New Coaches and Early Peaks

April 15th, 2011 by Burgundy Leave a reply »

Jack Capuano, head coach of the New York Islanders

On Tuesday the New York Islanders officially named Jack Capuano as their head coach. I say officially because Capuano had been the interim head coach since the Islanders fired previous coach Scott Gordon back in November of last year.

So starting next season the Islanders will have another new head coach running the show; their third coach since 2008. The timing seems a bit strange, given the announcement came the day before the Stanley Cup playoffs got underway, and after a number of other coaches were just fired (some of whom posting substantially better records too).

But whatever, I don’t really care about that. What I do find interesting is the shelf life and impact of relatively new (read: inexperienced) NHL coaches. There seems to be a bit of a trend with new NHL coaches who come from the AHL with lots of buzz. They get off to quick success, varying degrees of success mind you, then even out. And then before you know it, are hearing rumours stating they’ve “lost the [dressing] room.”

In other words, they peak early.

I can’t help but wonder if inexperienced coaches who’ve graduated from a club’s AHL team and into the NHL fail to truly command respect from their players. Sure they have good relationships with some of the players who’ve also spent time in the club’s development system, but is the respect there? I’m talking the kind of respect players have for coaches with 5-10 years of experience.

I feel for that reason, as well as a general lack of NHL-level experience, that these up-and-coming AHL coaches are somewhat doomed from the start (despite decent starts). It’s like they can only achieve partial success.

In the case of the Islanders, Capuano managed a 26-29-10 record in his first NHL season. I’m sure the expectation is to improve on that mediocre record and compete for the playoffs next year, in Capuano’s first full year as head coach. But is there any reason to believe that will happen? Maybe, but who knows.

Cory Clouston - former Ottawa Senators head coach

Several years after the Senators and Panthers brought in two green coaches in Cory Clouston and Pete Deboer, they find themselves looking for replacements. The experiment didn’t exactly work. So what now? Does each team look for more experienced coaches who can capture that respect and get them over the hump?

Rookie NHL coaches have to learn some time. I get that. In that regard they are no different than players. And up-and-coming coaches aren’t the solution for every team; especially a team in dire need of leadership. At some point inexperienced coaches hit a wall with their team and it tends to happen sooner than later.

I can’t help but wonder if Capuano has already enjoyed his peak with Islanders. I guess time will tell.



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