By Stu Hackel
Coaches are hired to be fired, as the saying goes. But what happens in between cements the perception we have of the guys who stand behind the bench in the NHL, the ones who prepare their teams in long hours of meetings and video study. It’s a hard job, especially when fans, the media and even the players believe they know better than the coach what a team should be doing.
That seems to be the situation in which Flames coach Brent Sutter finds himself vis a vis his captain Jarome Iginla. Sutter believes his team won’t be the consistent force it can be unless everyone buys into his scheme, and that Calgary will continue to play as a bunch of individuals and not realize the potential of its collective talents. Specifically, he wants Iginla — the 15-year NHL veteran who has topped the 1,000 point plateau and is only 11 goals away from 500 — to concentrate on his defensive game.
Right now, the 34-year-old Iginla is minus-12, with only five goals and four assists — not vintage Iggy.
Sutter points to a couple of models from the Red Wings’ past and present – Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk – as examples of the kind of player he thinks Iginla could be, a force for both creating and preventing goals. Yzerman’s case is especially relevent, Sutter believes, as the Wings’ Hall of Fame captain went from offensive powerhouse to Stanley Cup champion by buying into coach Scotty Bowman’s responsible defense mantra, and in the process, he earned a Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward.
Seems to make sense — except that Iginla is apparently not entirely on board. The Flames are next to last in the West and 28th in the league in goals scored (only 42), and Iginla told Steve MacFarlane of The Calgary Sun that he doesn’t believe it helps the team for him to focus on his play without the puck. “I do know you’ve got to be good on both sides of it,” he said. “But I still think our team will need some offensive production. That’s hurt us. I haven’t been good enough. And our line hasn’t been good enough.”
The comparisons with Yzerman don’t hold up for Iginla. “I don’t think the situations are quite similar,” he said. “When he switched, the Wings were an offensive powerhouse. They had (Sergei) Fedorov and (Luc) Robitaille and (Brendan) Shanahan. That’s what the team needed, and he took that role on. If I just turn into a pure defensive player, I don’t think you’re going to say that’s exactly what our team needs.”
MacFarlane writes that Sutter is “demanding” and not “asking” his players buy in. He looks to his own situation, as a center who played different roles during his 18-year NHL career, from first line to fourth line and everything in between, depending on what his team needed. He won the Stanley Cup twice by doing it. “My role was different every one of those times,” he said. “But it’s always what is best for the environment of your hockey club, of your team.”
This one bears watching.
Rematch: The Bruins visit Buffalo on Wednesday night, their first return engagement after the Milan Lucic-Ryan Miller incident. The aftermath (here and here) and the coaches are in the spotlight as much as the players.
Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff was furious about his club’s lack of physical response to the B’s and he met with each Sabre the next day to go over what he expects of them in that sort of situation. But when it comes to the rematch, revenge could take a back seat to the need for the banged-up Sabres to get two points. They don’t match up well against the Bruins in the fisticuffs department, and asked whether he thought there would be any retaliation, Ruff said on Tuesday, “I don’t know what to expect. I mean, we’ve got to try to win a game, obviously. They’re playing well….We’re playing the best team in the league right now.” (video)
Boston coach Claude Julien seemed like-minded. “To be honest, I don’t know. We’re not looking for revenge….We handled teams that have tried to push us around. We’re not going to lose any sleep over it.’’
Asked what he saw going down in Buffalo, Lucic also downplayed the significance of the last game’s incident, saying his club was more interested in keeping their league-best nine-game winning streak going (video).
Quite often, those who attend games hoping for inevitable fireworks come away disappointed. This could be one of those games — but you never know.
What’s he saying?: Sometimes a coach speaks plainly and matter-of-factly like Brent Sutter, and sometimes he sounds like he isn’t speaking any recognizable language at all. The game has become so technically sophisticated and detailed that its jargon can befuddle even the most dedicated long time fan.
Here’s Penguins coach Dan Bylsma addressing his team before their game on Monday against the Islanders, the one in which Sidney Crosby returned. See how much of this you can decipher.
Pretty good, eh?
He’s got Jack’s back: There’s been some sentiment that the losing coach in Monday’s night’s marquee game, the Isles’ Jack Capuano, could be the second bench boss this season to get the axe, but GM Garth Snow put the kibosh on that rumor when he told Arthur Staple of Newsday, “I have no intention to replace our coach.”
Snow had no further comment on his woeful team, which has been outscored 11-0 in its last two games and sits in the Eastern Conference basement with a 5-10-3 record.
Another honor: Tuesday marked the 44th anniversary of the start of Scotty Bowman’s NHL coaching career as he took over for Lynn Patrick behind the Blues’ bench for a 3-1 loss to Montreal, the team he would eventually guide to five Stanley Cups in eight years. He won another in Pittsburgh and three more in Detroit and holds every NHL coaching record there is.
Before his run of championships, Bowman took the Blues to the Cup final in their first three seasons, making them the top team of the NHL’s first modern expansion. They didn’t win a game in those three trips, but that hasn’t diminished Bowman’s popularity in the town where he got his start and met his wife, Suella.
Along with former Blues forward Garry Unger, Bowman was inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame last week.
Dan O’Neill in The St. Louis Post Dispatch had an interesting tidbit from Scotty on the Blues’ home ice advantage when he coached them.
“The ice surface wasn’t 200 feet by 85 feet, or the standard size,” Bowman recalled. “It was about 82 or 83 feet wide. Nobody knew that, I didn’t even know it. But when they put in an extra row of seats or whatever during the renovation, they took two or three feet away.
“But we started to be very tough to beat at home because of the enthusiasm of the crowd and we had tremendous goaltending.”
Here’s an interview with Scotty over KMOX radio (audi0). He reminisces about his days in St. Louis and discusses new Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who he praises for his preparation and ability to change as the game has changed.
Asked by host Kevin Wheeler for his advice on handling players, Bowman said, “There’s a personal side of coaching and player relationships, and there’s a professional side. You have some tough decisions to make, but when you make a tough decision, it’s professional, it’s not personal…It’s basically to separate the personal side and the professional side and that’s the most difficult task anyone would have because you can get very friendly with your players or you can also keep them at arm’s length, but professionally, you have to really be on the same page.”
He acknowledged that different coaches have different style, but Scotty was one who kept his players at arm’s length. It worked pretty well for him.