When you think of coaches Mike Babcock and Peter Laviolette, you think of winning.
On the one hand you have Babcock, a McGill graduate who started his North American coaching career at Red Deer College in Alberta in 1988. Babcock captained his McGill squad as a player and moved to England for one year where he was player-coach for a Whitley Warriors team that finished two points shy of a championship.
After that, it was back to Canada for his start in Red Deer where Babcock spent three seasons, winning the provincial collegiate championship and coach of the year honors in 1989. A brief stint with the Western League’s Moose Jaw Warriors was followed by a return to university hockey with the University of Lethbridge. There, Babcock won Canada West coach of the year honors and led the Pronghorns to their first-ever post-season appearance and a surprising national title.
Babcock’s success led him to the Spokane Chiefs of the WHL, where he coached six seasons, winning West Division coach of the year honors twice, but losing in the WHL final twice as well. And it’s not as though Babcock had a lineup of future NHL stars, as Bryan McCabe, Brad Ference and Jason LaBarbera were some of the most noteworthy names on his rosters.
Babcock then spent two years with Anaheim’s American League affiliate in Cincinnati before coaching two years with the Ducks, losing in the Cup final once. And, of course, for the past six seasons Babcock has been at the helm of one of hockey’s best teams in Detroit, where he has one Stanley Cup championship in two appearances (plus an Olympic gold medal).
On the other hand, you have Laviolette, one of the best American-born coaches of all-time. After spending a 10-year playing career bouncing around the minors, Laviolette got his start with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers in 1997. After only one season there, he moved on to coach the AHL’s Providence Bruins, where he won the Calder Cup and coach of the year distinction in his first season. Like Babcock’s Chiefs, Laviolette’s Bruins were not a team built on stars; they were led by 102-point man Randy Robitaille, a mark the center didn’t come close to matching again.
Laviolette spent one more season in Providence and one season as an assistant with the parent club in Boston before moving to Long Island as the lead man for two seasons. His Islanders teams qualified for the post-season both years, but failed to win a playoff round. However, the 42 wins the team posted in 2001-02 is the highest total the Islanders have had since they won 50 in 1983-84.
Laviolette then moved on to the Carolina Hurricanes for five seasons, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2005-06. He replaced John Stevens mid-season as coach of the Flyers last year and, after qualifying for the playoffs by the slimmest of margins, led his team to the Stanley Cup final.
Both Babcock and Laviolette have had illustrious careers, are in their mid-40s and have been nominated for the Jack Adams in the past – yet neither has been named top coach in the NHL. Clearly, both are overdue.
GAME OF THE MONTH: Central Division upstarts St. Louis and Columbus have had their moments in the sun this year, but through two months, the Red Wings are 5-0-0 against their division – including two wins against Columbus in a home-and-home this past weekend. Detroit is proving it’s still Secretariat to the rest of the division’s Sham.
RISING: Atlanta bench boss Craig Ramsay was an also-ran on our initial list, but his stock is quickly rising. Ramsay’s Thrashers are sub-.500 against their division, but have taken five of a possible eight points from Washington. The team is in the midst of a five-game winning streak and, surprisingly, has one of the best offenses in the game.
FALLING: Terry Murray’s Kings are having a horrific end to November, losing to San Jose and Columbus before earning only two of a possible eight points on an East Coast swing. A month ago they were close to the top of the West; now they’re in ninth.
Rebound was supposed to be helped by return of Jiri Hudler, who has worst plus-minus on the team (minus-5) and has been a healthy scratch a few times. The Wings have the most points in the West despite having played the fewest games.
A wild 8-7 loss to Tampa Bay Nov. 18 prompted the coach to rest surprising young goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, which spurred a three-game winning streak.
The Habs are the only team to have a GAA less than 2.00 and have the second-best penalty kill at 90.1 percent. The power play was a major concern early on, but it’s been on the mend lately.
Moving Dustin Byfuglien to defense is proving to be a stroke of genius. The Thrashers offense and PP are clicking, but they need to reel in goals-against and PK.
Lack of wingers is always a concern, but who would have thought this team would have the league’s best PK with Jordan Staal out of the lineup for every game so far?
Fifth-best PP, third-best PK, second-fewest shots-against per game, seventh-most shots-for per game – yet the Lightning have allowed more goals than they’ve scored. Still, they hold a playoff spot and are vastly improved over last season.
The NHL’s best PP is accompanied by a stingy PK, which has improved greatly over last season.
The league’s top team must be represented. While the offense isn’t far-and-away the best as it was last season, the Caps have taken great strides at being better all-around – as their improved PK and shots-against average shows.
The Blues still allow the fewest shots-against per game, but their offense is lacking. Missing T.J. Oshie and Roman Polak hurts – and so does the team’s five-game losing streak in mid-November in which they were outscored 28-12.
The 2008-09 AHL coach of the year is balancing his goalie tandem well. Putting Nash, Voracek and Brassard together has paid off. PP needs serious attention, though.
OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: It might seem strange the overachieving team currently sitting second in the West isn’t represented in the Jack Adams rankings. However, Marc Crawford’s Dallas Stars have the 20th-ranked power play, 27th-ranked penalty kill, a mediocre offense and get outshot by more than three per game. Hard to imagine they’ll keep winning with those stats. Other Notables: John Tortorella, Dave Tippett, Joel Quenneville, Claude Julien.
What are your thoughts on the rankings? Who should be No. 1? Let us know in the comments section below.
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