Ed. note: Here’s F.O.T.B. Ben Lutz, aka the DC Sports Dork, with an RMNB guest spot all about head coach and GM hires. You can see more of Ben’s work on If you enjoy his stuff, feel free to join his facebook page.

While hockey fans were paying attention to the Stanley Cup Finals, a handful of NHL teams were focused on hiring a new head coach and/or general manager. The Capitals found their guys by hiring Brian McClellan and Barry Trotz as GM and coach, respectively. Pittsburgh pulled off the unthinkable by hiring ex-Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford as their new general manager.

Hires like these inevitably lead to questions about the candidates’ credentials and organizational philosophies. Is it a good idea to hire a coach that has experience or one with a fresh set of ideas? Does the same apply to hiring a general manager?

In order to find the answers, let’s first observe the list of NHL head coaches and general managers as of the final day of the previous regular season. Then, we’ll use advanced stats to see which type of head coach and general manager hires deliver the most success to an NHL team.

First, let’s start with the list of head coaches as of the last game of the 2013-2014 regular season.

Coach Gms before current job
Age when hired
Yrs at current position
Relation to Franchise
Previous Job Where?
Mike Babcock 164 42 9 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Anaheim Ducks
Jon Cooper 0 45 2 Within Ex-AHL Head Coach Norfolk Admirals
Claude Julien 238 47 7 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach New Jersey Devils
Adam Oates 0 50 2 Outside Ex-NHL Assistant Coach New Jersey Devils
Michel Therrien 462 49 2 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Pittsburgh Penguins
Craig Berube 0 48 0+ Within Ex-NHL Assistant Coach Philadelphia Flyers
Peter DeBoer 246 43 3 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Florida Panthers
Paul MacLean 0 53 3 Outside Ex-NHL Assistant Coach Philadelphia Flyers
Joel Quenneville 839 50 6 Within Ex-NHL Scout, Previously Ex-NHL Head Coach Chicago Blackhawks
Dave Tippett 492 48 4 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Dallas Stars
Bruce Boudreau 329 57 2+ Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Washington Capitals
Dallas Eakins 0 46 1 Outside Ex-AHL Head Coach Toronto Marlies
Paul Maurice 1084 47 0+ Outside Ex-Euro Head Coach, Previously Ex-NHL Head Coach ZSC Lions
Todd Richards 164 45 2+ Within Ex-NHL Assistant Coach, Previously Ex-NHL Head Coach Columbus Blue Jackets
John Tortorella 856 55 1 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach New York Rangers
Dan Bylsma 0 38 5+ Within Ex-AHL Head Coach Wilkes-Barre Penguins
Bob Hartley 650 52 2 Outside Ex-Euro Head Coach, Previously Ex-NHL Head Coach ZSC Lions
Todd McLellan 0 41 6 Outside Ex-NHL Assistant Coach Detroit Red Wings
Patrick Roy 0 48 1 Outside Ex-Junior Head Coach Quebec Remparts
Barry Trotz 0 36 16 Outside Ex-AHL Head Coach Portland Pirates
Jack Capuano 0 44 3+ Within Ex-AHL Head Coach Bridgeport Sound Tigers
Ken Hitchcock 1041 60 2+ Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Columbus Blue Jackets
Kirk Muller 0 45 2+ Outside Ex-AHL Head Coach Milaukee Admirals
Lindy Ruff 1165 53 1 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Buffalo Sabres
Alain Vigneault 806 51 1 Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Vancouver Canucks
Randy Carlyle 516 55 2+ Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach Anaheim Ducks
Peter Horachek 0 53 0+ Within Ex-AHL Head Coach San Antonio Rampage
Ted Nolan 327 55 4+ Outside Ex-NHL Head Coach New York Islanders
Daryl Sutter 860 53 3 Outside Ex-NHL General Manager, Previously Ex-NHL Head Coach Calgary Flames
Mike Yeo 0 38 3 Within Ex-AHL Head Coach Houston Aeros

Of all the head coaches to have sat behind an NHL bench last April, 17 previously worked as head coach for another NHL team, seven of them previously worked as AHL head coaches and five as NHL assistant coaches. Patrick Roy was the only coach to come from the junior ranks. With the vast amount of retread hires, it’s no surprise to see the average amount of games coached hitting more than 341 (or a little more than four NHL seasons worth of experience).

