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Drop The Gloves: Don’t Get Too High On Claude And Hitch

It’s been a while since we’ve had any disagreements worth a Drop The Gloves post, but that changed with the recent coaching news including Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, and Mike Modano. So here goes.

Yesterday we had our fourth NHL coach relieved of their duty. Not many were surprised when Boston axed Claude Julien or when St Louis canned Ken Hitchcock last week. Boston and St. Louis fans don’t accept underachievers and both organizations were forced to act. The result is now the Golden Knights have two Stanley Cup winning coaches to examine. Ken wrote about Julien’s dismissal yesterday and it’s potential impact to Las Vegas. He noted the former Bruins coach fitting George McPhee’s qualifications.

Experienced, a guy the hockey community knows, fits the culture, and someone who they do not have to evaluate. Julien also brings one more aspect that no one would ever admit is necessary, legitimacy.”  –Ken, SinBin.vegas (We’ve officially hit a new low quoting ourselves. Oh well.)

The one thing McPhee’s wishlist didn’t have was ‘Stanley Cup winning coach’ because they don’t grow on trees. Two are now available. But as established as Hitchcock and Julien are, neither are the right fit to coach on the Strip.

Trotz said Julien probably already has offers, which isn’t far-fetched for the previously longest-tenured coach in the league who has a Cup ring and one of the strongest resumes around. The expansion Vegas Golden Knights could have interest in Julien, Gallant, Hitchcock and Capuano since general manager George McPhee is believed to want experience behind the bench. –USA Today

Let’s start with Hitchcock. Anything but the perfect candidate. Hitch has coached since 1995, starting off in Dallas and leading them to a gift Stanley Cup in 1999. No Goal! In seven years with the Stars, Hitchcock led his team to five playoff appearances, three conference finals, and one Stanley Cup championship. From there Hitch had continuous success in the regular season but couldn’t get his teams deep. Only three times since 1999’s Cup victory, Hitchcock made the conference finals. Not a great track record in 16 seasons. Hitchcock’s .606 regular season winning percentage drops significantly to .512 in the postseason.

Hitchcock also seemed to be on the chopping block for a few years and would’ve been gone last year if not for his conference finals appearance. St. Louis fans were down on him and happy for the mid-season change. That’s not a trend Golden Knights fans want for their first coach.

Another factor that makes me nervous about Hitchcock is his age. The Edmonton native is 66 years-old and might be ready for some good old Lake Alberta fishing. The energy needed to support a potential mishmash roster could be more suitable for a younger coach. One that’s trying to make his mark, grow and develop a team into a postseason threat. Closer to the ages of Jack Capuano (50), Gerard Gallant (53), Jon Cooper (49), Dan Bylsma (46), Kirk Muller (49) and even the decade younger Claude Julien (56).

Julien is without a doubt one of the NHL’s best coaches. Boston felt it had to move on after a couple of years of stale hockey. However, Julien led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup since 1972. That’s a big deal. Seven out of ten years, the B’s made it to the postseason and won 393 regular season games. Good enough to become Boston’s all-time leader in wins. With all of Julien’s success, Vegas will certainly reach out. How long will that conversation last? It’s probably up to Claude.

The list of teams in need of a coach is growing and will continue to grow. Boston, Florida and the New York Islanders have open seats. Buffalo, Florida, Montreal, New Jersey,  Tampa Bay, Arizona, Colorado, Dallas, Vancouver and Winnipeg could all be without a coach. You can only assume Julien will be contacted by the organizations that can afford him. With 512 wins under his belt, he’ll be on top of most team’s lists. A Stanley Cup winning coach believes he can win again. The Golden Knights will be a few seasons away from that becoming reality. The losses on Julien’s resume wouldn’t help his potential HOF status. Plus, teams like Montreal or Vancouver could throw an endless bag of scratch at the native Canadian.

Personally, I believe Julien will politely pass on Vegas for an established franchise. At 56, Julien wants to win sooner than later. Coaching the Golden Knights would delay his goals. As much as Ken, and pretty much everyone else on social media wants him in Vegas, Claude Julien isn’t brought in to develop a club, he’s brought in to make a deep playoff run. Exactly why Boston hired him ten years ago.

