Monday, March 19, 2007

Team Canada World Championship 2007- Coaches - or In Defense of Craig MacTavish




Before I get to speculating on the coaching staff of this year's Team Canada WC edition, I feel compelled to respond to the various discussions regarding Craig MacTavish's competence that were inspired by LT's contemplation of trading Hemsky because he's not the typical MacT player. Pleasure Motors argued that trading Hemsky was a ludicrous idea (I agree with this in principle) because MacT has proven himself to be something of an average coach.

Now there are I guess two debates to address here; a) should Hemsky be traded b)Is MacT only a mediocre coach?

Now, LT has speculated about which parts of the broken car that is the Oilers should be salvaged and which parts should be traded or sold off for new parts, and he argued that Hemsky might be one of those parts which is best traded off because he doesn't fit the driving style of MacTavish. He argues (correctly I think) that MacT tends to be able to turn your average V4 defensive guys into sleek inline 6s or really smooth V8 two way players, in the vein of Horcoff, Pisani, (and in my opinion Jarret Stoll), and that MacT has been less successful with the one way offensive guys like Lupul (lemon?) and Hemsky.

Pleasure Motors agrees with LT's point about MacT's coaching style, adding that only Weight has ended up top 30 in scoring during MacT's reign, but that, because of the prospect depth chart (Shremp, Nilsson) we might as well get rid of MacT, as he isn't successful with his own 'type' of player, so we should expect him to be even less successful under a different type of player. Which I think is a fair enough argument as well.

To put it simply though, I think both Pleasure Motors and LT are off the mark a bit.

b) I will agree that Hemsky isn't a typical MacT type of guy, but I would argue that MacT has developed him into a more complete hockey player that is going to be better off helping the Oilers in the future. Despite this, Hemsky was still only 2 points out of that Top 30 group that Motors alluded to. I would also like people to take into account Hemsky's reasonable point production pace since the lockout, which is 126 pts in 138 games. That number is even more impressive when you consider the players Hemsky has been paired with. In his 'breakout' season last year, he played the majority of the year with Smyth and Horcoff, one of whom (Horcoff) coincidently had a breakout season and one of whom coincidently had his second highest total ever. I couldn't possibly prove that Hemsky was the lone reason, partially because that's not true, but I do have evidence that he was at least a key factor. Take the beginning of this season when Hemsky was paired with Sykora, who, all of a sudden, started at a near career (and certainly of late) pace in terms of points, and then massively slumped as soon as Hemsky went out with his first shoulder injury. When Hemsky returned, he was paired back with Horcoff, who, despite slumping earlier in the season playing with Smyth and Lupul, sprang back to life.

So I think it's a little crazy to think that MacT is really holding Hemsky back, as his impact with the team has been in general nothing but positive for the players around him. Only in Edmonton can a player who is 22 years old and refuses to shoot the puck get 77 points and people still blame his coach for 'not being able to coach that type of player.'

In fact, Pleasure Motors mentions a couple other one way players (Comrie, Carter) who had very productive seasons with MacT, despite both of them experienced a litany of offensive production failures once they left the team. Not only that, but these two guys played TOGETHER on the TOP LINE. Neither of them has seen top line production since. And this is something I can't prove, but the year of the Carter-Comrie-Smyth line, TSN (or CBC, but I'm pretty sure TSN) evaluated the total point productions of all the 'all-Canadian' lines in the NHL, and guess who was at the top? Now thats a little tidbit that's impossible for me to prove, but I swear that was the deal, and quite frankly, I think if you told the average person about that today, they would call you an outright liar, and for good reason.

So are skill guys MacT's 'weak point?' I hardly think so. A lot of MacT's failings have been due to being totally undermanned in terms of players, and once he received a bounty of talent, he took it to the Stanley Cup Finals. His rosters were never littered with talent like Detroit or Colorado, and defence wins games. So MacT did what any good coach would do, and he developed a strong sense of team defence within his teams, and he expected it from everyone. MacT has never coached anyone that was so good they didn't need to worry about defence, and this is still true today.

