8. Brad Larsen - Columbus Blue Jackets. Is this fair? Perhaps not. But Larsen is a first time NHL head coach this season, having spent the last seven seasons in Columbus as an assistant. Perhaps his familiarity will help working with a team that might feel free from personality of John Tortorella. But, until Larsen proves it, he’s starting from the bottom with low expectations, with the possibility to work his way up if he can make anything happen.
7. Lindy Ruff - New Jersey Devils. The veteran Ruff had a tough go last year, his first in NJ, going 19-30-7 for a seventh place finish in an eight team division. After 2007, Ruff has steered his teams (BUF, DAL, NJ) to just one playoff series win in 11 seasons of coaching. He is a good hockey coach, but just hasn’t had gotten anywhere as of late.
6. Alain Vigneault - Philadelphia Flyers. Vigneault enters his third season behind the bench in Philly having had a good season his first year, and watching the bottom drop out last year. His teams have made the playoffs in nine of the last 11 years he’s been a coach (VAN, NYR, PHI), Vigneault is a perfectly good coach. He’s ranked sixth here, but not meant as an insult or slight, just a function of not driving particularly great results as of late, as well as a crowded room of his peers.
5. Gerard Gallant - New York Rangers. The Rangers might have hit a home run with their new hire. Gallant appeared to turn to Panthers around in 2016 before getting a bum deal and controversially getting fired. Then he led an expansion team in Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final in their very first season in 2017-18 before also somewhat bizarrely losing his job, perhaps as more of a message then by any fault of his own. Gallant comes into New York having made great initial impressions in FLA and VGK, will he do it again this year in Manhattan? The track record is there to expect a positive coaching input to help his teams.
4. Peter Laviolette - Washington Capitals. Laviolette has lost his last three playoff series, but he did go 36-15-5 last year, his first season in Washington. He won the Cup with Carolina in ‘06. Laviolettte led Philly to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010, they’ve only gone downhill from there when they dismissed him a few years later. He’d led Nashville to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017, they’ve trended similarly downward ever since they let him go. Laviolette will have one of the most veteran (read: oldest) teams around this season, how he manages them will have a big impact on setting them up for the postseason. History shows that he is a solid coach that will have his team in contention.
3. Rod Brind’Amour - Carolina Hurricanes. It’s tough to rank the reigning Jack Adams winner third, but here Rod the Bod is going into this season. Brind’Amour steered the Canes to the Central division title last year, though they lost in the second round of the playoffs. He’s entering his fourth season as a coach with an impressive total .631% points percentage. Brind’Amour has done really well, especially being a first time bench boss, he just needs to have a little more postseason success (3-3 career HC record) to move up the charts in a forum like this when many of his peers have their names carved on the Stanley Cup as coaches.
2. Barry Trotz - New York Islanders. Barry Trotz is legendary for getting “more with less” by instilling a team mentality and a tight defensive system. Somehow his goalies always, always, always out-perform expectations, a trend that’s been going on for 20 years and across multiple organizations. By this point, that’s clearly no fluke or coincidence. Trotz has made it to the Conference finals in each of the last two seasons, but his teams have also finished fifth in the division in 2019-20 and fourth in division in 2020-21 for the last two regular seasons. He only has a .571% points% in his three seasons with the Islanders. Trotz is an excellent coach, but his teams always just seem to hang around and out-perform what most think they will. Which probably means perceptions should be changed.
1. Mike Sullivan - Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Sullivan has 2 Stanley Cups with the Penguins. He won the division last year, in a season where his team absorbed a myriad of significant injuries. Sullivan has a .641% points% in Pittsburgh, ranking third in the NHL among current coaches with at least 2+ seasons with their teams (trailing Boston’s Bruce Cassidy and Tampa’s Jon Cooper). Sullivan has not had playoff success in the past few seasons, but that’s more a function of factors outside his control (shooting %, opposing goalie voodoo magic) than it is a measure of what he has done. Sullivan’s work will be cut out for him with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby injured to start the season, but don’t be surprised when he gets the Pens to buckle down and keep the ship afloat until the stars can come back.