by PuckStopsHere on 08/22/09 at 08:58 PM ET
Of the Olympic hockey teams in 2010, no team has as many coaching choices as Team Canada does. Most of the NHL’s coaches are Canadians. The decision of who to coach Team Canada coach has many possibilities. It doesn’t really have any wrong answers as long as somebody competent is selected and most (if not all) NHL coaches qualify as competent coaches.
The ideal coach for Team Canada is somebody who has shown he can succeed with a talented team. It is somebody who does not play a complicated system since there is little time for that to be learned (and let’s face it the six month early Olympic orientation camps are near useless). The ideal coach for Team Canada should not have a conflict of interest where he appears to favor his teammates over other players who may be better fits.
Mike Babcock of the Detroit Red Wings fits these criteria better than any other available coach. Detroit has clearly been a successful team under Babcock. They have done so with some of the best talent in the league. He is as used to coaching talented players as anybody in the NHL. Detroit plays a relatively simple system where they roll out all four lines quite regularly. They do not have to rely upon complicated line matching or specialized systems (such as the versions of the trap employed by Jacques Lemaire or Ken Hitchcock). It is a relatively simple system for the Olympic players to play. It allows them a chance to be creative and utilize their skills. Detroit is unlikely to have any player on the Canadian Olympic Team. Daniel Cleary is the only Red Wing invited to the Team Canada orientation camp and is considered a long shot at best to actually make the team. This removes Babcock from any potential conflict of interest that comes from favoring his NHL players.
That is not to say that Mike Babcock is the best coach in the NHL. I would pick Jacques Lemaire as the best coach. He is the man best able to get the most out of the least group of players. He almost made playoffs last season despite Marian Gaborik being limited to 17 games played and having only one player who scored more than 50 points (Mikko Koivu), but to do that he requires a trapping system that will not fit the skillset of many players available to the Team Canada roster.
Finding the right coach for a short series like the Olympics is not the same as finding the right coach for an NHL team. In a short series you want a coach who has shown he can win with a simple system. With a team as talented as Canada will be, you want that system to allow Canada’s stars the chance to succeed. You want to avoid accusations of conflicts of interest, which the Canadian media would make if things don’t start off well and the coach’s NHL players are playing important roles. Mike Babcock fits this description better than any other NHL coach. Thus Babcock is a good choice for Team Canada.
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