Midseason coaching changes in the NHL are reasonably common. They are also more significant than in any other major league sport because of the immediate impact a coaching change can have. A new coach in the NHL is often to significantly improve the performance of the team in a short time. That’s because small improvements to simple aspects of the game – like penalty kill effectiveness or discipline in their own zone, for example – can have a big impact in the outcome of games and are relatively easy to implement in a short time frame. Not all midseason changes are a success, though. Sometimes even new blood can’t stop the bleeding. For bettors it is obviously valuable to get a sense of which midseason NHL coaching changes stand a good chance for success, and which ones are not likely to improve the fates of the team. Here are six questions to ask to help decide which category a team with a new coach fits into:
Why was the change made? – There are obviously several factors that lead to a coaching change. Most times, though, you can quickly isolate the biggest or final cause of the change. It could be a losing streak, or a conflict with a player, or clear lack of disciplinary control of the team. Whatever the reason is, the more you can understand about it the more you can evaluate where the team is at at the time of the change. That means that you have an accurate starting point for assessing where the team is at and what they need to do to improve.
Was the old coach popular with the players and fans? – If the past coach was popular then the players are obviously going to be resistant to his departure and the new coach who takes his place. If he wasn’t popular, or if his message was increasingly falling on deaf ears, then the players won’t mind if the change was made, and may even be happy about the change.
Is the new coach known to the team? – If the new coach knows the core of his new team well then his job will be much easier in the short term than a coach that is totally unfamiliar with his new squad. The coach with familiarity knows what he has to work with, and has an easier basis to build an immediate relationship upon. For example, a new coach who was previously an assistant with the team, was formerly an assistant while many of the same players were still in town, or coached the farm team and developed several of the younger players on the team could have an edge in the short term when it comes to improvements – he doesn’t have to learn what the players are capable of before he figures out how to use them best.
How do the coaching styles differ? – A coach who will be looking just to make minor tweaks and improvements to a team will have an easier transition period in the short term than one who will be looking to make major changes and significantly change the way the team plays. A coach making major changes will likely need – or at least want – to make major personnel changes as well.
Are there quick fix problems? – When you look at how a team has been performing so far in the season you can likely spot a few key issues that are causing problems. Some of those problems could be of the type that are reasonably easy to fix – the team takes too many penalties, they aren’t working hard enough on the penalty kill, or they aren’t backchecking aggressively enough, for example. Those are the types of problems that a coach can often have a big impact on quickly. Some problems, though, are more significant and harder to do anything about – a lack of defensive depth, a goaltender who isn’t good enough, a lack of offensive skill, and so on. In those cases it doesn’t matter who the new coach is or how good he is because he’s not likely to enjoy a lot of success.
Who do they play in the short term? – If a new coach faces a brutal schedule for his first games – a road trip, or games against likely strong playoff teams, for example – then it could be very hard for him to gain momentum and find success. If the team plays a soft schedule, though – non-playoff teams at home – then the coach could have an easier path to early success. You need to be careful in that case, though – early success against weak teams could make a coach look better than he really is, and could lead to a deceptive opinion of the player when his team plays tougher competition.