That’s not saying I’m not on board with Mr. Julien turning into Sir Claude, I just can’t see it happening.

***

A SinBin.vegas reader asked us to compare Julien, Gallant, and Hitchcock to NFL coaches. I’m going to attempt that request. Help me out if you think I’m off. Just comment below.

Hitchcock= Mike Holmgren or Brian Billick: One Championship each, multiple division titles, multiple playoff disappointments.

Julien= Mike McCarthy or Pete Carroll: One Championship each, consistent franchise success, multiple deep postseason runs, handles high talent athletes.

Gallant= Chuck Pagano or Mike Zimmer: Minimal playoff success, highly regarded coaches, underachieving teams.

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16 Comments

  1. James

    @Jason Pothier
    Personally, I think we would be better off in the long run by losing in the first three/four seasons. Hiring an elite coach doesn’t help the cause. An elite goaltender ruined any chance of the Devils landing Connor McDavid …. I predict that the first head coach of the Knights will be the fall guy for the lack of success in the first three/four seasons. After three/four seasons is the perfect time to hire a Claude Julien type. Hopefully the team will be in a position to thrive.

  2. Phisig150

    Thanks for the comparisons. Also great counterpoint article. I guess you got to swing for the fences with Julien (although the Thibs comparison by James makes me a bit leery) but be happy you got Gallant to fall back on. Not that excited about Hitchcock even though honestly he’s the only guy I’ve heard of before your write ups. How about Capuano? Where’s he rank on your list and who’s his NFL (or NBA) facsimile? I’m liking this NHL to NFL translation makes things much easier to understand and put things into context for new fans.

    • James

      @Phisig150
      How about Capuano? Where’s he rank on your list and who’s his NFL (or NBA) facsimile? I’m liking this NHL to NFL translation makes things much easier to understand and put things into context for new fans.

      Capuano’s NBA facsimile is former run-of-the-mill Atlanta Hawks/New York Knicks coach Mike Woodson. It would be laughable if you talk about Woodson in the same breath as Gregg Popovich. The two things are light years apart. You can’t talk about Capuano in the same breath as Mike Babcock/Joel Quenneville. One of these things is not like the others, One of these things just doesn’t belong.

  3. RJ

    No one is expecting the Stanley Cup to come to Las Vegas for several years at least. As a fan I am not expecting immediate success. I am however expecting them to immediately TRY to succeed. I want a playoff birth in the first few seasons. I want the Las Vegas Hockey Club to win as many games as possible, even if this is not many games. Hiring someone with virtually no track record of success like Gallant or Capuano as the initial HC is an indicator to me that there is no expectation to win. If Gallant or Capuano is who McPhee settles on after Hitch and Julien (and maybe Bylsma and Ruff) pass, that’s fine.

    I ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT accept strategic losing in the first several seasons as James suggested, because I need my fellow Las Vegans to get as excited about hockey as I am and a string of 70 point seasons to begin our franchise will get no one excited.

    TRY to land the top coaches. TRY to win.

    • Phisig150

      Star players will get Las Vegas locals excited not squeaking into the playoffs as an 8th seed with a bunch of no names.We’re not getting a star in the expansion draft. We won’t be getting any stars to come via free agency until we have a promising up and coming team. We have to build through the draft. We need as many lotto tickets as possible and hope a couple hit. Draft the stars and the people will come. In the mean time maybe the marketing people can start earning their money.

      • RJ

        Putting a team on the ice that is trying to lose (as you have repeatedly suggested) is a problem that marketing people can’t be expected to solve regardless of the money they make. It is true we won’t get stars at the top of their game, but we can get a few past their prime big names and solid no name talent in the expansion draft.

        By the way, I think watching the LVHC squeak into the playoffs as an 8th seed sounds incredibly exciting. Much more exciting than watching a team have a 20 win season and HOPE we get a good pick and HOPE that pick pays off.

