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The Puck Stops Here

How Important Is Coaching?

Faux rumors points out that three of the four teams that remain in the playoffs changed coached during the season.  The Chicago Blackhawks began the season with Denis Savard coaching and quickly replaced him with Joel Quenneville, the Carolina Hurricanes replaced coach Peter Laviolette with Paul Maurice and the Pittsburgh Penguins replaced coach Michel Therrien with Dan Bylsma.  Only Detroit has the coach they started the season with, as Mike Babcock remains their coach.

Faux goes on to assume the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy is strong enough in the NHL that there will be many more teams firing coaches next year in an assumption that this coach firing caused their success because it came before it.  He predicts 25-50% of coaches who start next season with a team do not finish the season.

I think it is much more likely that coach firing does not increase.  Rather it will stay at approximately the same rate.  While the NHL teams have a tendency to play copy cat to whatever works recently, it is crazy to assume that firing the coach is what made these teams make the semi-finals.  This season seven teams (Carolina, Chicago, Montreal, NY Rangers, Ottawa, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay) fired their coach during the season.  Seven of 30 teams is 23%.  Therefore, it is certainly within reason to imagine 25% of coaches fired in a season.  That is only one more firing.  It is just as reasonable to imagine one less firing or the same number of firings, in which case the faux rumors prediction is incorrect.  Fifty percent of coaches who begin the season with a team being fired is ridiculous.  Coaches are generally fired in an attempt to make it look like management is doing something when the team is at a down point.  Fifty percent of teams don’t reach those down points in a season.  There is no need for that many coach firings.

Have the coach firings worked?  In Pittsburgh, Michel Therrien took the Penguins to the finals last year.  They got off to a slow start, in part due to defensive injuries.  Therrien was replaced by Dan Bylsma and it looks like he could get the team back to the finals.  The simplest interpretation is that the Pittsburgh Penguins are good enough to make the Stanley Cup finals with either competent coach.

Carolina won the 2006 Stanley Cup under Peter Laviolette.  Twenty-five games into the season when Carolina was around .500.  In order to give the team a boost, ex-coach Paul Maurice, who most recently struggled unsuccessfully to do anything with the Toronto Maple Leafs, was brought back to coach the team.  The Hurricanes got hot near the end of the season and find themselves in the semi-finals.  The simplest interpretation is that Carolina is a good enough team that they might have a playoff run every few years, when luck is on their side, with either competent coach.

Chicago is probably a team that was improved by their coach replacement.  Denis Savard never looked like a very good coach.  He was a popular ex-player who was given the job for his playing success, but was in over his head.  Chicago should have never started the season with Savard as coach.  They should have replaced him with Quenneville, who is a much more competent coach, in the off season.  Chicago has shown a big improvement under Quenneville, but the simplest explanation is that much of this improvement is due to a talented young core who would improve with any competent coach.

Detroit is the team that is in the semi-finals that stood pat with the same coach all season.  There is no reason to fire Mike Babcock, given that he is a defending Stanley Cup champion, but there is also no reason to imagine that Detroit wouldn’t be in the semi-finals if he had been replaced by another competent coach.

Less than a handful of coaches are good enough to make a significant difference to a team.  There a few coaches that are able to consistently keep a team achieving at a level above their talent level.  The majority of the NHL’s coaches are competent but largely interchangeable, in that one can be replaced with another and the result is about the same.  It is because the replacement occurs at a low point for a franchise that we tend to think it was an improvement for the franchise.  The team would have improved anyway with no coaching change.  The fact they had been performing well below their established norms is an unlikely situation which is going to correct itself due to changes in their luck alone.

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About The Puck Stops Here

imageThe Puck Stops Here was founded during the 2004/05 lockout as a place to rant about hockey. The original site contains over 1000 posts, some of which were also published on FoxSports.com.

Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.

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Email: y2kfhl@hotmail.com