Way-Too-Early Grades for New NHL Coaches in 2013-14 Season

Jonathan Willis@jonathanwillisNHL National ColumnistOctober 9, 2013

Way-Too-Early Grades for New NHL Coaches in 2013-14 Season

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    The NHL season just started. For new coaches, that means the process of feeling out their rosters, deciding who works well together and instituting fresh systems is still on-going.

    Add that to the inherent randomness of hockey, which can make even a good team look bad and a bad team look good in the short term, and trying to form any kind of firm conclusion about how those new coaches have performed is clearly a fool's errand. 

    But it's also a fun fool's errand, so we've slapped way-too-early labels on all of the recent additions to the NHL coaching fraternity. 

Dallas Eakins, Edmonton Oilers

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    It's been a bumpy start for Dallas Eakins in Edmonton.

    Three games in, the Oilers have two losses, and if not for a fantastic third-period comeback that ended up being a shootout win, they would have been 0-3 to start the year.

    How much of that is on the coach? A lot of it falls on the players, especially on goaltenders Devan Dubnyk and Jason LaBarbera, neither of whom has been able to provide Edmonton with a quality start yet this season. Injuries to centres Sam Gagner and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins haven't helped, either; Nugent-Hopkins was the Oilers' best player in their win over the Devils and was sorely missed during his absence. 

    Grade: (C-) The disastrous two-game top line of Ryan Smyth, Taylor Hall and Ales Hemsky drags down Eakins' grade, but there are enough mitigating circumstances here for him to squeak out the pass.

Alain Vigneault, New York Rangers

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    The Rangers are off to a bit of a rocky start, and their game on Tuesday night—a 9-2 shellacking at the hands of the San Jose Sharks—makes that start seem even worse.

    There are mitigating factors. For one, the Rangers' schedule is pretty rough. All three of their games so far have been on the road, and Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose (the last in a back-to-back situation) aren't especially easy opponents. Only six games to go in this road trip! For another, the goaltending hasn't been all that good, with Henrik Lundqvist hovering below the .900 save percentage mark and Martin Biron even lower.

    Still, the Rangers are struggling both in terms of their record and their underlying numbers.

    Grade: (C-) Vigneault's job isn't going to get easier, unfortunately. Not only is the schedule against him, but Rick Nash left the game against San Jose early after taking an elbow to the head. As Newsday's Steve Zipay reminds us, Nash missed four games last season with what were believed to be the after-effects of a concussion.

Lindy Ruff, Dallas Stars

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    The Stars are 1-1, but Lindy Ruff has been unhappy following both games.

    After losing 4-2 to Florida, Ruff complained that the team had allowed far too many shots. "I hate 39 shots," Ruff told Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News. "For me, there’s no excuse for that."

    That loss was followed by a narrow 2-1 victory over Washington, in which goaltender Kari Lehtonen took a cross check to the head. Ruff insisted that the team must respond to that kind of thing, and when asked, "Old school?" said, "Old school. Everybody ropes, everybody rides."

    If nothing else, he's clearly adapted to Texas already. 

    Grade: (C+) The Stars have been outshot in both of their early contests (and were crushed by Florida), but Ruff's lines in the early going make sense, and he's giving guys like Alex Chiasson and Valeri Nichushkin regular ice time.

Craig Berube, Philadelphia Flyers

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    The Philadelphia Flyers played their first game under new head coach Craig Berube Tuesday, and the result was their very first win of the season.

    It wasn't a perfect win, but people like Broad Street Hockey's Travis Hughes noticed positive changes:

    Overall, the Flyers looked much more energetic and much smoother at even strength, and the transition game was a whole lot cleaner than it was in the first few games. Good things to see.

    On the other hand, the Flyers still needed Steve Mason to be pretty close to perfect, and as the Columbus Blue Jackets could tell them, that's a less-than-ideal strategy in the long term.

    Grade: (B) One problematic win is a nice jump on three deeply problematic losses, though the Flyers were still outshot by one of the league's poorer clubs.

Patrick Roy, Colorado Avalanche

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    It's awfully difficult to critique a 3-0 start to the season.

    Roy has certainly showed no rookie hesitation behind the bench. By going after Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau in the season's opening game, Roy attracted both interest from fans (the article here at Bleacher Report is closing in on 100,000 reads) and official attention from the league, which fined him but chose not to suspend. 

    That confidence extends to the lineups; Roy has done things like shift Ryan O'Reilly to left wing and make unknown Andre Benoit his No. 1 defenseman.

    Grade: (A) Not only are the Avalanche winning hockey games, but they're significantly improving their underlying numbers along the way, which suggests that they'll keep winning more games than they did last season.

John Tortorella, Vancouver Canucks

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    With a 3-1 record to start the year and a track record of outshooting the other team, there wouldn't seem to be much to complain about at the start of Vancouver's John Tortorella era. 

    Except, of course, for the two things that everybody seems to harp on when Tortorella's name comes up: shot blocks and interactions with the media.

    On the first point, two Canucks (Alex Burrows and Jordan Schroeder) have already been hurt blocking shots, and since Tortorella is known as a shot-blocking coach this might be his fault, right? According to Cam Charron of Canucks Army, the answer is actually "no" because there's no correlation between teams blocking more shots and getting hurt more often.

    As for his treatment of the media, Glenn Healy kind of picked the one big fight Tortorella's had (details from Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski), and he can't be blamed too harshly for responding in kind.

    Grade: (A) If the team's winning, it's hard to imagine fans will particularly care if Tortorella is less than cordial with the media.