It seems like every league has a few innovators and a whole bunch of copycats who assume they can Xerox a successful team’s blueprint and then just make sure that they save some ink for playoff tickets.
One can see such a phenomenon in the NHL’s coach hiring practices. Several seasons ago, the league followed the cycle of retreading coaches of varying quality. Bench bosses such as “Iron” Mike Keenan seemed to have more opportunities than a cat has lives.
Yet now that is very much not the case, as the latest trend over the past few seasons is for teams to “call up” AHL coaches who are having great success. In many cases, it’s hard to argue with the results, as former minor league bosses such as Dan Bylsma and Randy Carlyle won Stanley Cups while Bruce Boudreau and Guy Boucher have dramatically improved their teams.
Of course, there might also be some “over-correction.” Michael Farber points out that there is an “All-Star cast” of former coaches hoping for a new job, highlighted by the likes of Bob Hartley and Michel Therrien. Amid all the names Farber drops, he didn’t even get to two other worthy wardens: Andy Murray and Ken Hitchcock.
It’s natural to think that those AHL coaches might be more adept when it comes to adapting to the changing landscape in the NHL – especially since they work with younger players, the best of whom are making rapid jumps to the big leagues – but a smart team might want to hire a Murray or Hitchcock to turn things around. The Edmonton Oilers or New York Islanders would be wise to look to a more experienced NHL coach to transition their youngsters to a more professional game, if nothing else. Therrien did a great job of that in Pittsburgh while Murray and Hitchcock squeezed playoff appearances out of mediocre teams in St. Louis and Columbus.
That might be a good idea, but chances are, it will take one trendsetting team to make such a move before the cycle reverses again.