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Searching for a Coach - Part 1

So it’s been a little over a month.  Now that everyone’s emotions are settled down, and the pro-Richards people have become used to the idea that he’s gone, I figured it was time for this editorial.

In a few other places where I have been able to opine, I have become well known for my dislike of Todd Richards.  This dislike is not about him as a person, as I am sure he is a good father, good husband, etcetera.  All of that being said, he never displayed abilities that I would classify as “good” when it comes to coaching an NHL team.

When you compare the level of play between various organizations in North America, it is fairly consistent in how the speed of the game is ranked; NHL, AHL, Major Junior, NCAA and then High School.  If you rank the NHL at 100% speed, the AHL would be about 80%, Major Junior 70%, NCAA 65% and high school 50%.

This breakdown of speed comparison between the North American leagues is important to note because it applies to a coaches ability to process the game.

There are a lot of intelligent hockey players that turn to coaching.  There are quite a few Jack Adams winners and nominees that barely played in the NHL.  For these coaches, the speed differential wasn’t necessarily in the head.  Players turned coaches like Bruce Boudreau were probably more deficient physically than mentally.  Dan Bylsma is another example of a player with limited NHL experience becoming a very good coach.  Being a defensive forward that brought stability to whichever teams he was part of, Bylsma’s career was cut short by injuries.

Saying that a player turned coach could be deficient physically isn’t a slam.  Physically, some humans are just not biologically gifted enough to play the game at the phyiscal level that the NHL requires.  Some people are not physically built to run a marathon, some are.

The same paradigm can be applied to how a brain processes information.

Going back to players as examples;
Jared Spurgeon is tiny and isn’t really built to stand up to the physical rigors of the NHL.  His processing power is amazing and he can process the game as fast and as well as anyone else out on the ice.  This makes him a passable NHL player, under-sized, but with an exceptional hockey IQ.
Benoit Pouliot is at the opposite end of the spectrum.  Pouliot has the physical attributes and he demonstrates it with his slick skating, deft puck handling, and all of his other attributes.  His processing power is horribly deficient and he absolutely cannot process the game at NHL speeds.  This is evident with so many examples that all you have to do is watch him play one shift, and you can tell that he just can’t think the game.

This also applies to coaches.

Todd Richards, contrary to all opinions covered previous to his appointment as the Wild head coach, just cannot process the game at NHL speeds.

If the AHL is 80% of the physical speed of the NHL, it is also only requires 80% of the processing speed in comparison to the NHL.  If a coach cannot process the NHL speed, it starts to show in the decisions that he will make during a game.

In his first season as head coach, this deficiency was displayed on every botched line change that led to an odd man rush which more often than not ended in a goal.  It was also displayed on the Power Play, where we gave up the league leading short handed goals against.  It was on display with just how often our defense pinched at the inappropriate time.  His first season was just a hot mess.

In his second season as head coach, the defensive lapses were fixed by the introduction of Rick Wilson.  With Rick Wilson running the defense, the players went back to the simple concept of boxing out and letting the goalie actually see the puck coming.  Of course, that is discounting Greg “This is how you screen your own goalie” Zanon.  When Rick Wilson was fully involved, our defense allowed the team to win.  When he was being over-ridden by Todd Richards, our Defense was lapsing, allowing the same problems that plagued the team last season.

A coach that is able to process the game at NHL speeds would remember at the start of the game that the home team has the last change.  If you are unsure about the definition of last change, here is a quick example.  When the game resumes after a TV timeout, the visiting team is required to put out their line.  The home team is allowed to change the match up, based on who the visitors send out.

Todd Richards? Our former head coach wouldn’t remember this until halfway through the second period.  More often than not, after a TV timeout, Mr. Richards would put his line out first.  The visitor would then adjust.  The Wild would not.  After seeing this pattern in person many times, I also started watching Rick Wilson and the other assistant coaches.  Mr. Wilson would stand there looking at Todd expectantly and then turn away. Dave Barr was as clueless as Todd Richards.

Visiting coaches would frequently take advantage of this, on Xcel Ice. Visiting coaches would take advantage of botched line changes or no line change at all last season.  This season, at least Former Head Coach Todd Richards didn’t leave the fourth line on the ice after the visitors were whistled for icing. This was easily reflected in the Wild home record versus the road record.  Why?

Last change on the road goes to the home team.

Now that the deed is done and the front office is commencing the search for the next coach, it is time to say goodbye to sub-par coaching.  It is imperative to find a coach that is capable of mixing lines.  It is imperative to find a coach that is an expert at adapting to the situations on the ice.  Simply put, it’s time to get a coach with an NHL caliber CPU.

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Tags: Benoit Pouliot Bruce Boudreau Dan Bylsma Dave Barr Greg Zanon Jared Spurgeon Rick Wilson Todd Richards

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