Why Coaching Makes All The Difference


Coaching in the NHL is a daunting task. With a plethora of personalities and playing styles, it is often up to the coaching staff to put the proper formula together for success. These attributes can change day by day, minute by minute, second by second. Players are often forced to change their styles and thinking depending on their opponent and a given situation. Coaches are responsible for knowing how their players think and how they react during game situations. Game planning doesn’t only incorporate strategies, but personalities as well.

Take the case of the New Jersey Devils, for example. At the start of the season, then coach John Mac Lean (no relation to the Bruce Willis character in the Die Hard movies) was charged with developing a winning strategy for his team. While it was apparent that he was well prepared as far as game planning was concerned, he had no clue as to the strengths and weaknesses of his club, the different personalities and their past successes and failures.

With the Devils sitting at the bottom of the NHL, their GM Lou Lamoriello, one of the smartest and most respected executives in the league, decided to make a coaching change in an attempt to salvage what little was left of the season. He turned to his friend, Coach Jacques Lemaire, to do just that. Lemaire, along with his coaching staff, sat down for a couple of days, going over one game tape after another, in an attempt to recognize what was wrong with this club. They met with the players, to get their input, and came up with a strategy to incorporate an defensive style that would benefit the team offensively, since goals were at a premium for the Devils.

What came next was one of the most impressive runs in modern NHL history. The Devils won game after game, slowly creeping up the standings. And while the coach’s strategy was working, there were occasions it faltered. With his vast experience, Coach Lemaire knew the right time to call his timeout in order to get his team back on track. His ability to recognize his players’ mistakes, as well as the opposing team’s strategy, has as much to do with the team’s success as anything.

While this is an example of excellent coaching, there are more coaches in the NHL, experienced or not, who don’t take the time to take in all these factors. Montreal Canadiens’ Coach Jacques Martin, amongst others, is an example of this. Martin, with his unwavering belief that his “system” is the answer to everything, often ignores the feelings conveyed by his players. He sticks to what he thinks he knows, and quite often, the team suffers for it. Coaching without adjusting to opponents often leads to confusion, and confusion to losses.

His coaching also hurts productivity. Players like Scott Gomez and Michael Cammalleri, who are offensively talented, often lose out in the Martin system. They are often ahead of the play because of their speed, and trailed by their line mates simply because Martin continues to preach defensive responsibility. You can understand his thinking, considering the injuries on the Habs’ blue line, but the truth is they are still amongst the least productive teams in the league.

One can only imagine what it would be like to have an opened minded coach behind their teams bench. One who could adjust to any given game situation, regardless of the opponent. These type of tacticians are few and far between. Could you imagine Lemaire behind the bench of the Canadiens, Panthers, or Senators? Coaching is about more than Xs and Os. Good coaching wins games. Great coaching wins championships.

Next week, I’d like to answer your hockey questions, from beyond the bench. Email me at AskCoachK and I’ll do my best to answer your queries