A new season brings three changes to the bench bosses in the Metropolitan Division from when we checked in last year. That makes up half of the six new head coaches named this off-season across the whole league. Let’s check in on them, with last year’s rank in parenthesis.
8. Spencer Carbery (NR) - Washington Capitals - Carbery, 41, gets his first NHL head coaching gig and starts at the bottom as an unknown. He’s well-known in the Caps’ organization where he worked for their ECHL affiliate South Carolina from 2010-16 and then the AHL Hershey Bears from 2018-20, before spending the last two seasons as an assistant for NHL Toronto. Carbery is carrying a lot of good will and hope that he will help improve the Washington power play after helping the Leafs in that department last season. Once he gets the chance to prove himself he could inch up the rankings in the future, but the Caps made very few changes from an aging core that didn’t make the playoffs last year, which could make for a tricky launching point for Carbery’s NHL head coaching career.
7. John Tortorella (5) - Philadelphia Flyers - In this format where teams usually get one All-Star, I still can’t get over Torts making Kevin Hayes (his All-Star last year) a healthy scratch at times. Hayes, like many Flyers veteran players from last season, is now out of town with Philly shifting to tear down their team, get young and start over. But they didn’t have a lot of fight down the stretch, being one of the league’s worst teams down the stretch. For all his bluster, it doesn’t seem like Torts’ impact is doing much positive or even making the Flyers that plucky of a bad team. He’s always grumbly and grumpy, but hasn’t shown that much in Philly yet. There haven’t been many signs to expect much different or anything better in the coming season from his coaching inputs to provide a boost to what is expected to be a bad team.
6. Mike Babcock (NR) - Columbus Blue Jackets - Babcock’s tenure ended in disgrace in Toronto in 2019, and he’s been out of the league until now. Babcock has had plenty of time to reflect and change, which has been the major talking point in his somewhat controversial return. Despite a tremendous resume, the clouds hanging over Babcock leaves him with a lot to prove as he looks to re-start his coaching career and change the narrative. Columbus has given him a bunch of new defensemen to work with, and Babcock will look to translate that into making them a darkhorse team this year. It’s difficult to get a fresh start when carrying so much baggage, but the upcoming season might show how much Babcock can do to begin again.
5. Lane Lambert (6) - New York Islanders - Is Lambert a good coach? He made the playoffs but likely has Ilya Sorokin to thank for that. The Sorokin effect helped the Islanders finish 6th in the NHL in actual 5v5 Goals For% last season, even though they were 20th in expected goals. By talent and coaching, this team seems more like a 20th best in the league type of team than a 6th place team. Lambert has a veteran squad and the always uncomfortable position of working under Lou Lamoriello, who has never been shy about having a quick trigger on coaches. It might not be all on Lambert, but the Isles just seem kinda there as a decent team with a very real ceiling (of course, except in the third periods of games where they’re losing to the Pens, when they temporarily become the best team ever assembled).
4. Peter Laviolette (3) - New York Rangers - Known for early success (Stanley Cup champion in his first full campagin in Carolina in 2006, SCF in 2010 with Philly in his first year, 47 wins in Nashville in 2014-15, lost the division championship on a tiebreak with Washington in 2021), Laviolette takes over his sixth team looking to help give the Rangers that early stint boost. As I wrote last year, Lavy’s system and structure has been tried and true to drive wins and positive results to some degree, but he couldn’t work miracles last year in Washington. He’s got more material in New York, who fired Gerard Gallant despite having two 100+ point seasons. Laviolette has been a solid and reliable coach, if not also a fairly uninspiring one as of late.
3. Lindy Ruff (8) - New Jersey Devils - It wasn’t that long ago that it was looking dire for Ruff, with the home crowd chanting for his firing early last season. That’s quickly become a distant memory after Ruff stayed the course and helped steer the Devils to a tremendous season in 2022-23 that saw NJ emerge as one of the new powerhouse teams in the NHL. Coaches can go from the outhouse to the penthouse (and vice versa) extremely quickly based on results, and Ruff enters his fourth year in New Jersey looking to keep the good will high with a quality team that he should be commended for steering the right way as they’ve grown so much and so quickly in the past 12 months. No active NHL coach has more wins than Ruff’s 834, which is a nice counter-balance to having such a young core of players who are only starting to learn how to win in the NHL as a group.
2. Mike Sullivan (1) - Pittsburgh Penguins - Few coaches have had the influence and staying power of Sullivan, who is firmly entrenched as the Pens coach even despite the blowout in the front office and the extreme makeover on the ice. For a guy who could almost literally do no wrong with his decisions early on, Sullivan’s struggled to find the right buttons to push for his team lately, if such buttons even exist any longer. There will be added scrutiny and attention to the coaching staff for the Pens this year, who are expecting an improvement over how things have been going, being as new management has certainly addressed a lot of the roster-based concerns and seemingly added the missing ingredients that have prevented Sullivan from cooking in the recent past.
1. Rod Brind’Amour (2) - Carolina Hurricanes - Only the Stanley Cup has eluded Brind’Amour, now entering his sixth season as the Canes’ head coach. They won two playoff rounds last year, to match Brind’Amour’s best playoff result as a coach, but hasn’t quite been able to get over the hump despite a strong .661% career regular season points percentage that sees Carolina as one of the top teams prior to the playoffs. The missing playoff success could be just a matter of time, with Carolina expected to be again among the strongest teams in the NHL this season and have just as good of a chance as anyone come playoff time. Brind’Amour’s system is tried and true to set his team up for success with his coaching inputs, he’s arguably the finest coach in the league right now.