Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Don't Expect Another Bruce Boudreau, Atlanta

When the Atlanta Thrashers hired John Anderson to be the fourth head coach in franchise history last week, much was made of how similar his path to that job was to Bruce Boudreau's journey to his perch behind the Caps' bench.

Both Anderson and Boudreau won multiple championships at lower levels (including the AHL) before getting NHL gigs where they'd coach many of the same players they had in the minors, and the pair are apparently best of friends dating back to their time as teammates on the Toronto Marlboros for two seasons. Without question, Boudreau's success emboldened Thrashers GM Don Waddell to take a chance on Anderson rather than recycling a coach with NHL experience, but is it realistic to expect Anderson to enjoy the immediate success that Boudreau found in D.C.?

No, frankly, it's not.

My buddy The Falconer over at DTHLT? went into some detail as to why the Anderson hiring might not work out, asking some tough questions:
  • Can he motivate NHL players? One of the reasons that Braydon Coburn is wearing a Philadelphia Flyers uniform today is that he looked bad in a Chicago Wolves jersey. If Coburn had played well there he probably would not have been dealt in my opinion. Coburn is hardly the first prospect to get angry about being demoted to the minors. If Anderson can't motivate a 20 year old who wants to get to the NHL how is he going to handle a multi-millionaire veteran who just mails it in?
  • Can he win with less talent? In the old days, the Chicago Wolves spent more on their roster than just about any other franchise. They were the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings of the AHL. Now to his credit Anderson turned that advantage into regular season wins and playoff championships (something the Rangers and Flyers didn't always do). The question is can he win when he has a talent deficit--nobody knows the answer to that question yet.
  • Can he win without having the best goalie? The Wolves three trips to the AHL Finals all occurred when they had one of the best--if not the best--goalie in the entire AHL. In 2002 they rode Pasi Nurminen to a championship, in 2008 it was Pavaelec and in 2004 Lehtonen got them to the Finals (which they lost to Kari's arch nemesis fellow Finn Antero Nittymaki). In Atlanta Coach Anderson will not have Brodeur, Luongo or Nabokov.
  • Can he improve our defense? Coach Anderson prefers an offensive style of hockey as does the Thrashers GM. But the harsh reality is that the Thrasher defense has been among the NHL's worst for 7 of their 8 years in existence. I am very concerned that the defense will remain as porous under Anderson as it has been under Fraser and Hartley. Without better defense this team is not going to contend for anything.
With those questions yet to be answered, consider that Anderson is inheriting a team that couldn't score or keep pucks out of the net in 2007-08, has just one player on the roster who scored more than 17 goals last season and has little help on the way. Whereas Boudreau inherited a talented but underachieving team playing a brand of hockey which it had out-grown, the ingredients were all there; for Anderson, he's going to be asked to make chicken salad out of chicken poop.

So don't plan that 2009 Jack Adams Award party quite yet, Thrashers fans - John Anderson may be a hell of a coach (or he may not be), but given what Don Waddell has given him to work with, he's probably more likely to be the next Bruce Cassidy than the next Bruce Boudreau.

Oh, and don't even get me started on the guy the clowns down in Tampa Basement are about to hire.

21 comments:

boz said...

So as a Chicago Wolves and Washington Capitals fan, I have to say that it's possible Atlanta is getting the better of the two coaches over the long term (and that's tough to say after watching Boudreau over this past season). Anderson won't have the massive success that Boudreau had in his first season in the NHL, but over time, Anderson has been able to coach a championship caliber team nearly every year for the past decade. I expect that if he's given any support by the front office, he'll turn the Thrashers around as well over the next few years.

In 2002, the Wolves and every other former IHL team were supposed to get clobbered in their first AHL season and Anderson led them to the championship.

Also, claiming that Nurminen, Pavelec, Lehtonen, Richard Shulmistra or Norm Maracle were somehow goaltending gods that led the Wolves deep into the playoffs year after year seems odd (Wendell Young, even at the end of his career, may deserve that praise). They were great the years that they played for the Wolves, but I don't know that anyone puts them near the level of Brodeur, Luongo or Nabokov (or even AHL versions of those goalies) over the course of their careers. How many more goalies does Anderson have to take to the playoffs before people start to give him credit?

JP said...

I think the real positive for the Thrashers here is that if the team continues to struggle, there'll likely be no one to blame but Waddell (though The Falconer makes some valid points, some of which indirectly lead to that same conclusion), and the team might actually bring in someone who has a clue when it comes to personnel moves.

Then again, you might have thought that would've been the case when Hartley failed...

JP said...

Oh, and good stuff, Boz. Thanks.

b.orr4 said...

Well, the coaching ranks in the SE are nothing if not interesting. You've got a career minor leaguer who just won Coach of the Year, a career minor leaguer who just won the Calder, a career Canadian Junior coach who's a continual winner there, a former broadcaster wo hasn't won anything and an establiished NHL coach who's won a Stanley Cup. And the funny part is the guy who's most likely to get fired first is Laviolette.

JP said...

I was thinking the same thing, B. By Thanksgiving, Bruce could be the longest tenured coach in the division.

hotdog88gt said...

I wonder what the talk about BB will be if the Caps stumble out of the gate next season.

DMG said...

...a former broadcaster wo hasn't won anything

Melrose has won the Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and the Campbell "bowl". No Stanley Cup, but a decent track record.

exwhaler said...

"...but given what Don Waddell has given him to work with, he's probably more likely to be the next Bruce Cassidy than the next Bruce Boudreau."

