The end of the NHL’s regular season seems like a simultaneous baptism and wake.
For the 53.3 percent of teams that qualify for the playoffs, now is the time to celebrate the creation of something good – and the promise of even better times ahead; for the league’s other 46.7 percent, mid-April means morose post-mortems and regrets to haunt the whole of their off-season.
But there’s something else more than a quarter – 28.6 percent, to be precise – of this season’s non-playoff teams have in common: they’re all the products of the NHL’s longest-tenured GM/coaching tandems.
Buffalo’s Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff have been professional partners since 1997.
Nashville’s David Poile and Barry Trotz have helmed their franchise since its inaugural season began in 1998.
Likewise for Minnesota’s Doug Risebrough and Jacques Lemaire, who had been working together since the turn of the century.
And if you still believe Kevin Lowe has a part in the Oilers’ day-to-day decisions, you could argue he and bench boss Craig MacTavish also have more or less stayed side-by-side since 2000.
At one point or another, each of the aforementioned pairings has been held aloft as an example of why consistency in management is the way to build an NHL franchise. And now that all four of those groups are out of the post-season mix, I’d like to humbly, and with the use of italics to emphasize my point, pose the question – whatexactly have any of them won?
The Wild has emerged victorious in just 11 playoff games (eight in one season) in their eight-season history.
The Sabres have rightfully been praised for predicting the lay of the league’s post-lockout land, but salary cap constraints and strategic errors have whittled their roster down each season and they now have missed the playoffs two straight years.
The Predators have valiantly fought through tough economic circumstances to stay competitive for the past five years, but there is no skirting the fact they’ve yet to win so much as three playoff games in a single round.
The Oilers had a memorable run to the Cup final in 2006, however otherwise have failed to make the playoffs in five of their previous six seasons.
Not exactly the mirror image of a Ken Holland or Lou Lamoriello achievement sheet, I’d say.
The last thing you should take away from where I’m going with this is the suggestion any of those eight men are incompetent, or even average, at what they do. On the contrary; I believe all have shown enough, both as individuals and via their teams’ performances at various times, to deserve another kick at the can.
I also think it would be beneficial for each group of two to stay together. I just think each duo could benefit from a change of scenery.
There’s a reason why tenures of five years or more are exceptions and not rules in upper-level hockey management. Too much time passes and in that time too many bad memories pile up for too many people emotionally invested in the team.
Whether those bad memories are a result of injuries, bad luck or poor management is of no consequence. All fans know is what they can brag about and what they’ve excused away. And when they excuse away far more than they’ve bragged about, it’s virtually impossible to win public support back.
That’s where most of those four non-playoff teams are at today. Lemaire already has announced he won’t return as Wild coach; MacTavish is currently spoken of in NHL circles with the type of respect always afforded those presumed destined for an imminent date with the coaching guillotine; some hardcore loyalists in Buffalo are wondering how much further the Sabres can go under the present setup; and even the Jack Adams Award-worthy showing by Trotz this year won’t save him from the hot seat if Nashville doesn’t make the playoffs in 2010.
Nobody takes pleasure in seeing these tandems labor under the weight of squandered opportunities and misjudgments great or small. I’ve always said I’d love to see what Regier and Ruff, or Trotz and Poile, could do together with a cap ceiling team. And you’d hope a wise team owner out there might realize, ‘Hey, hiring an established duo that trusts and understands one another after years of working together might expedite my team’s rebuild.’
Unfortunately, in this age of hyper-analysis and ceaseless debate, the only guys who get to feel comfortable in their roles are GMs who’ve stockpiled mulligans by the dozens, while winning multiple championships.
That’s why Lamoriello and Holland each could survive two Wade Redden-type contracts and a Dustin Penner offer sheet to be named later. That’s why, in Colorado, they’re looking to Pierre Lacroix to return to the Avs and straighten stuff out on the quick.
Last week, I saw reunited comedy duo Cheech and Chong perform on a tour that was their first in decades. They still had it; all they needed to rekindle the magic was a break from the norm and a different time and separate place to be born, and prosperous, again.
The same may prove true for Poile and Trotz, Lowe and MacTavish, Risebrough and Lemaire, and Regier and Ruff.
Each of those tandems may eventually steer their charges to hockey’s ultimate glory. But even the savviest sailors understand that when you fight the sea for a living, vacating vessels inevitably becomes part of the job.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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