Twenty-two of the 30 head coaches were former employees from other organizations. Eighteen of the 30 head coaches were hired when they were between 45 and 55 years old. resulting in an average age of 48.2.

Now let’s look at the crop of NHL general managers.

GM Age when hired Yrs under current position Relation to Franchise Previous Job Where?
David Poile 47 16 Outside Ex-NHL General Manager Washington Capitals
Bob Murray 53 5+ Within Ex-Assistant General Manager Anaheim Ducks
Brian Burke 58 0+ Within Ex-NHL “President of Hockey Operations”, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager Calgary Flames
Craig MacTavish 54 1 Within Ex-NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Edmonton Oilers
Dean Lombardi 48 8 Outside Ex-NHL Scout, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager Philadelphia Flyers
Don Maloney 48 7 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager New York Rangers
Doug Wilson 45 10 Outside Ex-Director of Pro Development San Jose Sharks
Mike Gillis 49 6 Outside Ex-NHL Agent None
Stan Bowman 36 5 Within Ex-Assistant General Manager Chicago Blackhawks
Greg Sherman 39 5 Within Ex-Assistant General Manager Colorado Avalanche
Jim Nill 55 1 Outside Ex-Director of Amateur Scouting Detroit Red Wings
Chuck Fletcher 42 5 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager Pittsburgh Penguins
Doug Armstrong 43 6 Outside Ex-NHL General Manager Dallas Stars
Kevin Cheveldayoff 41 3 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Chicago Blackhawks
Ken Holland 42 16 Within Ex-Assistant General Manager Detroit Red Wings
Lou Lamoriello 45 26 Outside Ex-NCAA Administrator Hockey East and Providence AD
George McPhee 39 16 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Vancouver Canucks
Peter Chiarelli 42 8 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Ottawa Senators
Tim Murray 41 0+ Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Ottawa Senators
Dale Tallon 59 4 Outside Ex-“Senior Advisor”, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager Chicago Blackhawks
Marc Bergevin 46 2 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Chicago Blackhawks
Bryan Murray 64 7 Within Ex-NHL Head Coach Ottawa Senators
Steve Yzerman 45 4 Outside Ex-NHL Vice President Detroit Red Wings
Dave Nonis 46 2 Within Ex-NHL Vice President, Previously Ex-NHL General Manager Toronto Maple Leafs
Jim Rutherford 45 20 Outside Ex-Junior Executive Windsor Spitfires
Jarmo Kekalainen 46 1+ Outside Ex-Euro General Manager, Previously Ex-Assistant General Manager Jokerit
Garth Snow 37 8 Within Ex-Player New York Islanders
Glen Sather 56 13 Outside Ex-NHL General Manager Edmonton Oilers
Paul Holmgren 51 7+ Within Ex-Assistant General Manager Philadelphia Flyers
Ray Shero 43 8 Outside Ex-Assistant General Manager Nashville Predators

As you can see, the age range for a current NHL general manager is a little younger than that of an NHL head coach with the average hire being 46.8 years old. Of the 30 general manager positions, 20 came from outside, with nine of them previously holding a GM position at another NHL franchise. Of the 21 previously inexperienced general managers, 17 came from working as an assistant general manager or in other jobs within the front office.

With this information, it’s obvious that NHL franchises tend to hire someone with experience for a head coach and someone who hasn’t been a GM– but does have front office experience– as general manager.

So is this the correct route to take when choosing the best candidate?

In looking for an answer, it is important to note that teams have varying degrees of goals and standards. If the Pittsburgh Penguins get knocked out of round one of the playoffs, it would be considered a disappointing season. However, being eliminated in round one of the playoffs may be considered a successful season for the Florida Panthers. As a result, simply using standings points percentage isn’t enough to come up with a conclusion for head coach’s or general manager’s success rate.

