What do we Really Know About NHL Coaches?

This is the original Reggie Dunlop. His name is John Brophy, and he’s a legend in hockey lore the way Margaret Trudeau is a legend in rock and roll history: something obviously happened and since then the stories keep getting better. It’s impossible these many years later to figure out fact from fiction, and we’re left to chuckle and wink.

The NHL is a pretty old damn league for us to have so little on record in terms of how coaches handle a multitude of problems on a daily and yearly basis. Do they roll 3 lines or 4? Do they prefer a veteran bench (4line, 3rd pairing) and why do some have powerplays that resemble the 80s Oilers and others look like they’re trying to piss off the people in the stands?

There’s a lot we don’t know about coaches, and it isn’t getting any better. Here’s a rundown of ALL of the coaches in the NHL and WHA from the summer of 1978 and what one publication said about them:

  1. Scotty Bowman, Montreal: He is a taskmaster who demands perfection. Now 45, he once said he didn’t expect to coach past 50. Bought 240 acres of land near a small lake and he intends to be a farmer.
  2. Bobby Kromm, Detroit: He was inherited by GM Ted Lindsay, as he was signed on by Lindsay’s predecessor Alex Delvecchio when his Winnipeg (WHA) contract expired.
  3. Johnny Wilson, Pittsburgh: Strong and inspirational disciplinarian. He earned plaudits as coach of Canada’s entry at last year’s World Championships. He made an immediate impression on the Pens last year by putting them through the most physical training camp of their history.
  4. Bob Berry, Los Angeles: Jack Kent Cooke said “Berry was my first choice.” His entire coaching experience consists of 20 games in the minors (Springfield). Believes Fred Shero is that last real coaching innovator.
  5. Tom McVie, Washington: McVie isn’t glued to old ways. At trainig camp he had a machine that shot tennis balls at his goaltenders at 85MPH every three seconds.
  6. Don Cherry, Boston: A master manipulator of his players and the press. He knows what he wants and doesn’t mess around. He doesn’t want stars on his team, prefering what he calls the “working class.”
  7. Roger Neilson, Toronto: His approach is as unorthodox as the manner in which he accepted the Toronto job. He gave his okay on the telephone from Johannnesburg, South Africa, where he was visiting a friend. He relies heavily on videotape to review games. He is defensive minded.
  8. Marcel Pronovost, Buffalo: A tough disciplinarian from the old school. Carries a briefcase filled with charts, notes and statistics. Some of his current players call him a good teacher.
  9. Harry Howell, Minnesota: Works on an even keel. Was not a crunching type defender, got the job done with an acute sense of positioning which he will urge on his young North Stars.
  10. Al Arbour, NYI: Employs defensive system that puts a premium on blocked shots. Gives written tests to his players on strategy.
  11. Bob McCammon, Philadelphia: Will have to work hard to get the confidence of Flyers players after their roller coaster ride with Fred Shero.
  12. Fred Shero, NYR: Inventive, secretive, off-beat. Likes to wear rumpled raincoat and tinted glasses which make him look like an undercover agent. A try anything strategist. Players complain they do not understand him.
  13. Fred Creighton, Atlanta: Fiesty, ornery guy who doesn’t tolerate silly mistakes. Can be heard screaming at team after losses. Likes a physical style with emphasis on positioning. Willing to give rookies a chance.
  14. Bob Pulford, Chicago: Also GM. Demanding and tireless. Runs grueling practices and has cerebral approach to the game. Admirer of football coach George Allen, he stresses defense.
  15. Pat Kelly, Colorado: Salty, tough guy who played for Eddie Shore.
  16. Harry Neale, Vancouver: Jogging devotee runs 5 miles a day. Coached Ohio State 66-70.
  17. Barcley Plager, St. Louis: Credited with developing young players Bob Hess, Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter.
  18. Jacques Demers, Quebec (WHA): Likes his teams to play disciplined, defensive hockey. Brutally honest.
  19. Larry Hillman, Winnipeg (WHA): A player’s coach if there ever was one. Strictly his own man in the way he does things. Low profile coach who consults his captain before making any big decisions. Admirer of Punch Imlach.
  20. Bill Dineen, New England (WHA): Personable coach, very good with young players.
  21. Glen Sather, Edmonton (WHA): Bright and dynamic, he’s livened up the Edmonton scene. Nosy behind the bench. Studied child psychology. Saved the lives of two Edmonton teenagers last winter when their car went off a road, rolled down an embankment and caught fire. Disciple of Sam Pollock.
  22. Pat Stapleton, Indianapolis (WHA): Has six kids.
  23. John Brophy, Birmingham (WHA): Loathes would be scoring champions who refuse to check. A big part of young Rod Langway’s quick progress. Preaches disciplined, defensive hockey.

