The Next Flyers Head Coach Won't Be Perfect >


by Michael DeNicola

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015 --

Since Craig Berube’s firing, the debate in Philadelphia over the next coach has been frustrating. Unless your last name is Babcock, you’re not the answer, you’ve never been an answer, and you’ll never be an answer. You’re either a “retread”, a Postseason choker, or your inexperience at the position tells the naysayer all they need to know…. which is typically a shallow pool of knowledge, and inadequate.

And God forbid you’re John Tortorella – just mentioning his name, you’d think someone poured a barrel of poisonous snakes onto the floor and locked you in the room.

Among all the candidates and white noise, there’s one simple truth: the number of coaches available who’ve tasted Stanley Cup success – either as winners or losers – is small. But this doesn’t annihilate the résumés of each candidate right out of the gate. There is something negative and positive to say about each of them, mostly. And as long as GM Ron Hextall continues down a hybrid path of equal parts “Win Now” and a mind for the future, then we should see this team become more and more competitive, despite whichever of these coaches the Flyers ink on paper.

For starters, Mike Babcock, head coach of the Detroit Red Wings, despite not actually being technically available, isn’t Jesus Christ Superstar behind the bench. In fact, two available coaching candidates, Todd McLellan and Paul MacLean, served under Mike Babcock as assistant coaches the year the Red Wings won their last Stanley Cup (2007-08). McLellan went on to head coach the San Jose Sharks the following season; MacLean took the position behind Ottawa’s bench in 2011-12. Babcock hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since both of these hockey minds departed – apart from their loss in the 2009 Final to Pittsburgh, Babcock’s Red Wings haven’t even reached the Western Conference Finals, or the Eastern Conference Finals (realignment of 2013-14) since raising Lord Stanley. Since 2010-11, Babcock has lost three Semi-Finals and three Quarter-Finals Series. 

Since losing Todd McLellan from his staff, Babcock’s Win-Loss Percentage in the Playoffs has been 0.443. McLellan’s Win-Loss Percentage in the Playoffs with the San Jose Sharks was 0.484. Since winning the Stanley Cup together in 2008, MacLellan and Babcock have both had to watch the rising Dynasties of Los Angeles and Chicago trample through their respective gardens. So neither head coach was “choking” more than the other. In the last five League years, the Blackhawks and the Kings are responsible for four large pieces of hardware; Joel Quenneville is not available, and Darryl Sutter is still employed for now.

And oh, under McLellan’s seven-year tutelage, the Sharks battled in two Western Conference Finals.

I’m not trying to pump the tires on Todd McLellan by letting the air out on Mike Babcock. I’m also not trying to say McLellan is a better candidate for Philadelphia’s head coaching position. I’m only adding a little perspective by exposing some hard data. Did the Sharks routinely fall short in the Postseason under McLellan? Yes, but in their 24-year history, San Jose has made it to the Western Conference Finals three times – McLellan coached them there two of those three times. This past season is the first year in his 12-years as a head coach of a professional team (IHL/AHL/NHL) that he has failed to make the Playoffs. In 22-years as a coach at all levels, he has been under 0.500 twice: once in Junior, and once in the AHL, but both of those teams made the Playoffs.

Alain Vigneault, currently head coach of the New York Rangers, spent seven seasons behind Vancouver’s bench. He coached the Canucks past the Second Round of the Playoffs only once… the season they lost in the Cup Final to the 2010-11 Boston Bruins. Before and after that, he seemed to have had a ceiling as Vancouver’s Bench Boss. Since being fired then hired by the Blueshirts, Vigneault has been to the Cup Final (2014) and is currently enjoying a 2 – 1 Series lead versus Pittsburgh in the 2015 Quarter-Finals; the Rangers are skating on a President’s Trophy season, as well.

Second-chances have the potential of paying off. I’m sure wherever he lands next, McLellan will bring a wave of success with him.

Oh, but “Vigneault inherited a great team,” you say? Funny you mention that…

If winning the Stanley Cup is such an important mile marker in a coach’s work history, tell me why John Tortorella’s name is being depreciated? He doesn’t top any personal list of mine, but his accolades are worth listing…

Prior to Tortorella entering Tampa Bay as head coach in 2000-2001, the Lightning yielded 310 goals in the 1999-2000 playing season, ranking them the NHL’s second-worst in that category. They gave up 280 goals in 2000-01, 219 goals in 2001-02, and 210 goals in 2002-03 before ultimately becoming the Stanley Cup Champions in 2003-04. During that timeframe, it also saw the emergence of Dan Boyle and Pavel Kubina as top tier defensemen – both men moved over 50 places upward in the NHL CS Rankings.

With the New York Rangers, Torts was responsible for the development of Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, and Marc Staal. Three notable defensemen who’ve brought a dominating curtain around their elite goaltender. It wasn’t all Henrik… some of that honor goes to the apprenticeship under Tortorella.

And if I’m not mistaken, Philadelphia has some defensive woes of our own, and a number of young defensive prospects just itching to get their chance to develop at the NHL stage.

What happened in Vancouver certainly doesn’t speak well for Torts. But there was an odd atmosphere waiting there before he arrived. He’s since moved on, as have the Canucks. I think both parties would prefer to forget it ever happened.

NHL Head Coaches are “hired to be fired.” It’s the nature of this beast. There are other candidates out there whose names aren’t Babcock. There are many more than the ones I’ve listed. But then again, this blog’s intention wasn’t to lobby for any singular candidate over the rest. I wanted to highlight an unfairness that seems to sprout around the subject like ivy on a brick wall. Since Berube was handed his walking papers, the debate has taken form as a steady stream of close-minded howling from all directions. No listening. There’s been virtually no lucidity. Everyone’s ready to drag each candidate’s name through the mud over the pettiest reasons.

Whoever turns out to be the coach of the 2015-16 Philadelphia Flyers, I’m going to guarantee you this… he won’t be perfect. But we must consider all the facts to form a context, and gain each of us a shred of perspective. 

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