Willie Desjardins of AHL’s Texas Stars is one of the best coaches not currently in the NHL (Photo: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

The common thought among Capitals fans is that the team’s new coach must have NHL experience. The Caps last five hires — Adam Oates, Dale Hunter, Bruce Boudreau, Glen Hanlon, and Bruce Cassidy — were all rookie head coaches. This time around, names like Barry Trotz and John Stevens are getting a lot of buzz, whereas Willie Desjardins and Phil Housley are getting little.

Experience matters. All other things being equal, you should hire the guy with more experience, but that does not mean the Caps should discount what a rookie coach might bring. Because if a coach’s best quality is his experience, that’s not a great sign.

Say you’re an executive looking to hire somebody. One job candidate has experience in the same position as one of your competitors (where he got fired, which is important). The other one works in a similar position at a smaller company or maybe he has a lesser position with one of your competitors. The second guy doesn’t have experience in a company like yours, but if he has better ideas, more skills, and fits in better with your company’s philosophy, you’d certainly hire him.

Just like with players, a rookie coach just out of the AHL or juniors can produce better results than a veteran of many seasons. Recent NHL history proves that.

I’m not saying a rookie coach is necessarily a better fit, but I don’t think experience is crucial to NHL success. AHL coaches and NHL assistants aren’t just riff-raff; they’ve got this far in their careers for a reason. If you have evidence that a rookie coach can get results, would you dismiss that just to get more experience?

Among Jack Adams candidates this year you’ve got Patrick Roy, who turned the 29th place Avalanche into a division winner, and Jon Cooper, who finished second in the division despite missing his superstar player for 45 games. Also having a strong showing behind the bench was Craig Berube, who turned around the season of the Philadelphia Flyers following the firing of Peter Laviolette. All three are first-time head coaches in their first year in the NHL.

Of the last eight Stanley Cup-winning coaches, three were first-time hires in the NHL (if you don’t count John Tortorella’s four-game-long stint as an interim with the Rangers in 2000-2001). Torts won the Stanley Cup in his fourth year as an NHL bench boss. Winning it all took two seasons for Randy Carlyle and less than one full year for Dan Bylsma.

Experience isn’t the secret ingredient to turn a mediocre team into a winner. Check out the Dallas Stars. New GM Jim Nill hired Lindy Ruff, who had spent 15 seasons with the Sabres, by far the most experienced coach available when the Stars made a change. In the first year of his tenure, he turned Stars from just-out-of-the-playoffs team to just-in-the-playoffs team who suffered a predictable defeat at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks. Would Caps fans be content with a first-round exit at this point?

Considering how many rookie coaches have succeeded in the NHL, it seems like the Caps’ mistake in hiring Oates and Hunter was more connected to McPhee’s weakness in forecasting and the team’s desire to hype the franchise with big names than to some systemic problem with first-time coaches.

Should two unsuccessful coaching hires by an ex-general manager disqualify all rookie coaches for the position? I don’t think so.

If Caps’ own history is important, than we should note that the only two Jack Adams winners in franchise history, Bryan Murray and Bruce Boudreau, were first-time NHL head coaches.

At the end of the day, experience won’t help if the coach’s philosophy clashes with players ability. We saw that in Vancouver last season. John Tortorella has a decade of experience, eight postseason appearances, and his name on the Cup. Like the Post’s John Feinstein said of GMGM’s hirings, Tortorella to Vancouver “appeared to make sense,” but that experience didn’t get the Canucks into the playoffs, and it ultimately cost general manager Mike Gillis his job.

Coaching experience is important, for sure, but the substance behind the coach is what truly matters.

  • Peter

    This team needs two things in a coach:

    1 – Someone who can
    maximize the strengths of this team tactically. Oates clearly had issues
    with this, misusing players regularly and asking them to relearn old
    habits. A new coach MUST be able to recognize the skills already present
    in the team and utilize them well, not try to mold the wrong players to
    a different system.