In Rob Vollman’s Hockey Abstract (pages 53-61), Vollman discusses a new stat, points above expectation (or xPts). The figure is created based on writer Gabriel Desjardin’s theory that NHL teams always regress/progress to the 50% points percentage mean by 35% every year. For example, if a team records 98 standings points– 60% points percentage– they will be expected to regress about a third of the way to the mean next season, earning just 92 standings points for a 56.5% points percentage. If a team goes above or below that 92-point mark, that difference is their points above expectation (or xPts). Here is a calculation for the 2014 Washington Capitals to help clarify things.

expected points% = last year's points% - ((last year's points% - 50%) * 35%))

expected points% = 59.4% - ((59.4% - 50%) * 35%)) = 56.1%

xPts = (Actual points% - expected points%) * 2 standings points * number of games

xPts = (54.9% - 56.1%) * 2 standings points * 82 games = minus-2 xPts

You followed the most recent edition of the Caps, so this number probably makes sense to you– just as the eye test told us that they underachieved. To put things into perspective, this year’s Buffalo Sabres had minus-30 xPts while the Colorado Avalanche had plus-40 xPts. Only one team in NHL history had a higher xPts number than Roy’s Avs: the 1992-93 Quebec Nordiques.

With that explanation, let’s take a look at the head coaches from the 2000-01 season (the first season the NHL had 30 teams) to see whether one with or without previous NHL head coaching experience had the more successful tenure.

Head Coach # xPts Gms xPts/Game years/term
Retreads 93 821 16440 0.050 2.16
Newbies 81 395 14520 0.027 2.19

As you can see, experienced coaches are better by quite a sizable margin. In this year’s Stanley Cup Finals, however, both Darryl Sutter and Alain Vigneault had extended breaks before becoming head coaches for another team. Sutter stopped coaching the Calgary Flames in 2006 to concentrate on his general managing duties there, but it took him another six years (at age 53) to become an NHL head coach again. For Vigneault, he was just 36 years old when he became the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. When he was fired 20 games into the 2000-01 season, Vigneault had to wait six years to become head coach in Vancouver. In the end, these guys persevered and became successful coaches at other venues, but are these types of experienced head coaches good hires in general, or are they exceptions to the rule?

Retread HCs # xPts Gms xPts/Game years/term
0-1 yrs 32 481 7512 0.064 2.86
2 yrs 22 190 3552 0.053 1.97
3-5 yrs 17 83 2744 0.030 1.97
6+ yrs 22 67 2632 0.025 1.46

The best type of retread hires are those that were fired in the previous year.

This table shows that there is a valid reason why people like Barry Trotz and Peter Laviolette get snatched up by other teams immediately. The same will apply to Dan Bylsma. As for people like Ron Wilson and Tom Renney, who were rumored to be in the hunt for the Panthers head coaching gig, this might be a sign that an NHL franchise is desperate to find anyone interested.

So how is it that people like Alain Vigneault and Darryl Sutter are more successful coaches when the table above said they shouldn’t have been?

The answer could be in their ages. A head coach with six or more years off between coaching tenures had a 24.0% and 31.6% correlation to the number of games coached in their latter tenure to their age when they fired from their previous tenure and to their amount of time between coaching stops, respectively. However, that correlation becomes a whopping 81.6% when games coached in the latter tenure was compared to the age that coach was hired during in that same tenure.

In short, hiring people like Vigneault and Jacques Martin fits the pattern of a good idea, while hiring people like Craig Ramsay and Barry Melrose did not. Time will tell if the Ted Nolan Experience will pan out for Buffalo.

Now let’s look at general managers since the 2000-01. First, which types of hires are most successful?

GM # xPts Gms xPts/Game years/term
Outsider 1 72 1032 0.070 12.59
Ex-Assistant 40 726 15166 0.048 4.62
Ex-GM 32 316 9172 0.034 3.50
Ex-Coach 10 106 3362 0.032 4.10
Ex-Agents 3 2 1196 0.002 4.86
Ex-Player 2 -6 1032 -0.006 6.29

Remember that list of current general managers above? Lou Lamoriello was formerly the Athletic Director at Providence College before he became general manager of the New Jersey Devils. (Boy, has their street cred changed since then). However, Lamoriello is the only hire from outside of NHL circles in the last fourteen years, so NHL teams may not want to go down this path or they may be eaten by the small-sample-size monster.