The 24th team, Cincinnati Stingers (WHA) did not list a coach. There’s some funny stuff in there, some interesting insights and maybe a few notes that will interest you.

My question to you is, 29 years later how much more do we know about NHL coaches and what they do to help their teams win? Aren’t there a group of questions we can ask about them (starting this winter) in order to improve our knowledge of them? Is anyone else interested in this stuff? Gabriel Desjardins’ tremendous website has a ton of information available that addresses many things coaches do differently from other coaches, and it can be measured against the rest of the league.

I think it’s time we got to work on it.

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17 Responses to "What do we Really Know About NHL Coaches?"

  1. Oilman says:

    I’ve often wondered if there is any logic that goes into an NHL coaches hiring other than his previous win/loss ratio, his name, and his past allegiance/playing history with a certain club….you would think that a statistical analysis of his coaching tendancies compared to the type of players in the lineup would have value….although apparantly not as much value as non-team related people may think……….now I’m not quite sure what I’m saying or whether I’ve won or lost my own arguement……man it’s hot!

  2. CrazyCoach says:

    As a long time coach with years of experience and knowledge, I would look at the following factors:

    1) Technical knowledge

    2) Ability to teach

    3) Ability to motivate

    4) Ability to work in a pressure-filled environment.

    5) Experience (coaching & playing)

    6) Philosophy of style (Jaques Lemaire Vs. Glen Sather)

    7) Ability to work on a team (GM, owner, etc.)

    8) Personal philosophy (How do they view losing?)

    That would be the beginning of my list.

  3. Lowetide says:

    cc: How do you view the current Oilers procurement against the backdrop of MacT as coach? My own feeling is that the button down group that made the finals and the “Vaunt” that they’ve been picking up since then (Lupul, Souray) aren’t strictly speaking MacT types.

    Maybe I’m being unfair to him as a coach, but at what point does the team abandon playing to the coach’s strengths and (as Louise would say) “take what they give you?”

  4. CrazyCoach says:

    Hey LT,

    Souray and Lupul definitely do not fit into MacT’s philosophy of taking care of your own end first before thinking about scoring goals. MacT is very similar to Ken Hitchcock in that aspect.

    Some players like Lafleur could never fit into a system, but they were guy frickin lafleur, not Joffery Lupul.

    Once again we’re going to see MacT’s style of playing the vets until they drop, which to me has always been a downfall of his. Everyone in Oilersland always talks about their inevitable Christmas slide, but I would somewhat attribute that to the Vets needing a break. Were I MacT (and god knows I wish I was), I would probably run the 3rd and 4th line out there at least once more per period starting in November.

    My guess in regards to the team now is that they will buy into the system or sit on the bench, especially the forwards. Have you ever noticed how much more harsh MacT is on forwards? The D-men get a little more slack than the forwards do, and the goalies it seems (outside of the Conkannen blip) can do no wrong. I know I wouldn’t allow Roli to pull that sullen starving artist act on my bench.

  5. IceDragoon says:

    Good day, Lain.

    Sorry for nit-picking, but that would be…

    “Take what the game gives you.”

    simply put…

    Work within your capabilities/position/system/etc. and capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves.

