Sunday, July 15, 2007

What do we Really Know About NHL Coaches?

This is the original Reggie Dunlop. His name is John Brophy, and he's a legend in hockey lore the way Margaret Trudeau is a legend in rock and roll history: something obviously happened and since then the stories keep getting better. It's impossible these many years later to figure out fact from fiction, and we're left to chuckle and wink.

The NHL is a pretty old damn league for us to have so little on record in terms of how coaches handle a multitude of problems on a daily and yearly basis. Do they roll 3 lines or 4? Do they prefer a veteran bench (4line, 3rd pairing) and why do some have powerplays that resemble the 80s Oilers and others look like they're trying to piss off the people in the stands?

There's a lot we don't know about coaches, and it isn't getting any better. Here's a rundown of ALL of the coaches in the NHL and WHA from the summer of 1978 and what one publication said about them:

  1. Scotty Bowman, Montreal: He is a taskmaster who demands perfection. Now 45, he once said he didn't expect to coach past 50. Bought 240 acres of land near a small lake and he intends to be a farmer.
  2. Bobby Kromm, Detroit: He was inherited by GM Ted Lindsay, as he was signed on by Lindsay's predecessor Alex Delvecchio when his Winnipeg (WHA) contract expired.
  3. Johnny Wilson, Pittsburgh: Strong and inspirational disciplinarian. He earned plaudits as coach of Canada's entry at last year's World Championships. He made an immediate impression on the Pens last year by putting them through the most physical training camp of their history.
  4. Bob Berry, Los Angeles: Jack Kent Cooke said "Berry was my first choice." His entire coaching experience consists of 20 games in the minors (Springfield). Believes Fred Shero is that last real coaching innovator.
  5. Tom McVie, Washington: McVie isn't glued to old ways. At trainig camp he had a machine that shot tennis balls at his goaltenders at 85MPH every three seconds.
  6. Don Cherry, Boston: A master manipulator of his players and the press. He knows what he wants and doesn't mess around. He doesn't want stars on his team, prefering what he calls the "working class."
  7. Roger Neilson, Toronto: His approach is as unorthodox as the manner in which he accepted the Toronto job. He gave his okay on the telephone from Johannnesburg, South Africa, where he was visiting a friend. He relies heavily on videotape to review games. He is defensive minded.
  8. Marcel Pronovost, Buffalo: A tough disciplinarian from the old school. Carries a briefcase filled with charts, notes and statistics. Some of his current players call him a good teacher.
  9. Harry Howell, Minnesota: Works on an even keel. Was not a crunching type defender, got the job done with an acute sense of positioning which he will urge on his young North Stars.
  10. Al Arbour, NYI: Employs defensive system that puts a premium on blocked shots. Gives written tests to his players on strategy.
  11. Bob McCammon, Philadelphia: Will have to work hard to get the confidence of Flyers players after their roller coaster ride with Fred Shero.
  12. Fred Shero, NYR: Inventive, secretive, off-beat. Likes to wear rumpled raincoat and tinted glasses which make him look like an undercover agent. A try anything strategist. Players complain they do not understand him.
  13. Fred Creighton, Atlanta: Fiesty, ornery guy who doesn't tolerate silly mistakes. Can be heard screaming at team after losses. Likes a physical style with emphasis on positioning. Willing to give rookies a chance.
  14. Bob Pulford, Chicago: Also GM. Demanding and tireless. Runs grueling practices and has cerebral approach to the game. Admirer of football coach George Allen, he stresses defense.
  15. Pat Kelly, Colorado: Salty, tough guy who played for Eddie Shore.
  16. Harry Neale, Vancouver: Jogging devotee runs 5 miles a day. Coached Ohio State 66-70.
  17. Barcley Plager, St. Louis: Credited with developing young players Bob Hess, Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter.
  18. Jacques Demers, Quebec (WHA): Likes his teams to play disciplined, defensive hockey. Brutally honest.
  19. Larry Hillman, Winnipeg (WHA): A player's coach if there ever was one. Strictly his own man in the way he does things. Low profile coach who consults his captain before making any big decisions. Admirer of Punch Imlach.
  20. Bill Dineen, New England (WHA): Personable coach, very good with young players.
  21. Glen Sather, Edmonton (WHA): Bright and dynamic, he's livened up the Edmonton scene. Nosy behind the bench. Studied child psychology. Saved the lives of two Edmonton teenagers last winter when their car went off a road, rolled down an embankment and caught fire. Disciple of Sam Pollock.
  22. Pat Stapleton, Indianapolis (WHA): Has six kids.
  23. John Brophy, Birmingham (WHA): Loathes would be scoring champions who refuse to check. A big part of young Rod Langway's quick progress. Preaches disciplined, defensive hockey.

