Greetings, puckheads! Seeing as how some dude (or dudette) at CBS was nice enough to feature a link on the Sportsline NHL page this week pointing to my favorite blog, I'd better lay off the sphincter and sub-atomic physics talk for a while and post something about hockey. I've been wanting to vent some keyboard emissions about the Minnesota Wild coaching situation for quite some time, but real, honest work has had a nasty habit of interfering lately.
To get right to the corned beef and cabbage of the matter, do the Wild need a new head coach? In a word, yes. I'll lay out the complete details as time permits -- when all is said and done, even Vince Bugliosi will be hard pressed to come up with a logical counterpoint. The main points are:
- Jacques Lemaire's "defense first, counterpunch later" style works great with teams of the expansion or rebuilding persuasion. The Wild could not have made a better choice of head coach in 2000 than Lemaire, and it showed quickly. The same style that allowed the New Jersey Devils to overachieve and neutral zone trap their way to the Stanley Cup also allowed the expansion Wild team to overachieve their way to the Western Conference Finals in three short seasons. Unfortunately, the Wild are no longer an expansion team, and are definitely not a rebuilding team of castoffs, either. Lemaire's coaching style is not conducive to teams with established cores of players, which would explain his inability to get the Wild to the next level, and also explains his less than stellar record behind the Canadiens bench. Devils management figured it out eventually, and the Lemaire-less team has sipped twice from Lord Stanley's cup since. Wild fans owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jacques Lemaire -- and when the Excel Center gets around to starting a ring of honor, his should be the very first name to go up on the wall -- but the time has come for the Wild to move on and get a coach who can better utilize the core of players we have in our lineup now.
- Lemaire's micromanagement coaching style is rubbing several players the wrong way, leaving the Wild in danger of a high profile mutiny.
- A lot of the Wild's inconsistent play is directly traceable to Lemaire's unwillingness or inability to stick with working line combinations and defensive pairings. Actually, he juggles combinations so often that it's impossible to even figure out which combos work and which ones don't. How a coach can expect consistency when nobody has a chance to play together and gel is beyond the comprehension of this warped mind. If other twisted minds out there have an answer, I'd love to hear it. The only good that comes out of all the constant tinkering is that it makes it a bit more difficult for opposing teams to prepare agains the Wild, but that leads to the next point, which is:
- Lemaire's obsession with counterpunching and line juggling simply turns all creativity and initiative over to the other team. Again, this is fine strategy for a team with limited personnel, but the Wild have a big enough nucleus of talented players to make counterpunching unneccesary -- game plans should be created to force other teams to play our game, instead of letting them dictate the pace and flavor of the game for us.
Much more to follow on points 2-4, and most likely several new points as well. It's almost time to watch the good guys grab first place in the division tonight against the Avalanche -- luckily we've got their number almost as badly as the Flames have ours, so even Kim Johnsson shouldn't be able to screw this game up. Go Wild!!!