Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Meet John Stevens

After the initial shock/joy died down following Bob Clarke's resignation on Sunday, a new question emerged among hockey fans: "Who on earth is John Stevens, and why is he coaching the Philadelphia Flyers?"

The Globe and Mail's Alberta-based sportswriter Al Maki had a go at answering that in today's paper:
Stevens wasted little time trying to snap the Flyers out of their lethargy. At his second practice, he used Simon Gagné on different lines with different centres. Even defenceman Freddy Meyer took a turn at forward. More important, the players welcomed the sound of a new voice and the hopefulness it signalled.

"There are different styles of coaching, different styles of players, leaders," Richards told the media. "Some people are very soft-spoken, like Johnny is. When he talks, people listen."
Stevens is one of those type of players who seemingly always go on to be head coaches: He was a nondescript, stay-at-home defenceman who played the majority of his pro career in the minors. Off the top of my head, Mike Kitchen, Alain Vigneault, Jim Playfair, Claude Julien and Peter Laviolette all fit into that category, with the likes of Randy Carlyle, Dave Lewis, Joel Quenneville, Lindy Ruff and Trent Yawney having manned the blueline mainly in the NHL.

Is there something about defensive defenceman that they make good coaches? Or is there something to be said for playing in the minors translating into a different feel for the game?

Only 11 of the 30 current NHL head coaches ever played 500 games in the league, while just five coaches managed to hit the 1,000 game mark (Wayne Gretzky, Guy Carbonneau, Craig MacTavish, Carlyle and Lewis).



At 5:23 p.m., October 24, 2006, Anonymous David said...

Fringe players, tough guys with a desire to do more, players who don't get the spotlight - many coaches (not just head coaches, but assistants as well) can be described like this.

Many of these positions force a player to study the game to simply remain where they are. Let's face it: sometimes these guys just have the brains and not the legs (or hands) for the game. Stick their head on a perennial underacheiver and you get a superstar.

They're good enough to be a pro and get the experience they need to relate to their players well.

IMO, the worst thing one can do when trying to determine the future success of a coach is look at his stats line from his playing days.

At 6:55 p.m., October 24, 2006, Blogger Doogie said...

Actually, if you look at guys like Carbo and MacT, it's defensive players in general that seem to make out best as coaches. I agree with David that it's about thinking and working the game, rather than simply using your natural talent to your advantage. I mean, the old saw is, you can't teach scoring. If you understand things like defensive positioning and breakout plays, that goes a long way towards helping a team make the most of what it's got, in any league.

At 7:16 p.m., October 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You hear that about other sports, as well--the amazingly talented stars can't coach as well because they can't coach what they did out of sheer talent and instinct. Less talented players had to use everything they had. They might also have an easier time relating to their own less talented, hard-working players as a coach.

In baseball, a lot of successful managers played as catchers. Like defensemen, it might give them a broader appreciation of the totality of the game played as a team, not just the role of their own position.

At 11:12 a.m., October 26, 2006, Anonymous BostonFlyersFan said...

I have no clue how good a coach Stevens is. As James previously noted, his Phantoms teams never exactly set the world on fire offensively.

But he has coached most of the Flyers' talented young players before and gotten good performances out of them, including the '05 Calder Cup championship run, when Carter and Richards joined from the Canadian junior national team and electrified a bland offense.

The knock on Hitchcock from the day he was hired was that he had little patience for younger players, liked to rely on veterans, didn't trust younger guys with more than fourth-line duties, etc. Surprising given Hitchcock's minor-league coaching background, but I can't say that it hasn't seemed accurate.

Yet the biggest challenge for the Flyers is the development of their younger players, especially in the new salary-capped NHL. Gone are the days when Bob Clarke can trade away top draft picks for veteran quick fixes, which also has a lot to do with why the team is where it is today, but that's a story for another day.

When Hitchcock was hired, the Flyers were a veteran-laden team. The makeup of the team has changed dramatically over these last four years however, which few writers and analysts have pointed out. Just three players remain from that 02-03 team (Gagne, Kapanen and Esche), the rest leaving via trade, free agency or retirement. We've seen flashes of brilliance from a lot of the younger players but we've seen them disappear for long stretches, even appear to regress at times. Based on some of the feedback from the locker room this week, the feeling that Hitchcock was the wrong coach for such a young team seems to be shared by the players.

It's too soon to say that John Stevens is the solution, but I think he's definitely a step in the right direction.

At 8:21 p.m., October 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fat Bastard's mishandling of Justin Williams should have been enough to get him railroaded out of town years ago. That Clarke agreed to trade him for Carolina for that useless sack o' nails Danny Do-Nothing Markov should have got Booby fired, too.


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