Mike Green games into the season, our beloved Caps stand at 27-25. Yeah, yeah, I know we got the charity point in 10 of those games (league leaders in SOMETHING, at least), but that is what the record boils down to. Consistent effort from the club has been well...consistently absent. Tonight's game against the Habs is a perfect example, even if it followed a slightly different script than most nights over the last 2+ months. As I've seen it (and maybe I'm wrong), since 12/1, Caps hockey boils down to this: 1 really good period, 1 really bad period and 1 meh period. The order has been somewhat interchangeable, but given the team's well documented first period struggles, it generally goes bad, average, good. Tonight went good, abysmal, average, but I digress. If the bad and the meh period are REALLY bad, the team loses despite any furious comeback attempts (see: Colorado 12/11, Boston 12/18, Vancouver 1/14). In those cases one could yammer endlessly about the "hot goalie". Yes, Anderson, Thomas and Bobby Lou played very well in those games, but the fact is that in each game, the Caps dug themselves a big hole and despite dominating the play late in all 3 instances, they were unable to pot the necessary tying goal (much less the winning one). Hot goalie or not, these games are the outliers in the bunch; most nights there isn't a heroic charge at all. The Capitals have been blanked 6 times since the Dec. 1 victory over St. Louis and 3 other times the team has been held to 1 goal. Too often of late, the "good period" is simply one where no mistakes are made and the team escapes to the intermission without surrendering a tally.
I'm a realist: the "60 minute game" is an illusion in hockey. The guys on the other side of the ice are professionals and it is next to impossible to shut down or even control a healthy majority of the possession time against professionals for 60+ minutes a game 82 times a year in the regular season plus however many games in the playoffs. However, what the Caps have been accomplishing of late is a far cry from that fictitious ideal. The simple fact is: this team is capable of playing better than it does a lot of the time. I know it, you know it, BB knows it and they all know it too. One of the questions I've asked myself time and time again after seeing the same lackadaisical play over and over again is whether BB is incapable of making adjustments or if the boys in red are just too lazy to care for roughly 30 minutes a game when Pittsburgh isn't the opponent. Either way it would seem to be a poor reflection on his coaching abilities: either he's incompetent (which given his success at other levels, I doubt) or he can't get his charges to listen to him. I know it probably sounds like I'm one of the armchair GMs that McPhee so eloquently slammed by saying "if they knew anything about hockey they'd be in the game". I'm taking the defense of Socrates: the only thing I know is that I don't know anything. I don't know what's going on at Kettler, Verizon or any of the stops along the road behind the scenes. Trying to parse 24/7 for some window into the locker room is Sisyphean at best, however I do know that lack of effort seems to have been a consistent problem since early on in the 2008/2009 season. It wasn't quite as glaring that season or the subsequent one because pucks were hitting twine at an eye-popping rate: any bad periods were easily being overcome by the good ones. That just isn't the case anymore and the things some of us have been seeing for years are now becoming blatantly evident not only to the members of the Red Army who turned a blind eye to laziness, but to the rest of the hockey world.
I've been contemplating the job status of BB and whether or not he should get the axe. As we all know, hockey is unique amongst professional sports in North America in that a coaching change can jump start a team's fortunes rapidly as opposed to other sports where such measures are done as acts of desperation and seldom benefit the team. NFL and MLB coaches who acquire their jobs mid/late season never amount to anything during their initial season: one NFL coach has made the playoffs after not beginning the year in the head coaching position (and the '78 NE Patriots were 11-4 when the switch was made...not exactly a common situation).