    2 – The ability to manage star players the
    right way, specifically Ovi. #8 is a great player, but needs the right
    combination of coaching and “feeling some love” to play at his peak.

    is a perfect example of how experience does not equal success. His
    approach would be disastrous in the Caps locker room.

  • Bradley Spies

    I hate clamoring for experience because to me a significant portion of “experience” is just learning the same bad lessons that the league tries to teach over and over. If the choice is an experienced guy who believes the lies the game regurgitates over and over or an inexperienced guy who doesn’t, then give me the newbie every day of the week.

  • X

    Does anybody else like the idea of Guy Boucher? I feel like I haven’t heard his name a lot, but I think I would prefer him to Trotz or any of the other candidates.

  • Pat Magee

    Srsly. Mark French. The Bears were an absolute powerhouse under him, with the best PP and PK in the AHL.

  • At the very least, his complete insanity would be good for RMNB pageviews. http://sports.cbsimg.net/images/nhl/blog/BoucherFace.gif

  • Pat Magee

    He also has that cool Bond Villain look going for him…

  • I’m pretty sure that ship has sailed and docked in Mother Russia, but he really was a fantastic coach. That was a big loss.

  • X

    he also outcoached boudreau and swept us in the playoffs, so there’s that

  • Pat Magee


  • Sarah

    Granted, I’m biased as heck, but I wouldn’t point to Lindy Ruff as an example of an experienced coach failing to make an impact. The guy was an assistant for Team Canada for a reason. The Stars had to battle for a spot largely due to one disastrous run in January, which isn’t too surprising guven how young and erratic the team still is. Their final record doesn’t begin to tell the story of how much more cohesively they played over the course of the season, or how much Ruff helped the (pupal stage) top line players develop. That they snuck into the playoffs in a strong division after the excruciating pain of the last six years is a glimpse of what’s to come, even before you consider the scare they put into the best team in the west. People on here were laughing that Boudreau might be out in the first round again, after all. I didn’t think it was terribly likely but didn’t care: there is nobody (certainly nobody available) I’d have rather had guiding our young players through an extremely challenging season than Lindy Ruff.
    Plus, he’s a total class act. We had Mike Modano week and the Stanley Cup team from ’99 all came to town. Lindy had to listen to talk about that series all day every day all week long and patiently put up with it. I don’t think anybody but Roy should get the Jack Adams this year (much as I love Bowman), but Ruff should probably be canonized.

  • Jonah

    also, the stars are in a division with hawks blues and avs. thats not an easy decision to play in at all.

  • Sarah

    Lol, yeah, friggin’ wings get to move to the east. 🙂

  • Barrett

    Would a team have to give compensation to the Dallas Stars for signing Willie Desjardins away from their organization if he is still under contract?

  • Lawrence

    I live in tampa now, so I know quite a bit about the Lightning. People in tampa loved him at first for the entire first year. But when things went south…they went south pretty hard. He wasn’t willing to make changes, became very stubborn with an elitist attitude. The players turned on him for sure and when he was fired, I agreed 100 percent with it. Looking at our personnel and the direction we need to be headed (more offensive forwards and better defenseman), Boucher would be a bad coach for us. His strengths lie in the trap and he would be better on a team not built around stars. He reminded me a lot of Tortorella in his dealings with the players, not so much with the media (Boucher was amazing with the media).

  • x

    I don’t think so, but I’m pretty sure that exact idea was discussed at the last GM meetings.

  • Luke Anthony

    I think Willie Desjardins would be great as the Caps coach. His teams always are near the top of the league. Between his 8 years in the WHL and 2 years in the AHL, he’s never missed the playoffs, only twice has his team finished below a .600 point percentage, only once has his team been eliminated in the first round, and he could get his third league championship this year. I wouldn’t mind Trotz, but I feel Desjardins is the best fit.

  • x

    Hmm I’ve actually read a couple articles pointing out some misconceptions about his 1-3-1 trap, that it isn’t a boring Jacques Lemaire trap but more of a counter-attacking system, and that things went south when Yzerman made him stop using that trap. Specifically in this article http://canucksarmy.com/2013/5/30/coaching-candidate-profile-guy-boucher read it and let me know what you think. It’d also be cool to have a 1-3-1 powerplay and forecheck.