        • Phisig150

          Sorry I just don’t get handicapping our team financially and limiting our potential draft capital to chase a playoff spot and be stuck somewhere in the limbo of not really being in serious contention but not really bottoming out to properly build for the best future either. Maybe it’s just the NBA fan in me.The team isn’t trying to lose its slowly and steadily improving and picking up as many valuable assets in the process. See the Sixers. Hinkie had a genius blueprint he just wasn’t given quite enough time to execute. Much rather them with their bright future than say Memphis who always makes the playoffs, never is a serious threat to win the ring and doesn’t quite have that elite level franchise player. Hate to see us screw the pooch by being inpatient. I think you absolutely could market you draft picks and a fast tempo of play. Rather than a bunch of older has beens and grind it out hockey.

          • RJ

            But the Sixers have a decades long relationship with their he city and a loyal fan base. I understand the logic of what you are saying, but tanking will poison the fan base interest in the team before it even has a chance to take off.

            How many years did Edmonton tank, getting (and squandering) high pick after high pick before they got McDavid? That strategy just won’t work here because McPhee needs to do more than build a team, he needs to build a franchise.

            If this is an NHL idea game, you absolutely have the correct winning strategy. Of course in a video game attendance doesn’t matter, there is no threat of moving to Quebec, and you can just reset the game and start over anytime. In real life building a fan base is much more important than building a team.

  4. Willy702

    This team won’t “try” to lose, they will just lose. Its that simple for year one. Even the crappy Avalanche currently have 5 roster players who are better than anything the VGK are likely to have year one (Duchene/Landeskog/Barrie/Johnson/Varlamov), unless they actually spend the money to get an elite free agent. Then they would have 1 player at that level.

    I don’t think however any coach would see it as a surer thing to go elsewhere because winning the Cup is a crapshoot. The favorite going into the playoffs doesn’t win that often so its about putting the right type of team together and then figuring out a way to get to the tournament and letting things shake out.

    For these reasons I think Julien is the perfect fit. If he went into almost any other franchise he’d spend the first year anyways getting guys to play his system and working with management to clean up the edges so they get guys who play to his style. Here he would have the easiest chore in the league to get to where he wants it to be provided he gets that kind of signal from management upon getting the job offer. Elsewhere he’d be stuck saying this guy won’t work and the GM would be saying well sorry, no one will take him or he’d just have to deal with a no movement clause. Getting him in at year 3 or 4 when the playoff odds are higher then runs into these sorts of issues. Plus as much as coaches and players want to win every year, any that has one on his resume ends up with a lot more patience and perspective on it. He’s not some guy in his 60s desperate to get the first title, he can wait 7 years for the next and not worry.

  5. James

    @Phisig150 @RJ @Willy702
    I have mixed feelings about tanking. I agree with Phisig150, drafting superstars is imperative. The Chicago Blackhawks don’t become a dynasty without Toews (3) and Kane (1). The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Sidney Crosby (1) and Evgeni Malkin (2). I could go on and on with endless examples. Drafting Alex Ovechkin (1) and Nicklas Backstrom (4) furthered George McPhee’s career.

    I agree with RJ about the market. I loved Sam Hinkie’s blueprint. Although I think it could have worked out even better with a little bit of luck. Las Vegas is a non traditional hockey market who likes a winner. I think you could lose the market with a lack of success early on. Hinkie took tanking to a whole new level. He wasn’t even trying to fake it.

    I agree Willy702. I don’t think you need to tank like the 76ers. I think the team can try to win and be naturally bad for the first three years due to the lack of high end talent. It may make sense to put the team at a competitive disadvantage around those three trade deadlines by trading assets. You can still try to win, but McPhee can hinder the teams chances by weakening the team.

  6. PhiSig 150

    I guess when I say tank I really mean develop our young prospects at all costs even if it costs us wins in the end. Give them much more playing time and put them in pressure situations that on say a team like Chicago they wouldn’t have an opportunity to get. To use an NBA analogy I don’t want a Byron Scott. He over used the vets, approached every game no matter how meaningless as a playoff game so the young guys never got in during crunch times, and really had trouble connecting with today’s players. As a fan I’m much happier with Luke Walton. Yes we’re still losing games (hopefully we that top 3 protected draft pick) but it feels like finally the youth movement is in full effect. So maybe I don’t want a Hitchcock or a Julien who’s the Luke Walton waiting for his shot?