Clearly, things are different in the NHL. The oft mentioned 08/09 Pens, 09/10 Flyers spring to mind as the hackneyed cliche...but it goes far deeper than that. The whole point of this post is to a) combat my insomnia and b) crunch a lot of numbers to see whether or not the move really makes sense. I've had plenty of knee jerk reactions this season where I reflexively scream for BB's haagen dazs swollen head, but I wanted to see if the numbers really justify a change. Of course, even if they do, it begs the question....who? As I'm no GM, I haven't the foggiest. I do NOT think a guy like Ken Hitchcock is the answer. If the team doesn't feel like playing hard on a consistent basis for a player's coach, a taskmaster probably wouldn't get better results. The point of this diatribe is to look at the numbers and see if a change would be warranted, numerically. Here are all the mid-season coaching changes since the lockout minus a couple of extreme outliers (Quenneville taking over after 4 games doesn't really strike me as a midseason replacement. Ditto Hitchcock getting canned from the Flyers in 05/06. Same goes for Waddell taking over Atlanta 6 games into the 07/08 season) And Here...We...Go...
1. John Torchetti .417 (5-7) vs Andy Murray .564 (37-28-5) Playoffs=No. Outlier Status=yes. This was a bit of an odd situation, but I kept it in my analysis anyway. Net Change= -.147
2. Bob Gainey .598 (23-15-3) vs. Claude Julien .537 (19-16-6). Playoffs=yes (QF loss) Net change= .061
3. Michel Therrien .353 vs Eddie O .355. Not really relevant because Pittsburgh was still in tank mode for draft picks at this point. Net change= -.002
4. Brad Shaw .500 (18-18-4) vs Steve Stirling .452 (18-22-2) No playoffs. Net Change=.048
5. Lou Lamiorello .680 (32-14-4) vs Larry Robinson .516 (14-13-5) Playoffs: Yes (ECSF Loss) Net Change .164
Summary: 5 Teams changed coaches, 3 missed the playoffs. Average Change in the Raw Numbers was .0248 but if you factor out the Kings' situation, the change more than doubles to .0542.
1. Ken Hitchcock .492 (28-29-5) vs Gerard Gallant .300 (5-13-2) No playoffs, but CBJ had a significantly better winning % under Hitchcock. Net Change=.192
2. Denis Savard .451 (24-30-7) vs Trent Yawney .396 (7-12-2). No Playoffs. Net Change .055
3. Andy Murray .580 (27-18-11) vs Mike Kitchen .291 (7-17-4). No Playoffs but the team's winning percentage was almost doubled. Net change=.289
Summary: None of the coaching changes this season would produce a playoff run, but all three teams did improve and two of them (Blues and Jackets) improved substantially. Both Hitchcock and Murray would later take their teams to the playoffs albeit both exiting in the first round.
1. Bruce Boudreau .664 (37-17-7) vs Glen Hanlon .310 (6-14-1). Playoffs? Duh. Very memorable run from Thanksgiving through April. Best to just forget how it ended (I'm Don Koharski...goalie interference? what's tha..hey is that a donut?) Net Change= .354
Both coaching changes in the NHL this year came from the Southeast, but as mentioned above, Waddell took over after 6 games, so Gabby is the only one relevant to this study. To this point in the post-lockout NHL, BB was the most successful mid-season replacement. Lamiorello had a slightly better winning percentage but he was also taking over a veteran team he had built himself. Not quite the same thing as taking a team of 21/22 year olds who'd never known anything but losing at the NHL level and turning them into division champions. Lest there be another banner raised, we'll stop there.
