Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Considering A Coaching Change

With the Capitals off to a 6-10-1 start and tied for fewest points in the NHL it's not surprising that there have been a decent number of fans (especially on the internets) calling for Hanlon's dismissal. Let me say that for most of the season I have not been one of them. In my opinion the team was outplaying it opponents most nights even if the results did not reflect it and to call for the coach's head was a bit of a knee-jerk reaction and a bit of scapegoating. Plus, as both Cory from the Washington Times and Tarik from the Washington Post pointed out, if you look at the Capitals from 2006-07, take away Poti, Clark and Semin but add Nylander and Backstrom you get....the Caps from 2006-07 (essentially). My argument for giving Hanlon more time (aside of the injury troubles) was that when deciding whether to fire a coach you have to look not just at results; not just whether the team is winning or losing but how they're winning or losing and that since the Capitals were playing well but getting bad results it wasn't fair to pin it on Hanlon.

Well in this regard I'm nothing if not consistent. I still think the most important thing to look at is how a team is playing and recently, with the way the team have performed and the decisions Hanlon's been making, I'm starting to lose faith that he will be able to have success even when this team gets reasonably healthy.

The causes for alarm are:

  • The Capitals always come out and play hard in the first period and this is a reflection on their coach. However they almost always come out and get outclassed in the second (The Peerless Prognosticator recently had a great post with the stats on this). This too is a reflection of the coaching staff. While the Capitals are able to start the game well it seems that all the opponent has to do is go into the locker room and make a few adjustments in order to be successful. The Capitals have clearly been unable to do the same and are paying the price in the second period. The odd thing though is that the Caps don't get dominated in the third which seems to indicate they are making adjusts - after being outplayed in the second. Perhaps what the coaching staff needs to do is realize that you need to make adjustments to keep you opponents off-balance no matter what.
  • Playing Donald Brashear on the powerplay. I understand Hanlon's desire to have that big body in front on the PP and it's a good idea. But you know what? The Capitals are the biggest team in the NHL. There's no reason to throw out Brashear just because he's a little bigger than your other options. For the record Brashear is listed at 6'3'', 239. The Caps have comperable options like Dave Steckel (6'5'', 218; 30 goals in the AHL last year), Viktor Kozlov (6'4'', 224), Brooks Laich (6'2'', 205), Matt Pettinger (6'1'', 205) and Matt Bradley (6'3'', 210). Okay, none of them are as big as Brash but the model for this approach is Red Wings winger Tomas Holmstrom, who is officially listed at 6'0'', 203. Brash offers nothing useful on the powerplay other than a big body in front, whereas those other players at least have some offensive upside.
  • Taking so long to get Nylander and Alexander Ovechkin together/playing Boyd Gordon on the top line. I was fine with starting the season with Ovechkin/Kozlov/Fleischmann and even going to Ovechkin/Kozlov/Clark. But when the injuries started to hit and the Caps couldn't get the puck in the net it was time to play the team's best playmaker with the team's best scorer, not throw Boyd Gordon on the top line. I love Gordon but he is not a top-line player, he is a a checking line center and it's a job he does very well. Which brings me to the second problem with putting Gordon on the top line - it eliminates the possibility of having any sort of checking like when you have you best defense forward playing on the first line.
I do hope Hanlon can turn things around because I really like the guy. He was the anti-Bruce Cassidy when he came in and helped steer the team through two miserable seasons while keeping morale relatively high. He clearly knows how to get the best out of checking line players and over the last couple years the Caps have built a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the NHL to play against. Plus he's always seemed like a classy guy. But the reality is that when he does things like throw Brashear on the powerplay, seemingly pick lines out of a hat and fail to make necessary in-game adjustments, it seems like he isn't going to be successful even with a healthy team because these look like bad coaching decisions.

Poti's back. Clark is supposed to be back Thursday. Semin is still out, but you can't blame massive underachieving on missing one player unless it's the goaltender. It's possible the injuries were to blame for some of the odd decisions and that the scrambled lines and failure to make adjustments came as a result. That's why it's not time to throw Hanlon under the bus yet. But if this team starts into another downward spiral that's going to wind up being another 2-8-0 stretch it will be Hanlon's time to go, not because the Capitals have had a disappointing and injury-plagued season, but because Hanlon has looked lost behind the bench.

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