Okay, so we have a guy who has gotten everyone to the same compete level by keeping them accountable. Now it’s time to get them all pulling the rope in the same direction…
One thing John Tortorella was really good at: keeping guys accountable. This was lost when Brad Larsen took over, let’s just be honest here. But, something we haven’t seen done all that well since before Torts? Any kind of productive offensive system.
Torts was always quick to point out that “we don’t coach offense here”, and ultimately I think that’s part of the reason this team never took that next step under his leadership. That said, credit where credit is due; the Jackets under Torts played very well in their defensive zone, and that kept them in a lot of tight games. But offensively? This team was really hit or miss, and basically relied on players using whatever talent they had to produce.
The new head coach here needs to adapt some kind of full-ice system that works and helps generate offense. We see it regularly with teams like the Hurricanes, the Islanders, the Bruins … notice a trend here? They are all of the best, most consistently competitive teams. The Islanders scrap and claw their way into the playoffs with a group of forwards who are mostly second and third line guys. Why do they do so well?
Because every line that rolls onto the ice, regardless the personnel or how they’re moved up and down the lineup, basically plays the same way. This allows guys to know where each other are going to be. It makes the offense flow easier. Imagine the Jackets rolling out four lines like the Canes do, pinning teams deep in their own end, then having Johnny Gaudreau or Patrik Laine strike quickly against a tired group. Or, imagine Laine having to miss a few games, but Marchenko can fill his spot on the wing seamlessly because of the system in place.
Willingness to adapt…
This is a big one. Credit where it’s due, I think they had this in Larsen – I’ll argue that he actually did help the younger guys along. But this trait is one reason that I don’t think the team will be seeking a veteran coach like Darryl Sutter or Peter Laviolette. The “toughen up Sally” coach doesn’t hold as much weight with this generation of NHL players. Even Tortorella has learned to lighten up and take a softer approach with the younger players.
Look at the reasons some of the older coaches in this league get fired. The two above were both guilty of icing and rolling their veteran players at the expense of their younger players this season, which was part of the reason given for both of their terminations. With one of the youngest rosters in the NHL, is that the kind of coach we want? Do we want to see the Robinson-Kuraly-Olivier line played as our third line; with a heavy fourth line of something like Gaunce-Dunne-Meyer; with the talented guys being healthy scratches because they aren’t throwing body checks? 2-1 hockey games, anyone?
We should be in no hurry for that kind of coach. The game today is less about laying hits and blocking shots, and more about speed and skill. My preference would be someone who wants to come in and grow with the kids coming into this roster. Someone who can bring the accountability and systems play, while helping the prospects learn the game with a more patient approach.
This may all sound too good to be true, but it can be done. Look at how the Colorado Avalanche succeeded, by being patient with Jared Bednar and letting him develop with that team. The Jackets are further along in their rebuild than the Avalanche were when they hired Bednar, and should be a prime target for an up and coming coach in this league. We shouldn’t be willing to settle for a basic retread who is seeking one more chance to coach an NHL team.
This team needs to be better next season, and even better than that in the years beyond. They’ve invested too much time and money into this rebuild, and wasting the talent that’s coming into the system would be a shame. They’re smart for making this coaching decision now, before time really started to waste away. It’s important to nail this coaching decision however, or this team could be at risk of falling into “permanent rebuild” territory.