John MacLean

Help not available: NHL staffs brimming with ex-head coaches

When Kevin Hayes got off to a slow start with the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Alain Vigneault didn’t need to talk to him.

Assistants Mike Yeo and Michel Therrien took care of that. Because each had been an NHL head coach before, Vigneault encourages that direct communication.

“There’s a confidence factor with AV knowing that if we’re going to talk to a player, what we’re saying would be the same message that he would be delivering to that player,” Yeo said. “He wanted people that were comfortable and confident to go up to players, whether it’s correcting, whether it’s reinforcing, whether it’s patting somebody on the back. He wants us to be proactive about that.”

It’s not just Yeo and Therrien. Anyone interested in firing a coach this season is in trouble without a successor lined up because almost every potential candidate already has a job.

Of 31 teams, 20 have a former NHL head coach as an assistant and six have more than one. Concerns about having too many cooks in the kitchen are no match for the benefit of having experience dealing with players, handling game situations and scouting opponents.

“There’s nothing but positives,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got guys that understand exactly what I’m going through and understand exactly what I mean as far as feedback. Nobody understands a head coach better than a former head coach.”

Philadelphia’s three-headed monster is bested only by the Dallas Stars having ex-head coaches John Stevens, Rick Bowness and Todd Nelson on Jim Montgomery’s staff. Unlike Vigneault, who carries with him the gravitas of taking two different teams to the Stanley Cup Final, Montgomery is a first-time head coach and isn’t at all bothered by having guys directly reporting to him who have done his job before.

“I’m a guy that wants information from other people,” said Montgomery, who’s in his second season as Stars coach. “As much information they can give me before I talk to the team, the better knowledge I’m imparting to the team so that we can have quicker points and get right to what we think’s going to help us win hockey games.”

Four of the NHL-tested assistants – Detroit’s Dan Bylsma, Chicago’s Marc Crawford, Anaheim adviser Darryl Sutter and St. Louis part-timer Larry Robinson – have won the Stanley Cup as a head coach, and Sutter did it twice. Many more have connections to championship teams or won in the minors.

“There’s a lot of little fires that coaches have to go through – head coaches – and I think when you have a staff with experience, they can put those fires out before they get to you,” said Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet, who has Phil Housley and John MacLean on his staff.

Often, a personal connection is enough to create instant chemistry on a staff. Montgomery and Stevens played together in the American Hockey League and won the Calder Cup in 1998, while Vigneault and Therrien have known each other for two decades.

Washington’s Todd Reirden in his first head NHL job wanted an assistant with similar experience and hired Scott Arniel without knowing him. After being on a Pittsburgh Penguins staff under Bylsma with former head coaches Tony Granato and Jacques Martin as fellow assistants, Reirden understands the importance of leaning on someone who’s been there before.

“I think I had had 10 or 11 years of assistant or associate coach (experience),” said Reirden, who was Barry Trotz’s top assistant when the Capitals won the Cup in 2018. “But not being a full-time head coach in this league, and I thought it was important to have someone like Scott that had gone through the same type of thing: Good things that worked for him, in the same breath things that he wished he could do over and positives and negatives we could work on together.”

Settling in to life as a lieutenant isn’t always easy for former head coaches.

Therrien hadn’t been an assistant since his first job in junior in the early 1990s, while Stevens is coming off being fired by the Los Angeles Kings less than a year ago.

“When you’re the head coach, you’re used to speaking all the time,” said Stevens, who has coached the Flyers and Kings and won the Cup twice as an assistant with Los Angeles. “As an assistant coach, you’ve got to listen and speak at the right time. … A coaching staff functions like a team. I think you put egos aside.”

Fired almost exactly a year ago as Blues coach – St. Louis went on to win the Cup with replacement Craig Berube – Yeo still sees the game as a head coach but changes his messaging from talking directly to players to whispering down the line to Therrien so Vigneault gets the gist.

It could be disconcerting for a young coach to look over his shoulder at one or more potential replacements. But some, like Montgomery, New York Rangers coach David Quinn with Lindy Ruff and new Toronto Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe with Dave Hakstol could do their jobs even better with some extra experience.

Vigneault felt that way during his first job in Montreal in the mid-1990s when he hired Dave King as an assistant. As the CEO behind the bench, he thinks it’s smart for coaches of all ages to take whatever experience they can get.

“As a young coach, it was real beneficial to me,” Vigneault said. “With my experience now, I can probably use them even better than I did when I started.”

Elias credits Henrique for another strong season

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New Jersey Devils forward Patrik Elias has had a long career of putting up big numbers and to this point this season he’s put up 51 points.

For Elias it’s the 12th time in his career he’s had 50 or more points. He gives a lot of credit for his production to Adam Henrique as Rich Chere of The Star-Ledger shares.

“It’s also helped me by playing with Rico for the majority of the games and having something constant on the line,” Elias said. “Look at my first 40 games. I had two or three breaks in between because of injuries. You always fall out of rhythm, so that played a role. And I played with a different guy almost every night.”