That said, it is evident that former assistants are the way to go– not former head coaches and general managers. The only ex-head coach to currently hold a general manager position is Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators, but considering he is 71 years old, one may think that general managers with his credentials will soon be a thing of the past.

One more note: maybe don’t hire an agent or a former player to be your general manager. PittsburghVancouver and the Islanders: I’m looking at you.

So now that we can conclude that assistant GMs are the right type of hire, was hiring someone from within the best move for the Capitals?

GM # xPts Gms xPts/Game years/term
Within 24 465 8126 0.057 4.13
Outside 16 261 7040 0.037 5.37

The answer may be yes.

Is the sample size too small to make a strong conclusion? Possibly, but the results are still fascinating. Even though GMs hired from within did substantially better, their tenure is shorter than those hired from the outside. Even if you exclude the interim hires of Jeff Gorton of Boston, Tom Kurvers of Tampa Bay, and Jim Clark of Columbus, the average tenure for a GM hired from within is still shorter than five years (4.72 to be exact). There may be a mentality of giving a shorter leash to the GMs the owners already from other positions in the organization.

All in all, this is some interesting stuff– and helpful when analyzing all those teams who have recently made a new hire.

  • This is the kind of off-season stuff I look for.

    That and photoshops. (Not done by me)

  • Haha. And yes, I agree. Ben did a great job on this.

  • You are going to continue your weekly diagnosis this year, correct?

  • Pat Magee

    I really like that we have an experienced coach who hasn’t won before. He’s hungry for championship and wants it just as bad as the players. Trotz has done wonders with defensemen (Suter, Hamhuis, Weber, Josi, Seth Jones), so I can’t wait to see what he can do for Alzner and Carlson, not to mention the rest of our corps.

    As for the GM, I like what he’s done so far. Yes the Orpik contract is ridiculous, but he IS going to make a difference for this team. David Clarkson is making like 7.5m aav, so that always makes me feel better! 🙂 Niskanen is gonna be with us for a lot of years, and since hes just entering his prime, will be an impact player.

  • Yes. I’ll be doing a weekly snapshot, though I’ll make some changes to the data I track. I’ll also be doing a mid-week feature that will be less stat-heavy.

    And if we get ads where we want them, we’ll be doing a lot lot lot lot lot more. Stay tuned!

  • SeminAllOverTheIce

    This photo is erroneous. No way in hell Wilson plays seeker. He’s 100% a beater, now give him a bludger.

  • Gordon Arsenoff

    Neat post. Great use of the xPts measure — it’s just the right thing for this question. But, with apologies for pedantry, I don’t think this research answers the questions asked at the beginning of the article (“Is it a good idea to hire a coach that has experience or one with a fresh set of ideas? Does the same apply to hiring a general manager?”). That is, the data definitely tell fans something about what to expect from a given hire, but it’s not clear they tell teams anything they don’t already know about whom to hire given their own situations.

    Think about this first in terms of the head coaches. Suppose, instead of Ron Wilson, the Panthers hired Adam Oates to fill their head coach spot. Oates has certainly been out of a job fewer years than Wilson, but I’m pretty sure most folks here would recognize Oates as an even poorer choice than Wilson and one we’d heartily encourage our Eastern Conference opponents in South Florida to make. It’s not that being out of work longer causes coaches to be worse, all else equal, it’s that being worse causes coaches to be out of work longer, again, all else equal.

    Think about the GMs, too. Suppose — perhaps not controversially — that teams know how good their inside candidates for GM openings are individually, but only know the average talent level of outside candidates. Then teams would hire inside candidates exactly when they have one that is better than the average outside and not otherwise, so the average inside candidate who actually gets hired would be better on average than the average outside candidate. There would be no added information from the fact that the candidate is from inside or outside the organization. The same applies to the breakdown between retread and newbie coaches.

