Should the next coach be young?

When Pierre Lacroix was named the general manager of the Quebec Nordiques, he inherited a team with a wealth of young talent – a team that had made three first overall picks – and a deficit of recent success. One of his first priorities was to hire a new coach for the team; he hired a bright 33-year old named Marc Crawford who had never coached in the NHL. Why Crawford?

Simple: it was a young team and Lacroix wanted a young coach.

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Lacroix explained his reasoning to Jason Farris in the book Behind the Moves:

The Nordiques had fired their GM/coach, and so I said, ‘Okay, if they drafted all these years very high, that means we need a young coach.’ So, who’s the upcoming young coach? Back then, even though I’m in Quebec City and I’m a francophone, the best upcoming young coach was Marc Crawford. Three weeks later, I hired the best young coach. Why? That’s part of the rest of the spices. You’ve got to have somebody that thinks like a young person; this was a young team.

Note: the comment about being in Quebec stems from the fact that Crawford was an Anglophone. As Lacroix explains, Crawford worked to learn French over the summer, and was proficient enough by training camp that he was able to give his opening speech in French.

The Nordiques were younger even then the Oilers are now. The starting goalie (Stephane Fiset) was 24; backup Jocelyn Thibault just 19. Four of the team’s top-five scorers were under the age of 25; the exception, Scott Young, was 26 (and was named “Young,” which surely counts for something).

The Oilers have a few greybeards, but are going to be in a similar situation this fall. Nail Yakupov seems their likely pick at the draft this summer, and if so he’ll probably make the team out of camp. He joins a youthful group – the top four scores this year were 22 or under, starter Devan Dubnyk will be 26, and Ladislav Smid and Jeff Petry bring youth to the blue line. It’s a young team now, and likely will be for the foreseeable future.

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If the Oilers wanted a young coach, who might they hire? While there aren’t any guys Crawford’s with multiple years of AHL experience, there are a few younger coaches who have yet to get a shot as an NHL bench boss:

  • Todd Nelson: The in-house option, Nelson has earned attention for doing something that hitherto seemed impossible – coaching the Oilers’ farm team first to respectability and then to outright success.  The 42-year old previously worked as an assistant coach in the NHL with Atlanta.
  • Jon Cooper: The 44-year old Cooper won the AHL’s coach of the year honours this year after guiding the Norfolk Admirals to 28(!) consecutive victories to close out the regular season.  Cooper left his law practice to jump into coaching junior hockey in the United States; after a wildly successful tenure as coach/G.M. of the Green Bay Gamblers he wound up in the AHL.
  • Dallas Eakins: A pupil of legendary coach Roger Neilson, Eakins places a high value on building personal relationships with his players and is regarded as a superb communicator.  The 45-year old currently coaches the Toronto Marlies and was part of Paul Maurice’s staff when the latter coached the Maple Leafs.
  • John Hynes: Hynes won the AHL’s coach of the year honours last seasons, while being the league’s youngest coach. The 37-year old has been highly successful with the Penguins’ affiliate in Wilkes-Barre after earning accolades earlier in his career for his work with the U.S. national development system.
  • Kris Knoblauch: The 33-year old Knoblauch just finished his second season with the Kootenay Ice; last year as a rookie head coach he guided the team to a WHL championship.

I’m not sure I agree with Lacroix’s premise that a young team needs a young coach, but all of these guys are legitimately interesting options that also fit that description.  Cooper and Nelson in particular stand out to me; Nelson’s already in the organization and doing good work while Cooper’s track record is impossible to ignore.

This week by Jonathan Willis at the Nation Network

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Add one vote for Doug Weight and Dallas Eakins as co-coaches. The Oilers can continue their policy of never having to fire anyone during the darkest of all Oiler eras. One guy will get promoted as the other takes over like during the Quinn/Renney era.

  • Oilfan69

    My problem with promoting Nelson is then we have something down there that is known to work and if we promote him up to the big leagues and it doesn’t work out then we have the potential for problems on the farm team and the oilers at the same time. This could introduce too much risk for the organization as a whole.

    If we were to go with Jon cooper not only do we remove a good coach from the AHL and give the Barons another year or two to develop under Nelson as once we start making progress we will need the pipeline full of NHL ready talent once contracts start coming due to replace the complementary players.

  • Oilfan69

    Young………this is over rated! Do we honestly think when a coach is giving direction to a young team , the youngsters are sitting around thinking, ” man is this guy ever old, so I’m not going to listen to him”.

    No one thinks like that, I say get someone who can communicate effectively regardless of his age.

    If Tom Renny was ineffective due to his age, I suspect that affliction could be scientifically tested.

  • CaptainLander

    Prediction: Phoenix loses in the conference final. Word comes down after the playoffs that Phoenix has been sold and is moving to Quebec. A couple weeks later it is mentioned that Patrick Roy will be the new Coach and GM of the new Quebec team. Dave tippet accepts the head coaching job of the Edmonton Oilers, turning down a job offer from the Flames. Sighting that he has already had the opportunity to coach an older team with no real skill players and prefers to take the young Oiler team to the next level.

    Horcoff gets bought out with the amnesty clause and Shane Doan wanting to play for Tippet and not wanting to learn french signs a 2 year deal with the Oil.

    The Edmonton Oilers squeak in the final playoff spot but loose out in a riveting 7 game series vs LA Kings…the progression continues.

    The Flames hire Marc Crawford and once again finish 10th…the stall continues.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Id like to see Joel Quenville here as coach if he gets let go and the Oilers decide Renney isnt the proper fit anymore. JQ has a ring and has coached the younger guys, my point is the Oilers should go after a coach thats won it all before young or old it shouldnt matter.