Consistency and having a guy who’s also having a strong season in Henrique makes a lot of sense for how well Elias has done. Having Czech countryman Jaromir Jagr in the locker room has probably helped as well.

Elias is the most prolific scorer in Devils history. Hitting 50-plus points 12 times in his career is five more times than either Kirk Muller or John MacLean did it. Henrique is following the 37-year-old nicely with 43 of his own points and a team-leading 25 goals.

If ever there was a guy for the Devils to keep Henrique glued to it’s Elias.

Is the NJ-Florida series proving that Tallon was right to dismiss DeBoer?

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It’s rare that you lose your coaching job with one team and then face them in the first round with your new squad less than a year later. That’s what happened to Peter DeBoer though, who was dismissed by the Florida Panthers only to be hired by the New Jersey Devils.

The Devils were coming off a disappointing 2010-11 campaign where their strong finish couldn’t make up for their poor start under former head coach John MacLean. So DeBoer does deserve credit for guiding the Devils back to the playoffs.

That being said, New Jersey is one game away from elimination and the obvious question is how much of the blame DeBoer deserves.

NJ.com blogger Steve Chernoski argues that DeBoer is struggling to adapt on the fly and his attempts to do so have resulted in futile line shuffling. Chernoski’s “biggest criticism is that once the Panthers get a lead, they go into a shell and DeBoer cannot concoct a plan to beat it.”

It’s worth noting that DeBoer shuffled the top line several times with the Devils trailing in Game 5 to no effect.

DeBoer’s biggest accomplishment in this series was probably his decision to stick with Martin Brodeur in Game 4 despite his struggles in the previous contest. Brodeur responded by earning his record-breaking 24th shutout, but even a relatively solid game from Brodeur wasn’t enough to save them in Saturday’s 3-0 loss.

Now DeBoer has some big decisions to make and he’ll need to coach a good game on Tuesday to force a Game 7.

Ex-Devils coach MacLean preps for awkward reunion

Tonight, Carolina assistant John MacLean faces the Devils for the first time since being fired last year.

Remember that? GM Lou Lamoriello canned MacLean two days before Christmas, mostly because of his 9-22-2 record (though running afoul of Ilya Kovalchuk probably played a part). New Jersey then proceeded to go on a tear under new head coach Jacques Lemaire.

So yeah, tonight shouldn’t be awkward at all — though to his credit, MacLean is trying to downplay how strange it’ll feel.

“I’m sure it will be for about the first six seconds,” MacLean told the Star-Ledger. “And then it’s just another team. You have to get focused in on what you’re doing. You can’t get caught watching. You have to be prepared and help out any way we can on the bench.”

It’s not fair to say the Devils completely tuned out MacLean last year…but hindsight being 20/20, they weren’t exactly tuning him in. He was a rookie head coach in charge of a massively-paid star (Kovalchuk), strong veteran personalities (Martin Brodeur, Brian Rolston, Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner) and a thinned-out blueline. As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski put it, “[it] was like asking a rookie transit cop to take down a Mexican drug cartel.”

That said, it’s not entirely surprising MacLean resurfaced as an assistant in Carolina. He’s good friends with head coach Kirk Muller and did have some success coaching Lowell of the AHL prior to his disastrous stint with Jersey.

“I’m not sure you ever get peace,” MacLean said of how things ended with the Devils. “It’s part of the game. It’s part of the learning experience. You learn from it and you move forward. Now I’m moving forward and I’m excited about it. I don’t look back. I look forward. This is a good opportunity for me and right now that’s what I’m focused on.

“For me to be involved with Kirk in this situation is exciting. I’m looking forward to it. This is a team that’s had some struggles, but it has great potential. I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Elias becomes New Jersey’s all-time leading goalscorer

It was a special evening for Patrik Elias last night, and not just because his third-period marker proved the winning goal in New Jersey’s 5-3 win over Montreal.

No, it was much more than that.

The goal was No. 358 for the 35-year-old Czech, making him the all-time leading goalscorer in Devils franchise history. The goal put him past former teammate — and for 33 games, former head coach — John MacLean.

“It just feels nice,” Elias told NorthJersey.com. “It just feels that you’re doing something right, and it keeps me going. Hopefully, I have a lot more in me, but at this moment I’m enjoying it.”

Here’s the record-setting goal. Chicago Blackhawks fans, please note the egregious defensive-zone turnover by Chris Campoli:

Elias scored his first NHL goal on Dec. 12, 1996, in Boston against Bill Ranford in a 7-4 Devils’ victory. Since then he’s appeared in over 900 games for the Devils, the only NHL team he’s ever played for.

Following last night’s win, New Jersey GM Lou Lamoriello and head coach Peter DeBoer had high praise for their veteran associate captain, who now leads the franchise in goals, assists (497), points (845), power-play goals (96), game-winning goals (77), overtime goals (15) and hat tricks (8).

“He’s having himself a great year, and he’s had a great career,” Lamoriello said. “And he’s not done yet.”

“The guy’s a winner,” DeBoer added. “He’s one of the most competitive people I know and just wants to win.”