The two paramount features of any coach who lasts in the NHL has two readily identifiable features. It doesn’t matter if they are a players coach or a disciplinarian. They can give horrid, boring press conferences or be great communicators. They can be first year coaches who paid their dues in the OHL, or be a retread who is in their third or fourth head coaching stint.
The two points every successful coach has short term or long, eastern conference or western are first an appreciation for the talent assembled on their roster and knowing where to deploy those men. The second is an identifiable system for the players to adhere to. Getting ‘the most’ out of given players isn’t even needed to have multi year runs with a single team.
Look at coaches who have won the Stanley Cup recently. The Pittsburgh Penguins under Mike Sullivan play a very specific form of defense you don’t see anyone else employ successfully. The Los Angeles Kings consistently took the ice with a system that made use of a rugged style, great defense, and you could have changed the uniforms and you still would have known who they were. The Chicago Blackhawks in good games or bad you know who it is, not by the names on the back or the logo or the front but by the style. Claude Julien has deployed a consistent, successful system of play as well.
In forty or so games under Bruce Cassidy, a head coach who was gone from the NHL for over a decade after a very short first stint in the NHL, what have we seen? Erratic play, disinterested or possibly just dismayed players, and nothing like consistency. We’ve seen marginal third line wingers like Riley Nash be deployed as top six centers. We’ve seen turnovers galore, and a smorgasbord of confusion. Are we seeing anything extra out of any player on the roster? I don’t think so.
We’ve established the two fundamentals of good coaches who stick around, and coaches who win. So what do we call a coach who can’t do either of those things? Short lived. We call them short lived.
In three games the Pittsburgh Penguins have allowed six goals and scored three. It’s not surprising that they are a game in the hole to the Senators in the Eastern Conference Finals. Some have blamed the boring style of play Ottawa head coach Guy Boucher instituted when he took the helm. That’s immaterial, unless Sullivan can force a change in the games, Boucher has no incentive to alter how his team plays.
Others have blames the battered blue line for the Penguins failure to be up three nothing and sixty minutes from a second Stanley Cup Final appearance in the Sullivan tenure. This is a much better culprit. The defensemen on the ice have failed to get the puck out and through the neutral zone with regularity. Given the injuries to Letang and the other top blueliners it isn’t as shocking as it might otherwise be. But it is still a problem.
It is a huge problem, perhaps an insurmountable one. The question of “Where do I find, skilled, smooth skating smart passing defensemen to help win a Cup?” is not a question that can be answered in May. You either have guys who can carry the load or you don’t.
What might be a better question is: Why aren’t we using more of our forward depth? Why can’t the Penguin’s dress five, or even four defense and load up the other side of the roster. If they play with four forwards and a defenseman on a regular basis, they are likely to generate more mismatches, more turnovers, and more scoring opportunities. Yes it will make the lone defender more vulnerable, but is that really any different than what we’ve seen through three games?
Is calling up Kevin Porter, or Jean-Sebastion Dea and giving them some extra time going to make matters worse? Is Josh Archibald so bad his 10 games this season where a critical failure for the organization? Be honest, the Pittsburgh Penguins have never been a team built on defense and many of the blueliners they’ve thrown over the boards in the last two decades have been indistinguishable from forwards anywhere other than the media guide. This is just the next step.