29 June 2014

2014 NHL Coaching Carousel: Grading the Hires

(Getty Images)
Six NHL clubs have changed their head coaches this offseason, the same number as last year's coaching carousel. How did these franchises do in their coaching searches? Here are my grades for each.

Carolina Hurricanes - Bill Peters (Red Wings assistant)
A common thing seen in coaching searches is bringing in a lieutenant from a consistent winning program to help foster success in a new place. That seems to be what the Hurricanes and new GM Ron Francis looked for in the hiring of Detroit assistant Peters. Peters has largely worked with the defensemen and the penalty kill units of the Red Wings the last few years and has been largely successful in that regard. He also has coaching experience with the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL and the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL, and won in both places. Peters's work with defense should help improve a Carolina club that has been inconsistent on the back end and he has the opportunity to engineer a quick turnaround.
Grade: B+

Florida Panthers - Gerard Gallant (Canadiens assistant)
Gallant's prior head coaching experience with the Columbus Blue Jackets largely was unsuccessful as the team went 56-67-4 over the course of three seasons, but to be fair, those Jackets teams were not that much more than an expansion club (beyond Rick Nash). What seems to be a key factor in Gallant's hire, besides Dan Bylsma's asking price, is his work at the junior levels in Canada. He was very successful as the coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL, where he coached one of the talented cornerstones of the Panthers, Jonathan Huberdeau. The team is young and probably is a couple of years away, but that may suit Gallant's talents.
Grade: B

Nashville Predators - Peter Laviolette (formerly Flyers head coach)
Laviolette has a bit of a journeyman's resume during his head coaching career, but he has won every stop he has made. He turned the Islanders of the early 2000's into a playoff club, won a Cup in Carolina and got the Flyers to the Cup Final in 2010. He also is a nice change of place from Barry Trotz, the only coach the Predators have ever known, namely in the fact that Laviolette is a very good offensive coach. One of the flaws of the Preds over the years have been their struggles scoring, but Laviolette should change that in a hurry. A great hire.
Grade: A

Pittsburgh Penguins - Mike Johnston (Portland Winterhawks head coach)
The expectations are high for the Penguins because they had two of the elite players in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, despite the rest of the roster not being built quite well. Dan Bylsma did not deserve to get fired, but it is always easy to fire the coach. Johnston was not Pittsburgh's first choice but when Willie Desjardins took the Vancouver job, the team hired the very successful Portland head coach. Johnston preaches an attacking offensive style, which should fit what Crosby and co. want to do. However, maybe a team with such high expectations may have been better off with a more experienced head guy.
Grade: B-

Vancouver Canucks - Willie Desjardins (Texas Stars head coach)
Speaking of Desjardins, he hopes to clean up the mess that John Tortorella left in his disastrous sole year in BC. Desjardins does not have much NHL coaching experience, only two years as an associate head coach with Dallas, he has been very successful everywhere he has gone. He made the playoffs every year and won two championships in the WHL, then won a ton of games including the 2014 Calder Cup with Texas. Desjardins is a veteran coach and may not be a sexy hire, but this is still a really good hire for a team that needed one.
Grade: A-

Washington Capitals - Barry Trotz (formerly Predators head coach)
Trotz did great work as the first ever head coach in Predators history, but it was time for a change. However, he was able to land on his feet in a big way by landing the Caps gig, where he is a really good fit. Washington has been a mess of late defensively and in net, while struggling to get the most out of star Alex Ovechkin. Trotz is known for being a tremendous defensive coach and for winning with minimal resources. And while he was criticized for preaching an overly defensive strategy, which is largely true, when he had star-level offensive talent, like Paul Kariya, his offenses were excellent. Trotz makes a ton of sense for this franchise and this is a tremendous hire.
Grade: A

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