AHL Coaches A Hot Commodity
06/17/2011 9:46 AM - Mike Peck
How good was the AHL’s West Division last season? Not only was the play on the ice impressive, apparently the coaching was as well. In the last week alone, three head coaches from the division have been promoted to the NHL.
Milwaukee’s Lane Lambert was promoted to Nashville last week as assistant with the Predators and on Friday it was announced that Texas Stars bench boss Glenn Gulutzan will be the head coach with Dallas and Houston’s Mike Yeo will be the head coach of the Minnesota Wild.
I’m not going to claim to know these three coaches very well after a little interacting with them, but I can tell you all three of them are class acts and it’s great to see them get promoted to the NHL. And I loved the coaching jobs they did in the AHL.
Lambert’s teams in Milwaukee were ALWAYS good. In four seasons as head coach, his team averaged nearly 45 wins a year. Yes, they had some great talent go through Brewtown like Cal O’Reilly, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson as of late. But I always left games wondering how they were winning so many games in Milwaukee with what seemed to be inferior talent compared to a lot of teams in the Western Conference.
I think it’s safe to say coaching had a huge part in the success as Lambert and his staff were able to fill in a lot of gaps with players like Chris Mueller, Ryan Thang and Gabrielle Bourque, who all stepped up played big roles in 2010-11. Of course great goaltending helps and that’s what Milwaukee has had recently with Pekka Rinne and Mark Dekanich.
Similarly, Gulutzan and Yeo worked with a little less and got the most out of their teams while developing prospects. Coming into the 2010-11 season, Chicago, Oklahoma City, Peoria and San Antonio really stocked up with some high-priced vets, but none of the four advanced past the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs with Chicago and San Antonio missing them all together.
Gulutzen was able to take a team last season in Texas to the Calder Cup Finals that lacked an offensive star for most of the season and brought a group of prospects together who were dispersed all over the AHL map in 2008-09 because Dallas didn’t have an AHL affiliation.
Yeo took an Aeros team that missed the playoffs in ’09-10 and guided them to the Calder Cup Finals this spring with a rookie goaltender. As a first year head coach, Yeo was a fast rising star that was too good for Minnesota to pass up.
That brings up the question about why certain guys are hired as head coach and why some are passed over. I’m thinking particularly about Mike Haviland, former Hogs head coach and the Blackhawks assistant.
Look at it like the stock market. Specifically with Gulutzan and Yeo because they were named head coaches, their stock is very high and it helped that they were promoted from within the organization. If Dallas or Minnesota had gone outside of the organization to hire their next coach, then Gulutzan and Yeo might not have been valued quite as high.
Timing plays a huge factor. Let’s say that Dallas and Minnesota picked someone else for their coaching vacancy, you’d have to think that the bench boss would be there for at least two seasons. Two years from now, Gulutzan or Yeo “stock” might not be as high.
Back to Havi-Does this mean that he is a worse coach now than he was when Chicago promoted him three years ago? Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, I would argue that he is a better candidate now than he was three-years ago because he’s been in the NHL and was a part of a Stanley Cup Championship.
But again, teams don’t want to let the next great coach slip through their fingers if that’s what they think what they have within the organization. Timing was better for Haviland to become assistant coach in Chicago in 2008-09 as Denis Savard was slotted into the head job.
Hope, of course, is not all lost for Havi. A guy that was in a similar situation as him was former Quad City Mallards head coach and most recently Detroit Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean. MacLean assisted Mike Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit for the last eight seasons before finally getting hired by the Ottawa Senators to serve as their head coach last week.
Other AHL coaches who have been promoted to the NHL this offseason already include Abbotsford’s Jim Playfair (assistant in Phoenix) and Portland’s Kevin Dineen (head coach in Florida). Claude Noel, who was behind the bench for the Manitoba Moose last season, is rumored to be a finalist for the NHL Winnipeg job as well.
So that means, right now, there are at least six AHL head coaching jobs open (including the new St. Johns team). That number doesn’t reflect coaching changes that will or could be made once affiliations are settled like the Chicago Wolves (who were with Atlanta).
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