Flyers’ Vigneault tops this year’s class of ‘new’ coaches with NHL teams

When you get a new job, most bosses will give you a bit of time to get your feet wet. Sure, they may duck into your office to make sure everything is on the right track (“Did they finally get your phone extension hooked up?”), but for the most part there is a grace period. 

The same goes for NHL coaches. 

Seven teams entered this season with new coaches behind the bench, and until now, they have been relatively free from critique because you have to give them their own grace period. 

Now that we’ve passed the quarter-mark of the season, it’s time to duck into their offices to see how these guys are doing. 

Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia)

Last year at this point: 27 points

This year: 37 points

Point differential: +10

The City of Brotherly Love is the fifth stop for Vigneault and so far so good. The most notable change comes with how he gives out ice time; last year, both Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier averaged more than 20 minutes per game and were expected to carry the load offensively, which they did. 

Vigneault hasn’t put all his eggs into that basket. Travis Konecny has been given more than two minutes more per game and now leads the team in scoring with 27 points (he had 49 all of last season). Oskar Lindblom has also done well with more ice time, as he is almost half way to his point total from last season. 

Dave Tippett (Edmonton)

Six-foot-seven goaltender Mikko Koskinen has made things easier for Dave Tippett in his first year as Edmonton Oilers head coach. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

Last year at this point: 32 points

This year: 37 points

Point differential: +5

When Tippett was hired to fix the mess that is the Edmonton Oilers, he said, “Everybody talks about [captain Connor] McDavid and [fellow forward Leon] Draisaitl. There are more pieces here [than them]. There are good players to build on.”

Well, McDavid and Draisaitl have done their part, and when you throw James Neal into the mix, the trio have accounted for 57 per cent of the Oilers goals this season. 

But the real difference comes on special teams. 

Their ninth-ranked power play last year is now tops in the league at 32.5 per cent, while their penalty kill — an ugly 30th in the league last season — is currently second best overall.  

Joel Quenneville (Florida)

Last year at this point: 27 points

This year: 31 points

Point differential: +4

Five points may not seem like a lot, but the Panthers are a much-improved team. Then again, when you spend a boatload of money to get a three-time Stanley Cup champion coach, you expect some immediate results.

This one is so much more than X’s and O’s; Quenneville is the very definition of a players coach. Vincent Trocheck said earlier this month that it feels “different” this year because the team is playing with confidence. 

Sometimes a coach’s toughest job is changing the culture of a room. Quenneville is already ahead of schedule with that task.

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D.J. Smith (Ottawa)

Last year at this point: 27 points

This year: 23 points

Point differential: -4

Going into this season, no team or coach had lower expectations than the Ottawa Senators. Their job was simple — lose hockey games to get a shot at the No. 1 overall pick. It would seem first-time head coach Smith didn’t get the memo. 

Any other team would have looked at a November schedule that consisted of 16 games in 29 days and 11 of them on the road as a good time to mail it in. 

The Sens won eight of their first 13 games. Ottawa fans don’t know whether to cheer for them to stop winning or enjoy the ride.

Todd McLellan (L.A. Kings)

Last year at this point: 21 points

This year: 24 points

Point differential: +3​​

McClellan knew the rebuild would probably be painful and it has been. Unlike Smith, the Kings are doing exactly what people expected they would do — lose. 

While McLellan has been juggling some young players around, we can’t evaluate his job for a couple years. 

Dallas Eakins (Anaheim)

Last year at this point: 31 points

This year: 28 points

Point differential: -3

Do the Ducks look different under Eakins than they did under Randy Carlyle? Yes. 

Has it resulted in more points? Nope. 

This team needed to score more goals and Eakins has preached a possession game, which (let me put my analytics hat on here for a second) has resulted in the team sitting sixth in “high-danger chances”. However, (removes analytics hat and puts on old-school stats hat), the team sits 20th in the league in goals per game. 

If this team can start capitalizing on those chances, Eakins will start getting more pats on the back. 

Ralph Krueger (Buffalo)

Last year at this point: 37 points

This year: 31 points

Point differential: -6

Perhaps no coach in the league took a weirder path to get a job than Krueger. 

He had been serving as the chairman of the Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League, but came back to the NHL to coach the Sabres. 

Buffalo shot out of the gate (9-2-1 in October), but have since crashed back to earth. Krueger has already had to give some tough love to guys like Rasmus Dahlin (he benched him for an entire third period against the Senators), and now has lost him for a while with a concussion.

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