The 24th team, Cincinnati Stingers (WHA) did not list a coach. There's some funny stuff in there, some interesting insights and maybe a few notes that will interest you.

My question to you is, 29 years later how much more do we know about NHL coaches and what they do to help their teams win? Aren't there a group of questions we can ask about them (starting this winter) in order to improve our knowledge of them? Is anyone else interested in this stuff? Gabriel Desjardins' tremendous website has a ton of information available that addresses many things coaches do differently from other coaches, and it can be measured against the rest of the league.

I think it's time we got to work on it.

ATOI for Oiler Rookies Under MacT

This is Michel Riesen. He represents 'chapter one' for Craig MacTavish in terms of rookies who broke into the NHL under his regime.

In a post below, speeds said "They need a 'Paul Stastny'" in response to my saying that Slava Trukhno might be the next Patrick Thoresen (defined as a guy who comes to camp and shows enough to make the roster as a 4th liner/press box guy).

I don't think the Oilers are likely to have a Paul Stastny this fall for three reasons: there are no prospects who have a clear edge over the rest of the pack, the organization has a tremendous number of options on the prospect tree right now and finally coach MacT doesn't hand out playing time to rookies in a way that makes them strong Calder candidates.

If we needed a fourth reason, injuries to Rob Schremp and Ryan O'Marra further cloud the issue in regard to those prospects.

If the Oilers were to have a Paul Stastny, he'd need to play a similar number of minutes in order to have a shot at putting up numbers that get noticed (Stastny played 1490 minutes in his rookie season).

Here's a list of minutes played in rookie season by Oilers' kids since MacT took over (forwards only):

  1. Jarret Stoll (03-04) 945:18
  2. Patrick Thoresen (06-07) 776:33
  3. Ales Hemsky (02-03) 712:12
  4. Jason Chimera (02-03) 710:06
  5. Marc Pouliot (06-07) 600:12
  6. Dom Pittis (00-01) 506:13
  7. Brad Winchester (06-07) 476:18
  8. Mike Comrie (00-01) 466:54
  9. Shawn Horcoff (00-01) 452:12
  10. Fernando Pisani (02-03) 375:18
  11. Jean Francois Jacques (06-07) 292:44
  12. Zach Stortini (06-07) 207:27
  13. Brian Swanson (00-01) 174:38
  14. Mike Bishai (03-04) 128:18
  15. Tony Salmlelainen (03-04) 125:27
  16. Michel Riesen (00-01) 118:53
  17. Jani Rita (02-03) 114:26
  18. Kyle Brodziak (05-06) 110:20

I can't find Rita's 05-06 season broken down (before the trade) so I used 02-03. I have no idea when he stopped being a rookie (he probably qualified in the "cup of coffee" division).

MacTavish may have to play more young players than usual this fall, but I don't see a rookie getting 1500 minutes. Even a guy like Nilsson is likely to be in and out of the lineup (and on and off a scoring line) as the season rolls out. A strong start for a Rob Schremp or Andrew Cogliano might mean they receive a callup and Nilsson hits the bench.

Stastny got 300 minutes on the powerplay. Ales Hemsky got half that, Comrie got 85 minutes in 41 games.

I don't think the Oilers have a Paul Stastny ready to step in, and I don't think the Oilers would insert him in the lineup and watch what he could do from the get-go. In his first game with the Avs last season, Stastny got 14:50 total icetime and 4 minutes on the powerplay (and was -2).

No Oiler rookie is likely to get that kind of welcome to the NHL this fall. This despite some of the Oilers prospects having similar qualifications. In his final NCAA season, Stastny scored 53 points in 39 games (1.36ppg). In his final NCAA season, Andrew Cogliano scored 50 points in 38 games (1.32ppg).

