends on what expectations people have for him. Right now those expectations seem advantageously low; even people who think he was a good choice don't really expect the Coyotes to contend for a playoff spot.

I agree with sacamano that the nature of NHL coaching has changed substantially over the last while. I saw an interview with Gretzky where he explained that he really didn't see his role as being that different from his Hockey Canada position - that of facilitator. He said he expected to rely heavily on his assistants, and learn as he goes.

Whether or not he'll be successful remains to be seen, but I don't think we can honestly know that in one season. Coaches do need some time to work themselves into the job.

As for Vancouver's sporting moment, if true, that's just sad. I must admit, other wins are not really coming to mind at the moment.

Who didn't have a 40 goal season in the 80's? It was like ten years of playing in the Quebec Major Junior League.

Out of the Top 100 point-getters of all time, I count 3 successful head coaches: Lemaire, Robinson and Bill Barber. Only Robinson and Lemaire have won a Cup as coach, and Barber was only around for one year. I count two decent assistants: Trottier and Bobby Smith. Throw in two good GM's, Clarke and Espo, and that is the lot. Of course, none of this is scientific. I haven't bothered to look at the coaching records. I am eye-balling it out of absolute laziness.

Who the hell is Ivan Boldirev, by the way?

I'm surprised that no one's mentioned Toe Blake, one of the premier offensive players of his time (due in part to riding shotgun to Rocket Richard, but Toe was a darn good player in his own right by most accounts).

He was also a pretty decent head coach with Les Canadiens for some time.

It looks like the sample size of superstars who have tried to coach is too small to draw any conclusions at all -- even regarding correlation, let alone causation. But obviously some noteable and utter flameouts (e.g. Rocket Richard, Magic Johnson) have made the myth, because there ARE superstars who have succeeded in coaching.

Frank Robinson has been a successful manager for parts of 30 years. Bill Russell, many people's Best Player Ever, won 2 NBA Championships -- and he was apparently being a jerk, to boot. Mike Ditka is in the HoF as a player (so is John Wooden, as I recall!). Bird was a good coach.

It could just be that superstars are exactly like every other subset of people; some make good coaches, and some don't.

I don't think you can use examples from other sports to prove or disprove whether superstar hockey players can become successful coaches. Three things come to mind as being necessary here:

1) Defining "superstar" player
2) Defining "successful" coach
3) Defining a proper sample size, finding a list of players and coaches to meet this sample size, and pounding out the work.

Hmm. I am going to take a stab at this. Matt, what is a proper sample size? Anyone want to define "superstar player" and "successful coach"? I am sure Cosh and Avi will find thousands of holes in my data and analysis, but what the hell? It isn't like I have anything better to do.


Blake's numbers really are impressive.

Either way, remembering Ivan Boldirev is pretty much the defining precondition for being able to open your yap about the '80s, dammit. Boulders was a huge part of my healing-slash-insanity in the weeks following the Miracle on Manchester, when I cracked under the strain and temporarily became the biggest Canucks fan on the planet.

I was six during the Miracle, and barely remember the white towel and V of the Canucks. Plus, I only had eyes for Harold Snepsts. That guy was a stallion. Even that handsome devil Blair MacDonald couldn't peel me away from my Harry.

Boldirev had eight goals during that playoff year, which is even more impressive when you consider he was playing on a line with Tiger Williams. The guy was a real oddity--despite the "Russian" name, he was a big centre (by 1982 standards) who could shoot, hit, and fight.

So what is with the Russian name? Boldirev is apparently Yugoslavian. His parents must have been VERY loyal to the cause to give him a name like that.

I learn something new every day.

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