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Another One Bites the Dust
Who really cares?
12/7/2021 - By Ryan Hall

Well, with the firing of Alain Vigneault by the Philadelphia Flyers that makes 4 coaches who have been 'relieved of their duties' so far this season. Barely a quarter of the way through the season and already on a record setting pace. Forget about McDavid and Draisaitl and Ovechkin, the real race is to see who can purge the most staff members.

Of course, coaching changes are as old as the game itself. But you have to wonder why clubs do it so early in the campaign. Or rather, why didn't they do it during the offseason? Are you telling me that Chicago, Vancouver, and Philly all looked at their rosters and thought "we got a real shot, if only our coaching holds up!" Not a chance.

I know that it's easier to fire the coach versus firing the players. Yes, sometimes s new voice seems to change everything (see Berube, Craig). I also recognize that GM's will fire the coach as a way to buy themselves more time. However, in the modern analytic driven NHL, what exactly does a head coach do? They don't seem to have much to do as most staffs have specialists for every tiny aspect of the game. Gone are the days when Scotty Bowman actually taught his players anything.

Fans know this and direct their anger towards assistants who can't fix a special teams problem, goalie coaches who can't unlock a tenders technique, or any other small flaws that become the focal point of an aggrieved fanbase. At best, a Head Coach is a middle-manager, PR specialist, and sacrificial lamb for the work everyone else does.

Which begs the question: why do teams spend so much money on these guys?

Let's take a look at the Sharks for a Case Study.

Can anyone tell me what positive changes Coach Boughner has brought to the club? As opposed to the work done by assistants Rocky Thompson, John Madden, and Evgeni Nabokov? Has Coach B unlocked the abilities of youngsters like Mario Ferraro and Jonathan Dahlen, or is that a product of Mike Ricci? Does he bring accountability to the squad, or is that the result of having a staff full of ex-players who can command the respect of the room?

This isn't meant to downplay the work of Coach Boughner, but as I watch other teams fire their coaches I wonder "why?" What are they hoping to achieve when it can be argued the role doesn't have that large of an impact on what takes place on any given day? Lucky, hot streaks, and health seem to matter much more - all of which are beyond the coaches control.

Maybe it's time for clubs to start spending less on their head coach and more on building a staff that can honestly assess the abilities of the players on the roster? Spend that extra cash on scouting and development, two areas that really do impact the fortunes on a franchise. Once clubs knew exactly what they had, and what they were developing, expectations could be properly managed leading to fewer in-season firings.

Sure, it would make for fewer headlines, but then again who really cares about these firings for more than a few moments? Let's leave the record setting to the players on the ice, and save the coaching changes for April and May when they can get the attention they truly deserve; which is none.


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