  • Lawrence

    I agree with you, a lot of people tend to unfairly rule out those without experience and over value experience. As the game evolves over the years, coaches need to change strategies and a lot of the time they end up being stuck in the past, which makes them a bad current coach. It’s much harder to find good current coaches with experience than good current coaches without experience. To be honest, out of all the coaches available, I do not see any coaches that should be a front runner in this thing. Can we hire BB again?

  • Great comment. Thanks for sharing, Lawrence.

  • Lawrence

    My personal viewpoint of that is that it’s not true. Of course this is just my opinion, but I remember hearing that theory and everything I watched on the ice and listened to in post games, didn’t hint to that theory at all. The lightning had a very good roster for his trap system, they had 3 – 4 lines that were fast and could score. Once they lost some of those key players the next year, they couldn’t run the trap as effectively. His style of hard working, tough love, runs its course pretty fast. I think with our roster it wouldn’t be smart to apply any sort of 5v5 trap.

  • Chris Best

    I think we need a coach who will put demand the very best effort of our players and hold them accountable if they don’t. This was the one reason I was sad to see Dale Hunter go, because while he did place too much emphasis on grinders for my liking, he at least made players accountable if they didn’t play as hard as they could. I’m tired of see Ovechkin lose the puck and then take some large swooping circle back around hoping someone else will get it. I want to see him stop immediately, turn around and fight to get it back. Tired of seeing our players with this flail your stick at the puck and hope you get it attitude. I want a coach who will demand our very best and accept nothing less than these guys are capable of.

  • Dave

    I don’t disagree with the idea in the article, but I think there’s more uncertainty with what you’re getting if you hire a first time NHL head coach. Even Oates was known as a very good assistant coach, but you just didn’t know how he’d act as a head coach. It can work in the opposite direction too when a new coach surprises to the upside. But when you hire an experienced head coach, you have a better idea of what you’re getting.

    I think ideally you’d like to find a proven head coach who was a scapegoat for a poor GM in his last job who fits your players skill set well. Easier said then done.

  • x

    Interesting. You’re probably right about the trap with this team anyways. Got anybody else in mind? Trotz?

  • Jonah

    i heard from someone on RMNB that he has a different style of play with his swiss team. they said that he adapted the 1-3-1 because that’s what worked with his team i thought that sounded promising that he coached what worked with the players he got. however, bad with media, locker room, and not working with the superstars sounds just like the shitshow we just got ourselves out of.

  • Jonah

    it gets even worse when you think that the only people who are coming under fire from media are oates, torts, and leafs coach.
    torts would be awful, and the leafs coach would be just as bad AND he’d scare grabo away.
    Eck this is a bad time to be a caps fan.

  • Lawrence

    Hmm interesting about the swiss team, don’t know much about that one. I know that when Boucher was hired he talked about his defensive scheme that he had implemented with his Admiral team (ahl team of TBL), so I know he had used the 1-3-1 trap before. There are quite a few examples of coaches changes their strategies around, but usually that doesn’t happen or work all that well. Some would say it worked with BB here in dc, but ultimately that switch was probably his downfall. So perhaps I am wrong about him, but if I was the GM of our team, I would stay far far away from Boucher.

  • Lawrence

    Sadly I don’t see any front runners for the job, especially no front runners with experience. I think Peter Lav would have been a pretty solid choice, but that ship has sailed. Trotz might be the best choice out of the experienced coaches available, or dare I say Bylsma. There is issues with both of those coaches, Trotz has issues similar to Boucher, but much less extreme (especially considering he had no Stamkos’s, St. Louis’s at his disposal). I think as Fedor has hinted to, it might not be a bad thing to look at more inexperienced coaches for this team, at the ahl level, assistant coaches, etc. and I don’t know enough about those people to make a judgement call on that.