    Altho many coaches do, indeed, ‘take what they (GMs) give you’; MacT has been actively involved in KLo’s pro player decisions since the lockout. I think he has an ‘eyes wide open’ opinion of assembling a team, and thus, cuts KLo some slack when the pieces don’t fit perfectly.


  6. IceDragoon says:


    On MacT’s bench, Huddy is responsible for the D. He makes all in game decisions and the pats on the back or reprimands are his to give.

  7. Black Dog says:

    cc – agreed on the 3rd/4th line philosophy – if you have the horses – never understood Pat Quinn’s insistence on giving Sundin the same ES icetime as guys like, well, anyone, to be honest but having said that I think if you have four lines then you roll them.

    on 05/06 until they ran into injury problems before the allstar break MacT was running four lines pretty well (of course that team was a veteran team) and I remember how they would run roughshod over the opposition in the third period – a result of that I think.

    When Moreau and Peca and others were hurt then he shortened the bench and suddenly there was that lull you’re talking about.

    Lull might hit in November this year – he has, what, eight veterans and two of those are Sanderson and Reasoner.

    great stuff btw LT – having six kids you’d have to figure Whitey Stapleton could be organized or maybe that’s why he went into coaching – to get away :)

  8. CrazyCoach says:

    I Know one of the hardest things you have to do as a coach is balance your icetime. How do you manage to keep your top players happy and keep your bottom guys involved enough that they can learn the position and step up when a regular goes down with an injury?

    It is a tricky balance. Scorers need to get into a rythm and 3rd and 4th liners need to get some playing time. One of the better things MacT does is teach his 3rd and 4th lines faceoff responsibility. That goes a long way.

  9. Lowetide says:

    Louise: That’s why I’m wondering about the makeup of this team. I’m hoping Huddy and co. know something about Souray we don’t know but the only thing I can think of is that they plan to have him on the PP every chance they get and then platoon him at EV on the third pairing when the opposition is playing their plumbers.

  10. Black Dog says:

    cc – what do you think about MacT using guys like Horcoff, Stoll and Smyth (sob) as pretty big guys on the PK? I know the first two are great taking faceoffs but imo if your third and fourth liners can be put into that role then you’re gaining a lot. Carolina’s fourth line barely saw the ice at ES but the Adamses (Adamssss?) were huge for them on the PK.

    As you said its all about striking a balance and if Horcoff and Smyth are amongst your top four PK guys then you have no choice but to use them, I guess, but I was really hoping that MacT would give a lot more icetime to Thoresen in that role last season. I thought he was really suited to it. And that way you have a guy who is really contributing.

    That was my issue with people who complained about Laraque not coming back – now, granted teams seemed to take a lot of liberties with them last season so maybe I should just stuff it – but the guy barely played at all once things really got down to the nitty gritty. Basically your short one man on the bench and I can’t see why you would do that.

    On the other hand Anaheim won with pretty well three lines last year so what do I know.

  11. CrazyCoach says:


    I always questioned why Smyth was out so much. His style is conducive to injuries, especially on the PK< where you know he will block shots.

    I would try to pair Horcoff, Stoll, and Reasoner with Hemmer, Pisani, and someone on the 4th line. YOu have 6 guys there who could eat up PK minutes and there is an element to a counter attack on a turnover. Three sets, 40 seconds each, goodbye penalty.

    At least that would be my line of thinking on that matter.

  12. Black Dog says:

    The first three for the draws (plus they’re all decent to very good on the PK).

    Hemsky but not Moreau?

  13. Asiaoil says:

    LT – you know I’m modestly optimist that Souray will be OK. He said all the right things at his press conference about playing well at both ends of the ice – and he has his big contract. Souray knew that the only way to get his dollars was to put up gaudy PP numbers – and now that he’s done it and has been rewarded – he may feel free to play a better two way game. Here’s hoping anyway. The other reason he probably feels OK about EDM is that Pitkanen is there and they can share the offensive load. This helps BOTH guys.