    Some of the writing here (“As for people like Ron Wilson and Tom Renney, who were rumored to be in the hunt for the Panthers head coaching gig, this might be a sign that an NHL franchise is desperate to find anyone interested.”) suggests an interpretation of these results in terms of only forming our expectations about a given hire’s performance, which certainly is sound, but it’s important to emphasize that that’s what we learn here rather than whether it’s a “good idea” to go inside or outside, retread or newbie.

  • DCSportsDork

    I certainly understand your points, Gordon.

    What I think we as people that love reading about sports stats need to make sure we do, is not so much look at how the eye test can agree with the stats, but rather how stats can agree with the eye test. If the latter is not true, than what we, as sports stats writers, should do to is (A) explain with a large sample why we need to do the former or (B) make a new stat so that the latter can happen.

    For my piece, it was more of answering whether it was valid from not just fellow Caps fans, but also other hockey fans (my co-worker thinks the best head coach is always one with a Stanley Cup ring in his cabinet) and analysts who think that you need an experienced man to coach an NHL team. Through the eye-test, it felt valid, but how do we explain people like Dan Bylsma (who I predict will coach Ottawa after they undeservedly fire Paul MacLean mid-season and forget that all their faults lie on having one of the cheapest owners in the NHL’s modern era), Willie Desjardins and others?

    In short, are we going to see outliers? Absolutely!!! Otherwise, correlations will always find a way to hit 100%. We, as human beings, just don’t live in Pleasantville.

    But what I think this piece should do is hopefully make the process easier for teams to analyze who they should go after for a head coach or general manager, ALONG WITH performing the interviews and so forth.

  • Gordon Arsenoff

    Yeah, I’m very much with you that the research you’ve performed will be valuable to fans and non-decision-making analysts in setting their expectations for any new hire on a quantitatively rigorous basis. I’m with you right up to where you state that this piece can help “make the process easier for teams to analyze who they should go after” — that kind of advice is exactly what this research isn’t designed to do and shouldn’t be held to the standard of doing.

    If I described my issues with this piece (construed as advice to team decision-makers) in terms of endogeneity, would that help clear up what I mean? In my field (political science) we are always dealing with designing studies to avoid issues like these, but I don’t know if our jargon for the phenomenon I’m describing is familiar outside the field.

  • RESmith

    “The only ex-head coach to currently hold a general manager position is Bryan Murray of the Ottawa Senators,” Actually, this should include Craig MacTavish of the Edmonton Oilers as well. He was coach of the Oilers as recently as 2008-09, a year after Bryan Murray moved from head coach to GM in Ottawa. (I am excluding Glen Sather since you limited the sample of GMs to those from 2000-01, well past his days as a head coach in the ’80s)

  • Gordon Arsenoff

    Lastly, I leave you with the following:

  • Barrett

    I like the thought of signing Brooks Orpik. I’ve been calling for a player with his skillset to be signed to pair with Mike Green for a while now. He might make a difference for this team defensively, but will it matter when he’s eating up so much cap space that the team cannot fill other voids (like the center position)?

    The moves to sign Orpik and Niskanen point towards a win now mentality, but the options to use Kuznetsov, Johansson and Burakovsky at the center positions do not. Having some veteran leadership down the middle and/or players that can actually win a face-off is much needed.

  • Pat Magee

    I don’t think it’ll screw us too much, since the cap will be increasing every season. I wanna say 2 more years and we’ll be a contender again.

    I also have a feeling we’re gonna make a trade at the end of training camp (Probably Brouwer and one of our D prospects, Maybe Schmidt or Carrick) for a 2nd line center.

    I just don’t see Kuz or Mojo impressing too much (EDIT: At the 2C spot) at camp!

  • Jonah

    “yes the orpik contract is ridiculous”. i would have agreed with you a week ago on that statement. but now subban is getting 9mil/yr. if that is the market value for a defensemen, we must now reconsider orpiks’ worth. do you really think that he is worth less than 65% of what subban is worth? especially considering that we A) never had a good Dman to clear the front of the net, and B) don’t have anyone to protect Green, watch some tape of green, he gets massacred by forwards who know there will be no immediate retaliation for a big hit on green. if they know that orpik’s on the ice and just saw them lay out his partner, they may reconsider and/or think about watching their rearview mirror a bit more in the Ozone.