Stastny played against mid-level competition (365/676) and his linemates most often were Hejduk and McLean (all info courtesy Desdjardins Behind the Net). Could Andrew Cogliano put up 78 points given a similar opportunity?

Well, we don't know that he would and we can't say he wouldn't. What we can say is that we're not about to find out based on coach MacT's own track record.

Reasonable Expectations for AHL Prospects (C)

This is Ryan O'Marra, who is likely ticketed for the AHL this season.

O'Marra is a very famous prospect, owing mostly to his appearances in international competition. He is a double gold medalist with the Canadian National Junior Team, winning the gold medal at the 2006 and 2007 IIHF World Junior Championships.

His OHL career ended after 234 games, 94 goals and 223 points. Following the end of his OHL season in 2005-06, O’Marra made his pro debut, playing eight games with Bridgeport (AHL). He scored 4-1-5 in his eight regular season games and added one assist in three AHL playoff games.

The big question mark on O'Marra is with regard to injury. He was injured early and often last season, and a serious knee injury ended O’Marra’s postseason this spring.

For those who don't know O'Marra well, he's what Redline Report said about him on his draft day:
A RLR favorite. Can do it all. Very good skater with excellent, crisp edges, particularly for a big man. Works well in all three zones and is very smart positionally- knows where to be on the ice. Smart, heady player with good hands and a nose for the net. Has pro size and plays a ppro style game. Very willing to battle physically and can be dominant below the circles. Dangerous on both special teams, and uses his long reach effectively on PK unit to break up passes and transition to offence. Has very good offensive upside. Versatile, equally adept in the middle and on the wing. Gets to the net for scoring chances. Excelled in international competitions. Hasn't learned to bring it every night as of yet; needs to develop consistency, but is determined and motivated.

CENTER

  1. Rob Schremp (21)- Supreme skill met learning curve + work ethic and the results were mixed. Schremp's AHL season wasn't a disaster (53 points in 69gp) but his ppg number (.768) didn't blow away the other Oiler picks of recent vintage (Stoll was .711, Pouliot was .692, Jacques was .677, Brodziak was .571) in their 20-year old seasons. He's a talent, and the Oilers need him to deliver at some point. He underwent surgery in May repair the medial collateral ligament of his left knee (an injury suffered in an April AHL game). Reasonable expectations: Suspect Nilsson gets the NHL job out of the gate with Schremp ripping it up in Triple A. Remember, there was a time when Rob Nelson was going to be the first baseman of the future for the Oakland A's, so it's not always who goes north with the big club.
  2. Kyle Brodziak (23)- I think he has an excellent chance to be an end of the roster player out of camp for the Oilers. If not, he can continue to build a strong resume at the minor league level. More and more, Kyle Brodziak looks like this decade's Rem Murray. Reasonable expectations: Another quality run in the AHL and plenty of time in the show.
  3. Andrew Cogliano (20)- I think he'll be MacT's favorite by the end of camp among the new kids on the block, but it's extremely likely he spends most of his first pro season in the AHL. Excellent range of skills and plenty of signs he'll have an NHL career. Reasonable expectations: A solid year in the AHL posting good offensive numbers and earning rave reviews for how well he plays the game in all areas.
  4. Ryan O'Marra (20)- If he came to camp healthy with NYI, there's an outside shot he could make the big club. However, with the Oilers having so many prospects at a similar level on the development curve, I don't think he gets a long look. Reasonable expectations: A healthy AHL season.
  5. Tyler Spurgeon (21)- Similar career progression to Brodziak, under the radar but delivering what is asked for in spades (save offense). Another famous junior ala Troy Bodie, he'll need to start delivering at least some offense this season. Reasonable expectations: A full season in the AHL (he split time between AHL and Stockton last season).
  6. Jonas Almtorp (23)- This guy impressed in camp last fall and looks to have had another consistent season in the Swedish Elite League. He's got decent size, is a good skater and is described as being aware of his defensive duties. Reasonable expectations: He's arriving in North America after 150 games in the Swedish Elite League (11-14-25 career totals) so he should hit the ground running.
  7. Fredrik Johansson (23)- He's the cousin of recently drafted Joakim Andersson, he's a checking center in the Swedish Elite League and is at least a rung below Almtorp (he's played only 110 SEL games, 2-7-9 totals). Reasonable expectations: Hard to say. If he doesn't get an AHL job, he might end up going back to the SEL.