    It also means maintaining salary flexibility and not signing (most likely overpaying) mid-tier vets just for the sole purpose of making the playoffs. If they don’t fit into our longterm plans then they don’t need to be here. It also means absorbing some high short term contracts in order to pick up more assets in return. Picks and then properly developing those picks are much more important at this juncture than wins. The draft is really a craps shoot so you as many rolls of the die as possible.

    If the success Las Vegas hockey is dependent on a playoff run in the first few years then the haters are indeed right and we never deserved a team in the first place. I guarantee we will get every last chance that Arizona got to make it work and then some. The NHL to save themselves from embarrassment is going to give this thing probably a good 15 years to work. This team is not going to Quebec anytime soon, sorry pissy Canadians. Let’s build this team the right way and not worry about it folding if we don’t make the playoffs by year 4.

  7. James

    @PhiSig 150
    I think George McPhee wants to build this team the right way through the draft. He knows the first three years are going to be tough sledding. Bill Foley could throw a spanner in the works. McPhee does what Foley tells him to do. Foley might want to speed up the ‘process’ in order to make the playoffs. I’ve seen the quick fix first hand. James Dolan is in love with names. The Knicks are already regretting the Joakim Noah signing. One could argue that Foley has unrealistic expectations regarding winning the Stanley Cup. I wouldn’t like to be the coach. Not sure if he’s just trying to sell tickets. I think he shaved a year off after video gate.

    I think McPhee wants to hire a coach in his own image. A retread with NHL head coaching experience.

    Luke Walton (young upcoming coach) is a tough one. Walton looked the part in Golden State. Kevin Dineen? Assistant coach on an elite team (Chicago).

    • PhiSig 150

      The quick fix is exactly what am I worried about. Are we going to take on overpriced aging veterans in the expansion draft? Are we going to vastly overpay free agents in both dollars and years to lure them to Las Vegas? Even if we do all that there’s still no guarantee we even sniff the 8th seed. Is a handful of more wins really worth dropping out of the 3 or top 5 pick range? If we’re setting up Las Vegas fans (potential and already on board) with the expectation that if we’re not in the playoffs by year 3 we have go get our pitchforks and demand heads to roll then we’re setting this whole enterprise up for failure. People are already planning the Stanley Cup victory parade and deciding which bus Foley should arrive in. Time to switch to decaf and calm down a bit. Make the Knights apart of the community. Nail the TV presentation. Sell the game. Sell the experience. The winning will come (much) later. I really think people that see a Stanley Cup or even the playoffs in the near horizon are in for a rude awakening.

  8. James

    @PhiSig 150
    I like what I’m hearing from George McPhee. This isn’t his first rodeo. The blueprint looks great. McPhee basically said he is going to build through the draft. As much as we the fans build up the expansion draft, he knows that the expansion draft is littered with complementary players. We would have to get something enticing to take on a dud contract.

    Bill Foley is the great unknown. For all we know he might be a meddlesome sports owner. We don’t know how he will stomach losing. There is pain coming. Hopefully he will be hands off in terms of hockey decisions and allow McPhee and his staff to do their jobs. If Foley becomes too involved on the hockey side of things we are going to vastly overpay free agents in both dollars and years to lure them to Las Vegas. A big no no in a salary cap world. The Toronto Maple Leafs finally realised that you can’t cut corners if you want to win a championship.

    • PhiSig 150

      How involved and insistent (and off the mark) he was on the name has me worried that this will bleed into other areas of the organization. He seems like De Niro’s character in Casino that insists his chefs put an equal number of blueberries in all the muffins.

  9. James

    @PhiSig 150
    It’s a case of so far, so good for the on ice product. I’m so glad to hear that Foley is going to gauge Claude Julien’s interest in the job, can’t ask for more. Wasn’t sure if Foley would pony up the money. Julien could cost anywhere between $3 to $4.5 million per year. He is arguably a top 5 coach in the league. Hence why I think he will turn us down.

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