    I think first and foremost, the new GM must fix our defensive roster, because right now the current roster will hold back any coach we hire. After that is fixed, they need a coach with an offensive fore-checking system that emphasis puck control over anything else, no more dump and chase for this roster.

  • Oates was not universally known as a very good assistant coach. A lot of the criticisms we had for him existed in NJD, long before he joined the Caps.

  • Chris Cerullo

    If we get a coach from the AHL it better be Jeff Blashill. Only problem is getting Detroit to let him go.

  • It’s me

    I agree completely. Hope the higher ups are thinking this way and not listening to the caps media. Hopefully they are ignoring Gormley.

  • Luke Anthony

    I heard Detroit won’t allow teams to talk to Blashill with Babcock having one year left on his contract, so don’t think he’s even an option.

  • Bugs Fire

    I assume you are not tired to see Patrick Kane to do exactly the same thing you describe Ovie doing. Neither of the two players are a problem for their respective teams.

    What makes you think that Oates did not demand the best effort? I am sure he did. Why the players did not give it to him? Well, just ask Holtby how he feels about being taken out of the net for no reason other than AHL backup goalie playing one good game. Ask Erat how he feels about being passed over for Volpatti. Ask Dustin Penner if he has any idea why Caps brought him to DC. Ask Halak how he likes to be publicly humiliated for allegedly being afraid of his old team. Ask Orlov whether he can drive from Hershey to Kettler and back with his eyes closed. And ask Ovie what he thinks about head coach calling him out on not preventing a goal when being down three in the third and having Caps outnumber Stars in their own zone.

    To demand the best effort is to demand loyalty to the team. To do that, coach should first show some loyalty to the players. So while I agree with you that one area of potential improvement is player’s effort, I do not think that just getting someone who would “demand it” will suffice. Caps need someone who will help players to be their best, not handicap them with silly inflexible rules (skate ten feet and pass, righties to the right/lefties to the left, territory over possession, permit outside shots, list goes on).

  • Bugs Fire

    I have not really followed Tampa that much, but Boucher always sounded a bit mean to his own players. Every time Tampa lost he would come out and emphasize that players didn’t do well, and had this impatient “I-am-wasting-my-time-with-this-lot” look. Plus, it was my impression their main issue was poor D/goaltending, sounds at least in part what Caps’ problem is. Granted, some of it was personnel, but he didn’t fix it in Tampa, so maybe he is not the right Guy to fix it in DC.

  • Fedor

    Mother Croatia

  • Owen Johnson

    I’ve been on the French bandwagon too. He also knows some of the players from Hershey.
    Edit: We haven’t traded all of his former players, have we?

  • Sarah

    *Babcock, holy crap. Head got stuck in the 90s there for a sec.

  • Sarah

    Is it okay to say something positive about Tortorella? I agree he’d be an awful fit with this team, but he is nice to dogs. There.

    …I for one don’t care what you do with Calgary Flames coaches if you take care of stray animals in your spare time.

  • Chris Cerullo

    That’s what I meant by “only problem is getting Detroit to let him go”.

  • A_Shoe

    You honestly don’t think he would want a shot in the NHL if someone over here gave him an offer?

  • Oh sure, I think he would. But I don’t think he has that kind of capital with other NHL teams. I don’t think Washington would reach out to someone a year after they let him walk too.

    On top of that, French took an expansion team to the playoffs this season in the KHL. He had his players playing a more North American brand of hockey that was very successful. I think he’s a hot commodity in the KHL and they really value him there. It would be silly for him to leave at this moment.

    And by the way – I could NOT be happier for the guy. Total class act.

  • Eric Schulz

    All I can say other than “obviously,” is: but it’s so much easier for a FAN to evaluate a coach that has NHL experience. We aren’t privy to any kind of interview process. If we look at a guy who has some experience, we can at least say “I want this guy” or “I *don’t* want this guy.” So when talking about who you’d want, it’s easier to focus on the guys with NHL experience. When comparing two guys, one with NHL experience and one without, it becomes harder. Fans are just saying we want experience, and when bandying about names, of course most will tend to be guys with experience at the NHL level.