    I see the defense working out like this if we keep the exisxting guys:

    PP Minutes
    Souray Pitkanen (1st unit)
    Tarnstrom Stoll (2nd unit)

    PK minutes
    Souray Staios (1st unit)
    Pitkanen Greene (2nd unit)

    ES Minutes
    3b)Tarnstrom (with Staios after PP)

    Basically Souray sucks up a ton of special team ice time and Tarnstrom plays a bit with Staios at ES – make sense? But I’m not sure how things will work out since we only have 3 RH shots on defense right now and only one is a vet (Staios) with 2 kids (Greene and Gilbert). It would make a pretty massive difference if Greene could handle #4 minutes with Pitkanen on the 2nd pair – but I really don’t know if that’s realistic.

    Oh yeah – and I deal Smid in a millisecond for a big young winger with some top 6 offensive potential – like Dustin Brown (plays behind Frolov) or Wolski (plays behind Smyth and Brunette). Think Wolski may be available?

  14. Devin says:

    You’d have to think that, given past performances, the following ice time tweaks would be no-brainers for a team looking to dominate on the PP.

    10- reduce PK, increase PP
    28- increase PK
    19/18- no goddamn PP minutes
    and 83- increase PP (should play all 2 minutes a-la Kovalchuk and others)

    MacT has always heavily used 34 at ES, but I think to stay above water this year guys like 78 and 28 are also going to have to pick up more ES work and try to come out close to even.

    How MacT manages this imbalanced roster will be very interesting to watch (this is from someone who stuck with it for the dreaded last 20 G last year because watching where he put the rookies was very interesting by itself). I just don’t get why Peterson got so much PP time as Bergy sat and rotted — he’d seemed to have turned a corner and gotten firmly above 4 PPP/60 right around then too. Another MacT mystery?

  15. IceDragoon says:


    There is no doubt that Souray was an adjustment in KLo’s master plan. This GMing thing is fluid… kinda like the game itself. Need a strong ‘read and react’.

    You can be sure that KLo, MacT & Huddy have studied every bit of video they could get their hands on and they probably chatted with Souray. (Listen to the the PC again… He’s willing to learn. Where did that come from? ;-D)

    If Huddy thinks that Sheldon’s got it, he’ll find and utilize it.

    I’ve always had high respect for Huddy and last year he showed me it is warranted, in spades.

    Our D wasn’t bad. They were waaay toooo young and/or hurt. But, they played a simple game, in tougher situations than they’d handled before, and for the most part, excelled within their own capabilities. If the forwards had provided the consistent close support they needed… we wouldn’t have drafted Gagner. ;-p

    The D, as it stands, doesn’t worry me.
    Perplex me? yes.

    Anyone know if Souray has played RD?


    sorry… forgot to say thanx for your input. I’m a sucker for coaching perspectives and even find that I get a better read on players by watching the coaches.


  16. Devin says:

    asiaoil- didn’t see your post. I agree with you except on one point – I think Smid plays bigger ES minutes this year than Tarnstrom. Just a hunch. Btw, for fun, here are the PP results, new and old (PPP/60)

    Old setup
    Stoll 4.21
    Sykora 3.96
    Bergeron 4.45
    Tjarnqvist 2.97

    New setup
    Pitkanen 2.98
    Tarnstrom 2.28 (05-06)
    Souray 7.31? (from memory…)

    The same
    Horcoff 4.87
    King Ales 5.45

    So, apart from Souray’s huge numbers on a crazy PP team last year, what makes everyone think our PP will be more effective this year again? Why did we trade Bergeron ffs!? note two above players with identical PP rates last year- surprised?

  17. CrazyCoach says:

    Louise you are welcome. I sometimes view the game too much from a coaching point.

    BDHS, I totally forgot about Moreau. Turf Hemmer and put him out with Either Stoll or Horcoff

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