As veteran hockey handicappers know, job security is become more and more of a luxury for coaches in the NHL every year as the pressure to win increases and the patience of management and ownership declines. It used to be that a coach would be given a few years, and that changes would never be made during the season. Now, though, coaching changes in the middle of the season are very common. Handicappers have the challenge of figuring out how a hockey team is going to respond after a midseason change is made, and that can be a real headache sometimes. There can be a positive side to these coaching changes for handicappers, though. They can provide a real insight into what the status of the team is and how the management feels about their short term prospects. You can tell whether they are optimistic and feel that they are close to being a good team, or if they are very negative and pessimistic about the short term future of the team and the way they are made up. Having that knowledge can be very useful in guiding your betting decisions regarding the team in the first weeks of the new coach. Here are five questions for NHL bettors to ask about the coaching transition to determine what clues can be learned about the state of the team:
Interim coach or full-time replacement? – A hockey team has a choice to make when they decide to fire a coach. They can either choose an interim coach – typically an assistant – to finish out the season, or they can hire a new replacement coach full time. An interim coach typically tells us that the past coaching situation was not good, and that a change was essential and urgently needed. It also says that the team doesn’t necessarily know what direction it plans to go next, or what is needed for the team in the longer term. If a NHL team fires a coach and soon replaces him with a new full time coach then it says that the team knows what they need, and they have taken precise action to get it. The full-time replacement, then, makes it easier to believe that the team is being well run and that management feels that they are close to their goals.
Same basic style or a complete change? – A NHL team can go one of two ways when choosing a new coach for a midseason replacement. They can either find a guy who can do what they have already been doing but hopefully do it better, or they can choose someone who does things entirely differently. For example, if the fired coach played a wide open offensive style then the team could hire another offensive coach in the hopes that he could better motivate the players, or they could hire a defensive minded coach who will change the approach of the team fundamentally. Both approaches can be effective in the long term, but in the shorter term the hockey coach with a similar style is far more likely to have success than the coach looking to change everything the team does.
New face or established veteran? – A team is taking more of a risk if they hire a new face – a guy who has never been a head coach in the NHL – because it can be harder to determine whether the coach will be able to get the respect of his players and get his system established quickly. Smart NHL handicappers understand that an established veteran will have a better chance of quickly establishing himself because his reputation will precede him and players will know what to expect.
Player’s coach or hard-ass? – If a team hires a player’s coach then you can tell that management likes the team they have and how they were basically playing, but they felt that the last coach just wasn’t getting through to the players effectively enough. In other words, management is blaming the coach for the issues. If, on the other hand, they hire a coach who is very hard on players – a screamer with a bad attitude – then you can tell that management is frustrated by the way the players are playing, and feel that they aren’t getting as much out of the players as they expect to. It’s the players fault that they are struggling. Knowing what the management is feeling about their hockey team and where the blame lies can be very valuable in assessing the team going forward and where smart NHL bettors will be putting their money.
Suited to current personnel? – When a new hockey coach is implemented you can quickly have a sense of who he is and what he will be looking to do with the team. The next step, then, is to look at whether he is likely to be able to do it with the team he currently has. If the NHL coach plays a strict defensively disciplined game then he needs to have defensively competent and disciplined players around him to work with. If the team is full of offensive minded players who lack defensive discipline then you know that the short term expectations from management are minimal, and that a lot of changes are likely to come before the team is able to perform at the highest level. If the coach and the personnel are well matched, though, then you know management is intensely focused on winning right away and that will influence your betting.