1. *Dan Bylsma* .800 (18-3-4) vs Michel Therrien .518 (27-25-5). Easily the (disco) king of the midseason replacement coaches. Best winning % and a cup. This still makes me sick though, even though I do respect Disco Dan. Stars added because there are a lot of similarities between the Pens of that year and the Caps of this year. Former Jack Adams winner? Check. Underperforming yet talented roster? Check. Even the game count of Therrien is pretty close to BB's total this year. The one thing missing (so far) are the key deadline acquisitions...cough cough...2C...cough cough cough. Obviously if a change is made, this is the dream scenario. Net Change=.282
2.Cory Clouston 19-11-4 .618 vs Craig Hartsburg .427 (17-24-7). No playoffs, but the Sens played a hell of a lot better after making the switch to
Willem Dafoe Clouston. Net Change= .191
3. John Tortorella (12-7-2) .619 vs Tom Renney (31-23-7) .566. Playoffs: Yep. Good guys beat em, too :D Also somewhat relevant to our present situation in that the Rangers hit the skids with a few months left in the season after starting off well. Record from Dec 3rd (W over Pit) to Feb 22 when Renney was fired: 14-16-5. Caps record from Dec 1 to the present: 10-9-8. The big caveat here is that the Rangers of this season were VERY good in the shootout and would not have sniffed the playoffs without it. We're just...bad...at over time. Net Change: .053
Summary: 3 Coaching changes, 2 playoff runs, 1 Stanley Cup. Average improvement=.176
1. Peter Laviolette .545 (28-23-5) vs John Stevens .519 (13-12-1). Marginal improvement of .026 in the regular season but the big story would obviously be the run to the SCFs.
2. Claude Noel .541 (10-8-6) vs Ken Hitchcock .449. No playoffs. Net Improvement=.098
Summary: While injury kept the Flyers down for most of the regular season and they didn't make the playoffs until the last day of the season in a gimmick win, they did roll on to the finals. Hard to argue that this was not a successful coaching change for them. CBJ missed the playoffs last year and Noel was not invited back. Average improvement= .062.
So what do all these numbers tell us? Teams generally do better after a coach is replaced. Out of 14 coaching changes listed here, 12 teams posted a higher winning percentage under the new regime. As for the two that didn't, the Kings fired Andy Murray at the tail end of the year creating something of an NFL/MLB type effect on the team's fortunes as opposed to the usual NHL one. The other was the 06/07 Pens who were not yet ready to climb out of the toilet, but even then the decline was minute. .002. The average improvement for these 14 teams was .119. The Caps' current winning percentage is .516. Extrapolate that across the 30 remaining games, you come up with 31 points. 31+64=95 which SHOULD be enough to secure a bottom 5 playoff spot. Prima Facie, it would seem that Gabby doesn't need to go anywhere.
Win % at the Verizon center is .696. With 13 remaining home games, one could expect 16 more points out of 26 to be collected at home. Road win percentage is .521. With 17 remaining road games, one can expect 17.7 out of a possible 34 points. That gives a better number than looking at the straight win percentage, a total of 33.7 points compared to the 31 as seen above. The problem with reading these numbers straight up? It takes into account the WHOLE season. The Capitals win % as of December 1 was .731 (18-6-2....seems like a distant memory, eh?) . Since then, Home % is .462 (3-4-6). Away: .500 (5-5-2). If THESE numbers continue, expected home points drop to 12 and away to an even 17. 29 vs 33.7. 93 points. Still not overly scared? Take a look at the schedule. 14/30 games remaining are against teams which currently hold a playoff spot. LA, Carolina and St. Louis are still in the hunt at present. That means 17 out of 30 games are against playoff contenders. That's a rough road, folks. Given the way we've been playing of late, I think 29 points would be generous vs that quality of opponent. That .119 average improvement would provide some added cushion and maybe even improve our seeding (assuming Tampa falls back to earth, which I keep waiting for and it just keeps on not happening.
So there you have it, I think the math at least puts Bruce's head on the block. It is probably still a little too early to pull the lever to drop the guillotine, but if we lose to Tampa and Pittsburgh this week, the 2nd big losing streak of the year grows to 5 games and our expected point share goes from 29 to 26-27. It'll only get worse from there. Its not too late for the guys to bail out their coach. If he's as likable as NHL players seem to think he is and the team enjoys playing for him, maybe they'll finally extract their heads from their asses and the Washington Capitals will stop being a macrocosm of Alex Semin: All the talent in the world, when they want to use it but lazy and stupid when they don't feel like trying. If extraction proves too difficult...best to do something before it is absolutely too late and we wind up like the 07/08 Carolina Hurricanes.
To anyone who actually read all this: thanks! Thoughts and comments are always appreciated. Lets Go Caps.