In two posts over the weekend (here and here), David Staples of the Edmonton Journal pondered whether the organization’s minor league coaches “thwart the development of their prospects,” by assigning more ice time in key situations to veteran players as opposed to the kids. It’s an important question to ask as developing prospects is the key to sustaining success at the NHL level. But as Staples points out, there are two sides to this discussion.
First, and most obviously, prospects need to be on the ice in meaningful games and playing important minutes to best advance their development. Practice time is important but it’s during games that players can implement what they’re being taught in practice. Essentially, prospects learn by doing better than they would by watching.
Staples also argues that it often does benefit younger players to play with established pros. He cites the example of Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall each having the opportunity to skate with veteran pivot Shawn Horcoff during their first season in the league. Seeing how Horcoff went about his business day-to-day helped the youngsters learn what it took to become a solid pro player.
On the other hand, most organizations want their prospects to experience success, both individually and as part of the team, while in the minors as a way to better prepare them for potential playoff races in the NHL. Carrying a handful of veteran pros and giving them significant ice time improves the team’s odds for regular season success and subsequently to earn a playoff berth. The experience of postseason games is valuable in the development of a team’s prospects.
It’s a fine line minor league coaches have to walk. Their first obligation is to develop the parent club’s prospects, turning talented kids into quality NHL players. The ideal way to do so is by bringing them through a winning culture. That’s to say nothing of the pressure the coaches feel to win simply to keep their jobs. Just like at the NHL level, if you’re not winning much, you won’t be coaching long.
Ultimately, after analyzing a handful of previously successful AHL coaches who have gone on to earn NHL jobs – including: Jon Cooper, Dallas Eakins, Willie Desjardins, Jeff Blashill, Mike Sullivan, Jared Bednar, John Hynes and Jack Capuano – Staples concludes that Edmonton’s AHL head coaches – Todd Nelson and Gerry Fleming – have distributed ice time in roughly the same proportions as the successful coaches suggesting they have not thwarted the development of the team’s prospects. All together, it’s an interesting read and offers insight into what the thought process is for organizations assembling their minor league teams.
- Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch writes about the struggle head coach John Tortorella faces dividing his time between the Blue Jackets and Team USA. Due to his commitment to coach the US team at the World Cup of Hockey tournament, Tortorella will miss 10 days of Columbus’ training camp and half of their eight exhibition games. It’s especially difficult for Tortorella, who was hired seven games into the 2015-16 campaign, since this would be his first training camp with the team and the club is expected to integrate several young players to the roster. Columbus has traditionally started the season slowly and if they again struggle out of the gate, it would be fair to wonder how much of a role Tortorella’s absence played. However, on the positive side, many assistant coaches who have designs of one day running their own bench get valuable experience running training camp while their team’s head coach is in Toronto for the World Cup. In the case of the Blue Jackets, the responsibility of taking over the team falls to assistant Brad Larsen. Tortorella also discusses that representing his home country has taken on even more significance with the knowledge his son, 26-year-old U.S. Army Ranger Nick Tortorella, is serving his country and currently deployed in the Middle East.
“I know these are hockey games … but I do look at it like it’s for my country. What Nick is doing by far dwarfs what we do. We’re entertainers; we’re playing a sport.”
“But with my son over there — this might sound selfish — I want to team up with him and help my country. I get pretty caught up in representing my country. There’s nothing like it.”
Tortorella is one of the league’s most polarizing coaches. His intensity and brutal honesty can turn off some players. But, as this piece demonstrates, there is more to Torts than just the firebrand head coach.