by PuckStopsHere on 02/18/13 at 12:44 AM ET
I have often stated that coaching makes very little long-term difference to a team. Sometimes a team fires a coach and that shock is enough to give a team a few wins in the short-term, but over the long-term it isn't worth many games. I think it is safe to say that about 3/4 of the coaches in the NHL are roughly interchangeable in that the difference between their value to their team is lost within the randomness that naturally occurs from season to season.
That leaves a few coaches (1/4 of the NHL's coaches is 7.5 coaches) who make a clear demonstrable difference to their team. In some cases that difference is positive and that coach should be a coach of the year candidate and in other cases the difference is negative and the coach should be fired. If we can find a situation where a coach who should be fired and replace him with a coach or the year candidate a team will have a large positive impact. Similarly if a top coach is replaced by a coach who should be fired we can have a large negative effect on a given team. I think we see a clear example of the second this season.
The Washington Capitals were the first place team in the East Conference in 2010/11. They were coached by former coach of the year Bruce Boudreau. Boudreau is not your technical X and O's coach. He is usually very popular with his team and makes hockey fun and that is the key to his success. Last season when there were signs that he was losing the support of his team - largely his captain Alexander Ovechkin - he was fired.
Under the assumption that Ovechkin is a superstar player who would perform like a superstar if only he was happy with coaching, the firing made some sense. However that is not what we have seen since that time. People are starting to wonder if Ovechkin is past his prime and into the decline phase of his career. At this point in the season Ovechkin has 10 points in 15 games. Since the assumption failed, Boudreau's firing was a poor move.
Boudreau was replaced by Dale Hunter. Hunter was a coach who forced the team to play a defensive scheme that their talent scheme did not fit with. Nevertheless the Capitals were capable of making the playoffs and winning a round in the playoffs but he did not impress me. I think it was clear that Washington won despite their coaching and instead of failing the next season, Dale Hunter was persuaded to step down.
Along comes another unproven ex-NHLer to coach in Adam Oates. Oates has done nothing to show he has what it takes to be an NHL coach. He has struggled to climb the learning curve and currently has his team in last place in the East Conference.
As for Bruce Boudreau, he was quickly hired by the Anaheim Ducks after his Washington firing. That alone is a bad sign. If the coach you fired is the top candidate to be hired for the next coaching vacancy, you shouldn't have fired the coach in the first place. The Anaheim Ducks are surpassing any predictions this season and are in second place in the league right now. Boudreau has made the Ducks a happy cohesive successful hockey team and he is a coach of the year candidate.
Washington would be a better team today if Bruce Boudreau was still coaching them. They have done very poorly under Adam Oates. The hope is that Oates will soon develop into a successful NHL coach but the evidence so far does not support that. Boudreau is a competent above average NHL coach and would have been worth a few more points for the Capitals this season. His firing and replacement by Adam Oates is looking like a significant mistake.
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