Wednesday, November 09, 2005



Thanks in large part to the highly visible, frustrated, and rapid flameouts of Maurice Richard and Magic Johnson, there is a bit of conventional wisdom that holds that superstar players don't make good coaches. We discussed this a bit in the comments before the season, and (seemingly) concluded that this wisdom is not really supported by the evidence.

Which brings us to a headline at today: Quebec Remparts 10-3 since Roy became coach. The Remparts were 1-4 when Roy fired the coach and hired himself as a replacement; now they sit at 11-7, and are the highest-scoring team in the league since Patrick took over.

I find this fascinating. The set of closely-related reasons we tend to use to explain the failure of superstar players as coaches (when it happens) are something like this: bad communicator; they see the game differently than the non-superstar players; they live in a different "hockey world" than mere mortals, and become frustrated at the inability of their own players to see and achieve the same way they did.

To me, insofar as any of these raps are accurate (even if only occasionally), they should be doubly accurate for a superstar goalie. Goalies are famously isolated, and most are poor communicators (and yes, with apologies to Kelly Hrudey, I'll use the ones on TV as evidence supporting this, not contradicting it). Most of the pro hockey they've ever seen is from ice level, and in the case of offensive play, from ice level more than 140 feet away. This particular goalie is famously moody, and at times in his career appeared downright psychologically unbalanced.

So congratulations to Patrick Roy, the greatest goalie in NHL history. Millions of words have been written about his career over the past 20 years, and I can't imagine that the phrase, "This guy's going to make a good coach some day", was in there anywhere.

Standings-watchers may have also noted that the Phoenix Coyotes, who are coached by a guy who used to be a pretty good hockey player, are acquitting themselves pretty well. They had a 1-4-1 start that had them looking like Western Conference basement-dwellers with the Hawks, Blues, and Jackets (and hastened Brett Hull's retirement). Now, they have road wins over the Flames, Oilers, Red Wings, and Wild; no losses by more than 2 goals; and depending on circumstances, are facing the possibility of Curtis Joseph surpassing Martin Brodeur in the Career Wins column.

I don't really know what to make of the Coyotes and their chances, but they are most certainly not underachieving.


In retrospect, the Coyotes are by no means mired in low-talent hell, and you can make a preliminary case that a Gretzky was just what the doctor ordered to get everyone to play to his level. Whatever other qualities the guy brings to the job, he is unchallengeable. There is zero risk of any player trying to take the team away from him, there is no way to go over his head (not just because he owns the team, but also because Gretzky is considerably senior to both Gary Bettman and God in hockey's org chart), and I can't even imagine what would happen to someone who tried to stiletto Gretzky in the press. 99 basically broke Brett Hull in two over his knee, and nobody's said boo about it.

BUT: this is also a temporary effect. What Machiavelli doesn't tell you about fear vs. love as motivators is that even the worst fears eventually wear off. Gretzky will have total freedom to implement a plan, but it won't do him any good unless he actually has one.

I think big road wins are evidence in support of "a plan" and good coaching.

I'm working on a sa-tistical analysis of last season to see if my suspicions bear out at all; I should have a post on it in the next 24 hours.

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