Obviously MacT isn't perfect, but considering he's a 'details' type of coach (look at the PK, faceoff success), and the biggest critisim most people lay at his feet is that he can't coach skill guys, I think he has to be considered an above average coach.

a) Should the Oilers trade Hemsky? Anyone is tradable at the right price, we know that, but lets look at this long term. But barring a Tavares type deal (which can't and won't happen), it only makes sense to keep Hemsky around. I think I've done at least something to dispell the notion that MacT can't coach Hemsky type players, so I think that reason for trading Hemsky is out the window. Look, the guy is 23 and is putting up near point a game numbers, he's signed long term for a reasonable rate and will be, what, 28-29 when his contract comes up? So the Oilers finally fall upon a contract windfall, with a player whose value is only going to go up barring some catastophic injury and trade him for more prospects? Despite the fact in general a good team core (of approximately the same age) exists?

There's only one good reason to trade Hemsky, and that is you think his value is at its highest right now. If you (like me) believe Hemsky is going to be better in time, then it only makes sense to keep him around.

Alright, now for Team Canada coaching speculation. There are lots of guys around, so this will be a big list.

Wayne Gretzky - Despite coaching the Coyotes to a second straight abysmal season, Gretz is a front runner for head coach. Hockey Canada wants Wayne involved and I think there is a long term conspiracy to have him coach in 2010. This is the testing grounds and Gretzky is the experiment.

Ken Hitchcock - Has the Team Canada pedigree with Olympic and World Cup victories as an assistant. Is a very defensive minded coach which can be very advantageous in a tournament where the group needs to gel quickly. No chemistry needed for the leftwing lock.

Craig MacTavish - was an assistant in 2004 and I think (despite this season) his stock has grown. As I said earlier, I consider him a 'details' coach with a focus on things like shotblocking and faceoffs, but coaches a pretty good two way game. I think he is a front runner for at least an assistant position. Is there a rule as to how many former Oilers can be coaching one team at one time?

Andy Murray - Andy has proven himself multiple times overseas coaching WC teams, and he has always really impressed me. Is making multiple teams look like fools for not making him their head coach. Was held back in LA only because of the hand of God.

Joel Quenneville - I believe Quenneville was asked to coach the year Babcock did it, and although he went overseas, he fell ill, Babcock took over, and the rest is history. Will be considered again as he has gotten a lot out of a thin Colorado roster. May make the playoffs yet anyway.

Jacque Martin - Like Hitchcock, he has the pedigree, having coached an Olympic and World Cup victory. The fact that his teams either don't make the playoffs or choke once they're in will hurt his chances.

Ted Nolan - Is borderline on the playoff front right now, but Nolan is a very good coach. He won coach of the year and was promptly fired for his efforts, and in his first trip back to the big's he gets signed by the nutcases in charge of the Islanders. Has taken a team captained by Alexi Yashin and made them competitive. Has a true fire for the game that he is able to pass onto his players.

Tom Renney - was on the 2004 staff with MacT. Took the pitiful Rangers and turned them into a half decent team last year, and is on the verge of doing it again this year. A hurt goalie and Jagr hurt his team's last playoff drive, but is getting a lot of production from soft guys. Also involved in coaching the Men's National Team and guided Team Canada to a silver medal in 1994 Olympics in Lilehammer. If he misses the playoffs, he will get a good long look.

Dave Lewis - Yzerman is key in picking the staff and he was coached by Lewis, however, Lewis' record is not amazing, particularily in the playoffs. Has an outside chance of making the team.

Pat Quinn - the old warhorse couldn't get them going in 06', but had Olympic and World Cup success, and Team Canada hired him back on to coach the most recent edition of Canada's Spengler Cup team, which he guided to a silver.

Paul Maurice - a) he coaches in Toronto b) he's known for developing young players.


Probable:

Wayne Gretzky

Craig MacTavish

Andy Murray


Ideal:

Andy Murray

Craig MacTavish

Ted Nolan

3 comments:

MetroGnome said...

What, no Playfair consideration for Team Canada? ;)

A lot of MacT's failings have been due to being totally undermanned in terms of players...

If I read between the lines, I think you're saying the true culprit behind the Oiler's mediocrity is Lowe.

I, for one, wouldn't disagree with you.

Kyle said...

What, no Playfair consideration for Team Canada? ;)

Ha ha. Definately not, but I think for a while Darryl was a true frontrunner for coaching/assistant coaching a high level Team Canada group. His decision to GM probably took him out of contention though.

If I read between the lines, I think you're saying the true culprit behind the Oiler's mediocrity is Lowe.

I, for one, wouldn't disagree with you.


I think Lowe has made some pretty big blunders since June 2006, but for a long time he was hindered in the same way the Flames were; small market economics. Or at least I thought.

The whole Ryan Smyth incident is starting to make me believe the EIG has had a big hand in managing the team.

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