This is the strongest forward position for Springfield, with Schremp, Brodziak and Spurgeon having some AHL experience and two quality entry prospects (O'Marra, Cogliano) in the wings. Almtorp would also have to be considered a candidate for a strong AHL season.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

John Ferguson Passes Away

John Ferguson passed away today. He was 68 and died of cancer. This photo is from the early 60s when he played for the Cleveland Barons (60-63).

Ferguson was a Western boy, born in Vancouver and he played junior in the SJHL for the Melville Millionaires. He was in the IHL for one season (Fort Wayne Komets) and then three seasons with Cleveland before having his contract sold to the Canadiens.

There are thousands of stories about Ferguson, many of which you'll probably hear in the next few days. He coached the NY Rangers (75-77) and then became coach and GM in Winnipeg (WHA) and later the NHL Jets. His book involves some great stories about both teams and some interesting players (specifically Les Binkley, a favorite of mine).

He scored a Cup winning goal (May 4, 1969).

He set a record when he got a fighting major 12 seconds into his NHL career.

He was also the first NHL player to receive a triple major (1967, Dec vs Det).

His son, John Ferguson Jr is currently the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Reasonable Expectations for AHL Prospects (RW)

This is Colin McDonald. The Oilers haven't signed him yet (they have another month to do so) but he's probably going to get a pro contract from Edmonton.

McDonald (and Tom Gilbert before him) is one of those guys who could surprise. Despite being drafted in 2003 we haven't really seen the guy much and since his Providence club was a Punch 'n Judy offensive team there's a chance his offense is better than we think it is. He's also a lot older than other kids turning pro (he'll be 23 in September).

If McDonald does sign, he'll be in competition for at-bats with a few guys who are trying to make it to the AHL level. I think he's probably the best option of the ECHL and NCAA graduates, but it's a pretty open contest.



Also, a kid like O'Marra is listed as a center but he could end up playing RW in the fall.



RIGHT WING

  1. Zach Stortini (22 in Sept)- Big kid might make the Oilers out of camp this fall. He's certainly the best enforcer option in the system if MacT decides that not having BG last season had any impact. Stortini played 29 games with the Oilers last season so is no longer considered a rookie. Reasonable expectations: He's a guy who could split his season between Springfield and the Oilers.
  2. Colin McDonald (23 in Sept)- I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of pro career he's going to have. On draft day McDonald's bio suggested that he might make it as a checker if the goals didn't come, and I suspect that's what we'll get with him. Reasonable expectations: A strong work ethic and an idea about how to play the game, plus a full 650 plate appearances in the AHL.
  3. Stephane Goulet (21)- Big winger scored 15 goals in the ECHL last season. He has good footspeed and was a scorer (51 goals final year of junior) in junior. Reasonable expectations: Spending the entire season in the AHL and showing offense similar to his ECHL season.
  4. Troy Bodie (22)- Huge winger got into 14 AHL games but spent most of the year in Stockton. Famous junior player whose style used to be called "north and south winger", which is to say he patrols his wing and isn't too fancy. Reasonable expectations: He should be able to grab a fulltime AHL job.
  5. David Rohlfs (23)- Big power winger who spent a significant amount of time in college playing defense. Had a fine offensive season (17-17-34) playing RW alongside TJ Hensick and Kevin Porter at Michigan. It's important to remember that although Rohlfs (and McDonald) will be a first year pro, he's a much older player than someone like Goulet and will likely move up the depth chart. Reasonable expectations: At least half the season in the AHL.

I think several centers (the deepest position at the AHL level this fall) will get a look at either wing this fall. Stortini may end up with the big club, and both McDonald and Rohlfs need to be signed by August 15th. Either way, several of the "coke machines" drafted 01-03 are going to be playing RW for Springfield sometime this season.

Reasonable Expectations for AHL Prospects (LW)

This is Liam Reddox, one of the few players you'll ever find whose draft day bio is clearly out of time with the actual player. Reddox was listed as 5-9, 175 on draft day, when in fact he was 5-11, 185.