No matter what mess Waddell hands him, Anderson will not be as bad as Bruce Cassidy, who managed to get a talented but top-heavy team to quit on him by his second season through ineptitude and a general lack of professionalism. Anderson has been an accomplished minor league head coach for some time, winning championships on three levels, while Cassidy coached for five years, and only 1 in the AHL.

The Hossa trade actually was beneficial for the Thrashers--getting them some good young talent--and they're clearing a lot of dead weight this off-season, so they'll have room to retool if they wish. Or if Waddell doesn't bungle it.

b.orr4 said...

You're right DMG. I guess I have a hard time thinking that winning a Calder Cup 16 years ago is going to be much help today. Neverheless, he did win them so I retract the statement :-)

JP said...

@ exwhaler: And therein lies the rub.

Admittedly, the Cassidy reference makes for a better line than it does for an accurate comparison.

exwhaler said...

"Melrose has won the Memorial Cup, Calder Cup and the Campbell "bowl". No Stanley Cup, but a decent track record."

But an old track record, one that at the NHL level is pretty bad. There are a myrid of reasons why Barry Melrose is a bad choice:

1. The pool of available coaching talent is deep. There’s two guys who have recently won a Stanley Cup (Pat Burns and Bob Hartley). There’s a guy who tends to get the best out of his teams, no matter how mediocre they are (Paul Maurice, who guided the Hurricanes to respectability and their first Finals, and then coaxed 91 points out of the woeful Maple Leafs before they imploded on him). There was a Bruce Boureau-clone in John Anderson. There’s Flyers assistant Terry Murray, who has 13 years of NHL head coaching experience and led the Flyers to the finals in 1997. All of these coaches have far more professional experience than Melrose, and all of that experience has been within the past decade.

2. Melrose has not coached in 13 years. There’s a danger this could be another Art Shell: hiring a coach who had some success a decade ago but who has been out of coaching ever since. The NFL game passed Shell by, from the systems teams used to how to handle professional players, and the result was disastrous (worse than even Raider haters were expecting). Although Melrose has been on the media side of things, that’s been as an observer and not a participant. He hasn’t experienced the changes the NHL has gone through since 1995, and he hasn't attempted to deal with them from a coach's perspective.

3. Melrose does not have much professional coaching experience. He coached 3 seasons of AHL hockey and 2-and-a-half seasons of NHL hockey. He inherited a great Kings team that he led to the Finals in his first season, and then led that same team to two horrible seasons thereafter (27-45-12 in 1993-1994, 16-23-9 in 1994–1995, when he was fired mid-season). Back in the mid-1990s, Melrose was not considered a good coach. He’s not Ted Nolan, who earned himself a Jack Abrams Award before poisoning his well.

Melrose was named the coach because of his history with the new owner, not because of his resume. Despite reports of teams interviewing available candidates, there hasn’t been anything reported for Tampa Bay. Maybe that’s because of the ownership transition, but I doubt it. The word is that this is what Oren Koules wants, which means he hasn’t done his due diligence in finding a quality coach.

And that will hurt the Lightning more than anything else.

JP said...

Melrose has not coached in 13 years. There’s a danger this could be another Art Shell: hiring a coach who had some success a decade ago but who has been out of coaching ever since. The NFL game passed Shell by, from the systems teams used to how to handle professional players, and the result was disastrous (worse than even Raider haters were expecting).

Couldn't think of another NFL example, maybe one closer to home? ;)

b.orr4 said...

After listening to the press conference with the new Lightning owners, I am so thankful we've got Ted here in DC. I have never heard two guys more full of themselves than Lem Barrie and Oren Koulos. To hear them talk, there's never been an ownership group as bright and innovative as they plan to be. And I think that self-inflated sense of importance is why they chose Melrose. Koulos is all Hollywood and Melrose is the closest thing hockey has to showbiz. They are very much a match made in Tinsel Town; all show and little substance. Frankly, I couldn't be happier because, on coaching alone, the Caps should be hands down favorites to repeat in the Southeast.

exwhaler said...

"Couldn't think of another NFL example, maybe one closer to home? ;)"

Oh, I did, but I thought that Shell made a better comparison to Melrose. At least Gibbs was a Hall-of-Fame head coach who one would hope could overcome some of the rust and changes in the game. If Scotty Bowman came back, then we'd be talkin'....

Stokley said...

b.orr4, your statement about the whole going Hollywood thing for TB got me thinking. They're going to end up with Avery.

JR said...

Damn - JP on the playa hatin' tip.

As far as I'm concerned, the more Atlanta and Tampa rot, the better. Atlanta will be in full rebuild after Kovalchuk leaves. Tampa is an enigma, and as much as I love Melrose, I don't think you can pay MSL 7 mil a year. Florida is the epitome of mediocre and will only get worse, if they change at all. So the future is looking pretty bright for the Caps and our soon to be whipping boys, the Canes.

JP said...

Eh, not really hating on JA, just sick of reading about who's "the next" this and that.

Fully hating on Donnie Wads, though.

dcrock said...

Signings. I need signings.

JP said...

@ dcrock: Here you go.

The Falconer said...

I have to say that so far I like what I'm hearing out of Anderson. But talk is cheap and all that will matter are results eventually. I HOPE it works out well, I'm just not counting on any "Booudreauesque" miracles. Anderson has worked very hard and with success in the minors so perhaps he can make it work at the next level.

CaptnClark said...

Haha,"Tampa Basement", LOL.