Last year at this time we took a stab at ranking the coaches within the Penguins’ division, and now it’s time to do it again as another season approaches.
8. Lindy Ruff - New Jersey Devils - As quickly as NHL teams often tend to fire their coaches, it’s surprising that Ruff was taken back for a third season in New Jersey. The Devils have finished in seventh place in the division two years in a row under Ruff and been total non-factors. They’ve added more talented players for this season, but goaltending remains a huge question mark. If you’re a coach, you can’t like hearing that. Last year NJD was surprisingly top-10 in goals scored, but just atrocious in goals allowed (30th) and also some terrible goalie inputs, and only mediocre to bad defense — which is odd enough since Ruff is known reputation as a supposedly decent defensive coach. Bad goaltending can get a coach canned. Many odds have Ruff among the top choices for “first coach fired in the 2022-23 season”. A slow start could be very bad for Ruff.
7. Brad Larsen - Columbus Blue Jackets - With all due respect (a clue something very disrespectful is about to be said), Columbus got terrible coaching inputs last season from Larsen in his first year as an NHL head coach. The Blue Jackets were 31st in expected goals percentage (and 25th in actual GF%). Their special teams groups both ranked in the 20’s. They were fun to watch because they could score and couldn’t stop anyone, and that was before adding Johnny Gaudreau who will only add more of that. Color us very skeptical that Larsen will be the guy to turn things around in Columbus.
6. Lane Lambert - New York Islanders - Speaking of first timers, 57-year old Lane Lambert gets his crack at running his own shop after a surprising firing of Trotz by the Islanders. Lambert has been Trotz’s primary assistant since 2011 with stops for the pair in Nashville, Washington and then on the the Island. Now it’s time for him to take what he’s learned and go out on his own. He starts off somewhat low on the list due to being an unknown and needing to prove himself.
5. John Tortorella - Philadelphia Flyers - Oh happy day! Torts is back in the NHL after a brief one year hiatus and back in the Penguins’ division (following previous divisional stints with NYR and Columbus). He hasn’t changed much, with his notoriously tough training camp now putting the Flyers through their paces as he skates them into the ground and is going to make them mean. This is going to be a wonderfully fun car wreck to watch the surly Torts have to deal with the jaded Philly media in what almost everyone (except the team decision makers) expect to be a very bad season for the Flyers.
4. Gerard Gallant - New York Rangers - Gallant was a finalist for the Jack Adams award as coach of the year in the NHL last year, but he will intentionally receive little respect on this list. Gallant is the beneficiary of elite goaltending and skilled players to bail out a poorly devised and coached system. His handling of young players hasn’t been great, but will be a key for this season as the Rangers will be relying on many talented youngsters to take the next step.
3. Peter Laviolette - Washington Capitals - Laviolette is a coach who has sneakily compiled some really good numbers. His 717 wins ranks third among currently employed coaches. His career .593 winning% is seventh (minimum 250 games). He won a Stanley Cup way back when in 2006 with Carolina. He’s reached the Stanley Cup Final coaching three different teams, a good batting average with five total teams coached. Laviolette’s teams are well-structured and usually have a good idea what they’re trying to do out there. He might not be the very best coach, but he is a very reliably solid coach with quality results year after year.
2. Rod Brind’Amour - Carolina Hurricanes - Brind’Amour has been one of the league’s very best coaches from just about the moment he was hired in 2018. The Hurricanes have won their division in the last two seasons, including 2021-22’s massive performance of 116 points which placed them only behind Florida and Colorado. Brind’Amour has installed a wonderful process in Carolina, with the ‘Canes becoming a dominant possession team that controls the puck more often than not. The big hang up has been the playoffs, with Brind’Amour unable to get out of the second round and being upset by lower seeds two years in a row. Post-season success has eluded Brind’Amour for now, but his coaching inputs have been a positive for his team.
1. Mike Sullivan - Pittsburgh Penguins - Sullivan has been no stranger to post-season frustrations recently. Short of suiting up in goalie pads himself, there’s not much of it that has been within his control, however. Sullivan remains the dean of Metro division coaches, because he still has two Stanley Cup rings that he can pull out of storage. Despite injuries and an aging core, Sullivan has always been able to guide the Penguins to 100+ point seasons (or a pace for one in shortened years) and done some great work with depleted lineups. The Pens don’t miss a beat, record-wise, when without one or both of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, which is a huge testament to the system, motivation and steadying hand helping to guide them from behind the bench.