It's the best time of year!
From 1 to 30, here’s a ranking of the current head coaches going into the 2011-12 NHL season.
1. Mike Babcock, Detroit
In the NHL, it doesn’t get much better than Detroit’s current bench boss. Babcock, who has a Stanley Cup (2008) and an Olympic Gold Medal (2010) to his credit, is entering his seventh season with the Wings and has kept the team at its peak level most of the way. When the Wings have faced key injuries the last two years, Babcock has steered his club in the right direction. He is simply the best coach out there.
2. Todd McLellan, San Jose
The job McLellan has done in his three years in San Jose has flown under the radar. Under Ron Wilson, Team Teal couldn’t get past the second round. McLellan, a former disciple of Babcock, has taken the Sharks to back-to-back conference final appearances and has pushed a lot of the right buttons in the mean time.
3. Barry Trotz, Nashville
Is there any other coach in the league that does more with less? Year after year, amidst injuries or personnel losses, Trotz gets the best out of his players. When the Predators’ backs are against the wall, Trotz and company rise to the occasion. He finally got the Preds past Round 1, but unfortunately, his decade-long efforts have yet to result in a Jack Adams Award.
4. Dan Bylsma, Pittsburgh
Bylsma won the Jack Adams this season, his second piece of hardware in the last three years. The other one was the Stanley Cup, which he remarkably won as the interim for Pittsburgh in 2009. Bylsma has a career record of 114-56-19, is known to be a great motivator and, like a lot of the top NHL coaches, gets the best out of his team.
5. John Tortorella, NY Rangers
Over the last decade or so, Tortorella has proven himself as one of the top coaches in the NHL. ‘Torts’ won the Cup and Jack Adams in Tampa Bay in 2004 and has done an admirable in two-plus seasons with the Blueshirts. He’s not well-liked by the media, but he’s well-liked by most of his players.
6. Dave Tippett, Phoenix
One of the biggest reasons the Coyotes have emerged as a playoff contender the last two years is Tippett, the 2010 Jack Adams winner. Prior to his arrival, Wayne Gretzky failed to get the team anywhere. Under Tippett’s system, though, the ‘Yotes have become a pain in the sides of Western Conference opponents.
7. Lindy Ruff, Buffalo
There’s a reason why Ruff is the longest-tenured coach in the league. The 13-year bench boss always has the Sabres in playoff contention. This past season, Ruff became the 16th coach in league history to exceed the 500 victory mark. Ruff, who won the Jack Adams in 2006, is the all-time winningest coach in Sabres history.
8. Joel Quenneville, Chicago
Quenneville is ranked 10th on the all-time wins list, 4th amongst active coaches. He never experienced much playoff success until his Blackhawks won it all in 2010. In three years with the ‘Hawks, ‘Coach Q’ boasts a 141-73-28 record. His teams have made the playoffs in 12 of 14 seasons.
9. Guy Boucher, Tampa Bay
It’s only been one year, but Boucher drew rave reviews in his rookie coaching season. The whole new front office regime re-energized the organization, but it was Boucher that got the Lightning going in the right direction. His 1-3-1 defensive system mystified opponents in the playoffs, which enabled them to surprisingly advance to the conference finals.
10. Alain Vigneault, Vancouver
Vigneault was a strong candidate for the Jack Adams last year, the trophy he won in 2007. However, he wasn’t at his best in the playoffs. He mismanaged the goaltending situation against Chicago, and seemingly lost control of his team as the postseason went on. Vigneault is a good coach, but it helps that he is steering the ship of an incredibly talented club.
11. Claude Julien, Boston
The Bruins bench boss silenced his critics with a Stanley Cup victory this past spring. Julien has been around the block one or three times, and controls a solid defensive system that allows the B’s to be successful.
12. Randy Carlyle, Anaheim
Carlyle has also been often criticized, but his teams are always tough to face on a nightly basis. He’s had playoff success in his short time in Anaheim, including winning the Cup in 2007. Last month, Carlyle received a three-year extension.
13. Bruce Boudreau, Washington
Boudreau knows how to win in the regular season. Now he has to translate that success to the playoffs, which has been puzzlingly difficult in the last three years. Many thought he would get fired this past May, but the Caps stuck with him.