    Sidenote: I wonder what Gretzky is up to? crazy idea yes but hey this is a craaaazy city 😉

  • a lg dubl dubl

    I do not believe you have to be young to teach young guys…Sutter was coach of the Rebels for years…how many old vs. young coaches are there in the CHL? (And while I’m not opposed to it, I’m not trying to advocate Sutter as a coach). There are lots young, middle aged, and old coaches out there. I would say Pat Quinn didn’t have success for many reasons, but one of which included him being an “old school” type of coach…whatever that means…I’m getting older but I’m adapting with the times. So too should most coaches if they’re going to have continued success.

  • Can you imagine if Pocklington fired Slats after a few years?

    Stick with Renney, no real clear evidence that he has lost the room, he is respected by the kids and the veterans.

    Let’s see what he can do with an actual team that can win or should win.

    • Sather was 34 when he started coaching the Oilers.

      Renney was 55 when he started coaching the Oilers.

      I think that JW’s point is that maybe if the Oilers direction was younger coach for younger players, ala Sather in 77′, then who would be the candidates.

      Cuz Renney clearly ain’t no spring chicken at 57

      • I think if you read Willis final comments in his last paragraph you see that’s clearly not what he’s advocating.

        My point was its not the age of the coach it’s the changing of the coach’s. Stick with one.

        How can we really say Renneys been given a legitimate chance to prove he can coach this team?

  • stevezie

    There’s thins not to love about Eakins, but hearing what his players have to say for him blinds me to a lot of them. I wonder if he could translate that to the NHL?

  • CaptainLander

    No matter who is at the helm of the good ship Oiler the ship is only as good as its captain. renny has been and is a good coach for this team. Perception is reality. The perception is that Renny is not running the team anymore. The funny thing is I feel that Renny already has been told that he will the coach. The stupid thing is why are the Oilers waiting to announce that he and ST have been renewed.It makes no sense. Even ST not being announced has be dumbfounded. There is no rhyme or reason not to make the announcment. ST has been traveling and doing interviews and continuing on as if he already knows what the deal is. In all my years as an Oiler fan I have never seen the team behave they way are currently in terms of communication. Bizzare. Wait and see is the cliche of the day. I guess I wat and see like everyone else.

  • @jonathan Willis –

    How much adjustment would you expect there to be for these coaches going against NHL competition? I wouldn’t imagine it’d be quite the same as a player coming up from the minors, but do you think the adjustment period would be too long to be “worth it”?

  • RexLibris

    I’d argue that young-at-heart is also an important factor. Cory Clouston is a younger coach, but his style and approach turns some of the players off.

    Renney has enough youthful enthusiasm and humour to him to be able to still relate to the young players.

    That being said, reading through this list, Nelson and Cooper are the two that stand out for me. Nelson we know. His strategy of making use of every body on his bench and bringing players along according to their learning curve strikes me as being a hockey mind in tune with the state of this team.

    Cooper, who appears to have been hired by Yzerman, would also seem an intersting candidate. His resume seems to speak well for his abilities and, while I am reserving judgement on Yzerman as an overall GM this early in his career, if he thought Cooper was the right man for the job then he is probably someone to keep in mind.

    Would the Oilers re-sign Renney for two years and then parachute in one of these two candidates in the second year to study under the tutelage of Renney?

  • Reg Dunlop

    @ a lg dubl dubl

    Why not Gretz as coach? I’ll bet his lovely wife and daughter Paulina could find work at Rustys as a duo.

    I would rather see Nelson stay with the baby oil so if Tippet and Quennville are not available, and we hopefully remain reletively Sutter free, bring back Tommy. I like him, in a platonic way.

  • Reg Dunlop

    I think all things go thru “Howard” Katz, who’s probably hiding on the top floor of the BayShore hotel in Vancouver!So Until he answers the door, not much is happening.Or else Teambelini and Renney have resigned, and the organization is playing a game with the media and fans.

  • IMO Renney coaches ‘not to lose’ and is therefore prone to using certain vets way too much. A ‘young coach may rely too heavily on those pylons (vets). The choice of assistant coaching staff should be left up to the in-comng hire not the Oiler front office.

    Hanging Renney with Smith and Buchberger was not cool. That kind of interference by the senior management might not be palatable to most senior prospective coaches. I’m sure they would want a free hand to bring in their own guys.

    If I’m being hired to get this team to elevate it’s play a couple of levels during my shelf-life then I don’t want assistants parachuted behind my bench who likely won’t have my best interests in mind. Namely auditioning to take my place.

  • After reading Willis’ peice at Cult of Hockey on Cooper, and following what he has done in the AHL this season, I am all for Cooper for coach.

    All this guy does is win and win and win some more. Leave the re-treads at home and give me Cooper. It’s time for some winners in management here in Edmonton.

  • vetinari

    I’m fine with bringing Renney back or else giving one of the AHL coaches a shot; they just need to be good, patient teachers. I also agree with the other posters that identified that it may be a double whammy if we promote Nelson and he doesn’t work out; then, both the Oilers and the Barons will be in disarray.

    I think Renney did a good job last year of sheltering the kids, but he sometimes deployed strange line combinations at strange times that made you wonder. If he comes back, the transition of the team from the veterans to the kids has to continue and he has to let go of his unwarranted (and stubborn) loyalty to veterans such as Khabibulin, Belanger, and Horcoff– if they are not producing, give their ice time to others who are or are capable of replacing them.

    Could we get an article on young potential GMs should Tambellini go “bye bye” (hey, I know that it ain’t happening but a guy can dream)?