MacKinnon: Think about it: goalie-turned-NHL coach a rare animal
And no former netminder has ever won Stanley Cup as bench boss — maybe Patrick Roy will change that some day
EDMONTON - Rookie head coach and Hall of Fame goalie Patrick Roy has his Colorado Avalanche at 8-1-0 atop the Central Division, backstopped by a goalie tandem whose goals against average is mere decimal pixie dust, but it’s probably just one of those things, right?
As in, too hot not to cool down? Sure it is. It has to be.
Jean-Sebastien Giguere, at 37, won’t sustain that 0.67 GAG for long, anymore than he will his .981 save percentage. And Semyon Varlamov? Look, he’s good, but not 1.68 GAG and .950 save percentage good. Come on.
On the other hand, you bet against what Roy can and cannot sustain at your peril. He sealed 10 straight overtime victories for the Canadiens en route to backstopping Montreal to the 1993 Stanley Cup, for starters.
The guy is bucking the odds merely by becoming an NHL head coach, not an office many ex-goalies achieve, let alone sustain.
Think about it, how many ex-goalies who became NHL head coaches as a second career come to your mind?
And we’re not talking front office jobs here. The likes of Ken Holland, Ron Hextall, Garth Snow, Ken Dryden and Wayne Thomas have made that transition. That’s a different animal.
So is the specialist niche of goalie coach.
And don’t give me Lester Patrick, who put on the pads in a playoff game on an emergency basis, back in ’44 when he was coaching the New York Rangers and Lorne Chabot, his goalie, was struck in the eye by a puck. Legendary as that episode so justly remains, that was strictly a one-off.
Looking at it across the broad sweep of NHL history, the head coaching position seems under-represented by goalies. Many an unspectacular forward (Dave Tippett, Bruce Boudreau) or marginal defenceman (Hello, Dallas Eakins) was apparently biding his time to lead a team.
But goalies? Well, there has been Jacques Martin, obviously, and Gerry Cheevers, he of the iconic stitches mask as a goalie but mixed success as a bench boss.
Eddie Johnston, Cheevers’ sidekick in the Boston goal in the 1970s, coached in Pittsburgh for a while in the early 1990s.
Ron Low, an honest workman as a goalie and head coach, ran the show in Edmonton in the interregnum between George Burnett and Kevin Lowe. Scott Gordon, a journeyman goalie, proved to have similar talent in a brief stint as head coach with the New York Islanders.
More recently in the NHL, ex-Canucks, Blues, Rangers and Red Wings netminder Glen Hanlon coached the Washington Capitals as well as the national teams of Belarus and Slovakia.
Rogie Vachon coached the Los Angeles Kings on an interim basis three times, descending from the general manager’s office in three separate seasons, for a total of 10 games. Hardly a career coach.
The late, great Hall of Fame goalie Jacques Plante, one of the game’s true innovators, a visionary, a genuine penseur of puck, coached the Quebec Nordiques of the WHA to a decent 38-36-4 won-lost-tied record in 1973-74. The next season, Plante strapped the pads back on, playing for the Oilers, his final stint as a pro goalie.
Then he retired and moved to Switzerland, where he died in 1986.
Go back far enough and you find Hugh Lehman, who won the Stanley Cup in 1915 — the pre-NHL days — for the Vancouver Millionaires, who beat the Ottawa Senators. He later coached, but never a Cup winner.
(Peerless) Percy LeSueur was a Stanley Cup-winning goalie for Ottawa and later a head coach, also.
Emile (The Cat) Francis, an NHL backup ’tender for New York and Chicago, was the Rangers head coach from 1965-75, with a couple of interruptions. For much of that time, The Cat’s No. 1 goalie with the Rangers was Eddie Giacomin, the likable, acrobatic goalie whose heroic play often prompted those chants of “Ed-ddie! Ed-ddie! Ed-ddie!’ from the Madison Square Garden faithful.
You’ve got to think a head coach who is an ex-goalie could relate to the men who hold down the most important jobs on his team. Got to think that, even if by osmosis, Giguere and Varlamov benefit from working under the supervision of a great practitioner like Roy.
Just as baseball managers who were catchers tend to have a good handle on how to work with a pitching staff.
Speaking of which, it is so commonplace for former catchers to wind up as managers, you begin to wonder whether wearing the tools of ignorance is a pre-requisite for the job.
In the last 20 years alone ex-catchers Bob Boone, Bruce Bochy, Mike Scioscia, Jerry Narron, Buck Martinez, Bob Brenly, Tony Pena, Ned Yost, Eric Wedge, Bob Melvin, John Gibbons, Joe Girardi, Bob Geren, John Russell, who managed the Trappers in Edmonton, Mike Matheny have all managed in the majors.
Joe Torre, Ralph Houk, Girardi, Bochy, Brenly, Scoiscia and the freshly retired Jim Leyland all are ex-catchers who managed teams to World Series championships.
But no ex-goalie has led an NHL team to the Stanley Cup championship as a coach.
It may well be unlikely that Roy change that this spring, but you have to like his chances at some point.
He’s been a winner at all levels, after all. And’s it’s not like he has much competition in this rare category.
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