14. Jacques Martin, Montreal
Over his 16-year coaching career, Martin has racked up 600 wins with four teams, most of which coming in Ottawa. Aside from multiple division titles with the Sens, Martin’s most crowning achievement came in Montreal in 2010, when his 8th-seeded Habs advanced to the third round in dramatic fashion.
15. Peter Laviolette, Philadelphia
Laviolette has had an inconsistent coaching career. He does have two Cup final trips on his resume, including Carolina winning it all in 2006. Laviolette was also masterful in Philly in 2010. As much as he has succeeded, though, he has equally struggled at times.
16. Tom Renney, Edmonton
Due to his great teaching skills to youngsters, Renney was an instant fit in Edmonton. The Oilers were awful last year, but better days are ahead. Renney is expected to get the Oilers back to the playoffs in the next couple years, something he did in three of his four-plus seasons with the Rangers.
17. Terry Murray, Los Angeles
Murray has been coaching for 14 years, and two of his best coaching jobs have come in Los Angeles the last two years; the Kings won 46 games in each year. That said, Murray hasn’t had a ton of success, and may not be the right coach to put the Kings over the top.
18. Ron Wilson, Toronto
Out of all the active coaches, Wilson leads in victories. So why is he ranked in the lower half? First of all, despite the lack of talent in his time in Toronto, he has underachieved with the Original Six franchise. Also, his career record isn’t all that impressive. His Sharks were always disappointments come playoff time, and over the span of his career, he’s missed the playoffs more than he’s made them.
19. Davis Payne, St. Louis
Payne only has two years under his belt, but has shown some great potential behind the Blues’ bench. He was an interim hire in 2009-10, replacing Andy Murray, and had the Blues playing good hockey. It’s only a matter of time before he gets them into the playoffs.
20. Brent Sutter, Calgary
In New Jersey, Sutter couldn’t get the Devils out of the first round. In Calgary, the team hasn’t made the playoffs in Sutter’s two years. What is all the fuss about? Put simply, he doesn’t get the best out of his team, especially at key moments.
21. Peter DeBoer, New Jersey
I’ve thought all along that DeBoer is an underrated coach. He didn’t survive in Florida, but has a better chance to succeed with the Devils.
22. Jack Capuano, NY Islanders
Under Capuano’s direction, the Islanders played a lot better hockey than when Scott Gordon was still manning the bench. Once they overcame the ugly losing streak, the Isles went 25-21-8. It will be interesting to see what Capuano does in his first full season on Long Island.
23. Paul MacLean, Ottawa
Surprisingly, it took MacLean this long to get a head coaching gig. The 53-year-old spent the last eight seasons working under Babcock in Anaheim and Detroit. MacLean, like McLellan, probably learned a thing or two.
24. Claude Noel, Winnipeg
Noel is the first coach of the Winnipeg Jets 2.0. He has had success in the minor leagues, including winning the AHL’s Calder Cup in 2006 in Milwaukee. Noel was also briefly the interim in Columbus in 2010.
25. Paul Maurice, Carolina
Maurice is ranked the lowest out of all the veteran head coaches. One main reason why is that his teams have only made the playoffs in four of 12-plus seasons. I like the guy, but when you look at his track record it makes you wonder why he keeps getting chances as an NHL head coach.
26. Scott Arniel, Columbus
Arniel, who is in his second season behind the Blue Jackets’ bench, had success with AHL Manitoba before getting an NHL gig. Before it’s all said and done, he will do well in Columbus.
27. Joe Sacco, Colorado
The 2010 Jack Adams finalist had a nice first impression, but his second year in Colorado didn’t go as well. He mismanaged his goaltenders, lost the locker room at mid-season (when the team was in playoff contention) and isn’t well-liked by his players.
28. Mike Yeo, Minnesota
Yeo is only 37 years old but has a promising coaching career in front of him. He had an abundance of success in the AHL with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Yeo was also behind the bench with the 2009 Penguins. This is his first season with Minnesota.
29. Glen Gulutzan, Dallas
Gulutzan is yet another rookie coach put behind the bench this summer. He posted an impressive .636 winning percentage in the minors, with the last two years coming in Texas, the Stars’ AHL affiliate.
30. Kevin Dineen, Florida
Dineen may be ranked last on this list, but he’s been put good in a solid position to do well in Florida. Dale Tallon is his GM and Craig Ramsay is an assistant on the staff, which means Dineen is surrounded by quality hockey people in his first NHL head coaching gig.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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