The draft day info I gathered had to do mostly with skill set and footspeed, but Redline Report (one of two outstanding draft guides, along with ISS) had this to say in their 2004 Draft Guide:

Liam Reddox — Agitator extraordinaire. Industrial strength abrasive. Plays like a pit bull — locks on and won’t let go.

Who knows if he'll make the show, but he's an interesting player to keep track of this season.

LEFT WING

  1. Jean Francois Jacques (22)- I decided to list him on the AHL team and to keep Nilsson for the Oilers roster stuff I'll do later in the summer. Both might be traded by then and it's an open question as to which one will get the roster spot but Jacques could benefit from beating up on Triple A pitching for 20 games or so before getting the call. Huge winger, strong as an ox, hits like a freight train and based on the AHL summaries I've read he's too good for that league. However, he's layed an egg bigger than Vegreville's each time he's played an NHL game. Reasonable expectations: No matter how many games he plays in the show this year, he needs to be better every shift. And it wouldn't kill him to get a freaking point, either.
  2. Slava Trukhno (20)- Has a wide range of skills, including size, skill and grit. He's my pick to be the 'Patrick Thoresen' this fall. Reasonable expectations: He's a longshot to make the big club, but I think he'll have a better offensive season as a 20-year old in the AHL than any Oiler prospect (at the same age) in recent history.
  3. Brock Radunske (24)- He's scored 64 goals in 118 ECHL games, which sounds impressive but really means that he can't crack an AHL lineup. Big kid who came out of university early and has been wandering the hockey backroads since (Greenville, Grand Rapids, Stockton). Reasonable expectations: A season in the AHL.
  4. Liam Reddox (21)- Scored only 8 goals in 70 ECHL games this season. Reddox should get a good shot in the AHL this season based on age and skill set. Reasonable expectations: He needs to be a lot better offensively, but he's an interesting prospect who might be able to play the disturber role.
  5. Tim Sestito (23 in August)- 2-way winger with grit who hasn't played much in the AHL since turning pro. He once desribed himself as a player thusly: "I think mainly I’m out there to get things going with a hit or a forecheck and specifically to keep the puck out of our net. I think my defensive part of the game is getting better and if I can chip in with some points, that’s always a plus." Reasonable expectations: Role player in AHL.

Black Jack JF Jacques

Did I ever tell you my Billy Ashley story? I used to be in a baseball roto league (extremely competitive, I can't even describe how cruel and vicious we were to each other. It was great) and followed all the prospects very closely (one of the few ways to win in the ERL was to get prospects before anyone knew who they were. It was a keeper league).

Anyway, Billy Ashley was an OF prospect in the LA Dodger system and he hit a lot of home runs in the Pacific Coast League (this was maybe 1994). I remember well doing the Bill James MBLE to let the air out of his offense in order to project him into the National League of 1995.

At the draft (we bid on players, didn't draft them) I got into a war with another owner and ended up spending $28 on Ashley (which should get you a veteran outfielder with an excellent power/speed number if you're rational).

Ashley killed me. Jesus he was awful. I can't even describe how bad he was. He struck out all the time, he hit nothing but air and O by the way he was AWFUL in the outfield too. His hit totals were exceeded by his strikeout totals every season he played. Ashley hit .221, .243, .333 (6 ABs), .237, .200, and finally .244 in his last year with the Dodgers who liked him only a little more than me and his Mom.

I remember he hit two homers at Wrigley one day in 1995 and the next day I got a really good trade offer. Are you kidding me? I kept him baby, because my mighty team was going to have Billy Ashley on it right up until we finished 8th that season.

I'm afraid JF Jacques might be Billy Ashley. Have you SEEN him? He' a freaking giant. He looks dangerous every shift (and in fact IS dangerous every shift, just not in a good way) and if he could just take a pass, make a pass, shoot the puck or be in the general area that people who play his position are most of the time I think he'll be a player.

Jacques has a beauty chance to make the Oilers this fall. Just like Billy Ashley in spring 1995. I find myself thanking the Hockey Gods that there is nothing resembling a hockey roto league, because having two Billy Ashley's in one lifetime is simply too much to endure.