    Also, as a team at a crossroad here, it’s really important to get this right; it always is, but it’s more important here as we can’t easily rebound from wasting players we have now. They are elite and in their prime; it’s not like we have youth that we can kind of wait on. It’s now or blow it up. So, it makes a lot more sense to get a guy with experience, as there should be less deviation between expected performance and actual performance. I thought Laviolette would’ve been a great hire; I still think Trotz would be a very good one (although I’m less confident with Trotz). If we narrow it down to a list of experienced guys that we want, but then we can’t get them (Laviolette) or they don’t impress with their interview/as we further evaluate what type of a coach they are, it would make more sense to take a chance. But where your franchise is at roster-wise impacts – and should – how open you are to handing the reins over to an inexperienced coach.

  • Eric Schulz

    Frankly, it’s amazing how few coaches demand their players actually play hard. If we can only get a coach who realizes how important it is to *try,* I think we’ll really have something next year.

  • Eric Schulz


    Obviously for the Leafs, not Caps, but the analysis holds (mostly). I feel like Trotz would be a better choice, but I don’t mind Boucher; I would not have been thrilled before reading that. It’s pretty basic stuff, but I like that they think his style works with mobile defensemen and speedy, skilled wingers.
    I think Trotz would be a good fit though. He uses all four lines, and I think that’s a great fit; we should have 4 great lines, and we should use them all. I don’t think we have a lot of great two-way players, but I don’t think anybody is that bad on defense save Ovechkin. If Trotz could be a poor man’s Lemaire, and give Ovechkin – mostly – free reign to be creative and do his thing, like Gaborik with the Wild, and be the engine that drives our offense while getting more commitment from him defensively, we’d be a contender. I’m not sure how much Trotz relies on having beast defensemen; they always seem to have good defensemen, so I wonder if maybe he’s just good at coaching them up. I could be wrong… Trotz did a great job with an expansion team, but being with one team for so long makes it harder to evaluate how flexible he is.

  • Rhino40

    Notice how that scar on his right cheek is shaped like the Verizon logo? hmmm…”Verizon-face” as WCHC? Maybe…

  • tpr04

    Experience does not always mean you get the best candidate. However, there are a few other factors at play here that you have to consider, as you would with any organization. The Caps are no longer a young team. Most of these guys have been around for 5 years or so and have grown accustomed to doing it their way (except under Hunter). An experienced coach would arguably have a better sense of how to deal with, and get the most out of, players like Ovie and Green. Also, you have to recognize tha Ovie is now entering a new stage of his career – he will be 30 years old in about 16 months. You don’t have time to waste trying to see if an assistant has what it takes.

    Experience matters, but how much it matters, depends on the circumstances. Under these circumstances, I prefer it.

  • WeaselWeaz

    100% disagree because of Ovi. The last three coaches were rookies and to some extent forced out by him. I would wonder if Ovi is more willing to listen to someone with experience like Trotz. I’m only half serious, but Mike Keenan has a Stanley Cup, decades of experience, and coached and won in Russia.

    I think, especially at this point in Ovi’s career, if the Caps bring in a coach without NHL experience they open themselves to questions of Ovi taking direction, whose team it is, and such in a way that a former head coach doesn’t.

  • Adam Oates is in the hall of fame. He’s got experience pertinent to Ovechkin. The problem is not Ovi’s ability to listen to a coach. He did what Hunter and Oates wanted. The problem was what Hunter and Oates wanted weren’t very good.

  • Pat Magee

    Carlzner and Holtby!

  • breaklance

    I think experience does matter. Look at the guys still in the playoffs. Everyone is a veteraned coach on a 3rd or 4th team. Boudreau and Byslma are kind of outliers and both have kind of run their course for now. The caps have had too much new blood in recent years, too many systems of inexperience and in the crunch inability to adapt in playoffs. I would very much like Trotz or Stevens and a GM that can work with them