Welcome back to the sixth and final edition of this series, wherein the previous five I have taken on the daunting task of ranking the top 10 current players at each position in the NHL. Now that I have finished with all positions, there is one final list to be made, with that being coaches.
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Some believe that coaching doesn’t have a huge impact at the professional level regardless of the sport, and instead, it has to do with the talent of the team. However, as proven by some of the names on this list, that is not always the case. Sure, having a gifted roster makes a coach’s job easier, but the best bench bosses in the league have a way of squeezing everything out of their team, regardless of how good they look on paper. With that said, let’s take a look at who I chose to include.
10. Pete DeBoer
Despite coaching in the NHL for over ten years now, Pete DeBoer isn’t a coach that often gets brought up when discussing the game’s best. This comes despite a pretty good track record, which includes a Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2012 with the New Jersey Devils and another in 2016 with the San Jose Sharks.
As mentioned, DeBoer has coached the Devils and Sharks and also spent time as the bench boss for the Florida Panthers. The Sharks fired him in December of 2019 and scooped up by the Vegas Golden Knights (who he remains with now) just a month later. The roster he currently has is, without a doubt, the best he has ever coached and one that he is expected to lead to a Stanley Cup. If he isn’t able to do that in the next couple of seasons, he will no longer be part of a list like this.
9. Bruce Cassidy
After being fired by the Washington Capitals during the 2003-04 season, Bruce Cassidy had to wait 13 seasons before getting another shot as an NHL head coach, this time with the Boston Bruins. While some were skeptical of his hiring at the time, he has proven to be a great selection, making the playoffs in each of his five seasons with the team.
During Cassidy’s time with the Bruins, he has never lost more than 24 games in a season and has advanced past the first round on four occasions. The 2021-22 season will, without a doubt, be his biggest test yet, as he will have to try and lead an aging core that lost one of their top players in David Krejci back to the playoffs once again. He could really prove status as one of the game’s best this upcoming season.
8. Craig Berube
When Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo early in the 2019-20 season as the head coach of the St. Louis Blues, not much was expected at the time, given the slow start the team had gotten off to. Things didn’t immediately change under Berube, either, proven by the fact that on Jan. 3 of that season, they were last in the league standings. However, they went on a massive run to finish the season and were able to punch their ticket to the 2019 playoffs.
They continued their momentum during the playoffs and went on to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Berube played a massive role in this and instantly became regarded as one of the game’s best head coaches. He will likely lead the Blues to the playoffs once again in 2021-22, which would mark the fourth straight year he has done so.
7. Mike Sullivan
Much like Berube, Mike Sullivan was able to come in during a season and lead his team to a Stanley Cup championship, that being with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Even more impressive, however, was that he was able to lead them to another Cup victory that very next season, which resulted in many considering him the best coach in the entire game during that period of time.
While Sullivan’s status as the game’s best may have slightly decreased, he is still highly respected and has not missed the playoffs once in his six seasons with the Penguins. The 2021-22 season could help him re-establish himself as the cream of the crop, as he will have to try and keep the Penguins afloat without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who are both expected to miss significant time with injuries.
6. Gerard Gallant
Gerard Gallant is a coach who many believe has received the short end of the stick on numerous occasions. The first came with the Florida Panthers, who he was surprisingly fired from during the 2016-17 season and then infamously pictured waiting outside the arena with his suitcase for a taxi. The second came the 2019-20 season when the Golden Knights shocked the hockey world and fired him despite having a reasonable 24-19-0 record and being extremely successful in both of his first two seasons.
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To no one’s surprise, Gallant has been given another shot behind an NHL bench, this time with the New York Rangers. He’s inheriting a team with some great pieces and a very bright future, meaning he could do some real damage with them going forward. Hopefully he gets the chance with them that he deserves, as he appeared to be doing great things with both the Panthers and Golden Knights at the time of his firing.
5. Dave Tippett
Since joining the Edmonton Oilers, Dave Tippett hasn’t gotten a ton of credit for the team’s turnaround, as most of it is associated with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That is understandable, given that they are two of the league’s premier superstars, but it is worth noting that they made the playoffs just once in four attempts together before Tippett’s hiring.
In both of his regular seasons with the Oilers, he has led them to a record of 72-44-11. Again, most will point to the top two stars, but it is well known that the rest of this roster is quite bad, and Tippett has plenty of experience with that. He coached an Arizona (formerly Phoenix) Coyotes squad who lacked much of any talent, yet he was always able to keep them competitive thanks to his great coaching. He has an ability to squeeze everything there is to get out of a roster and deserves to be recognized as one of the best in the game.
4. Rod Brind’Amour
Few, if any, coaches in the league are as intense as Rod Brind’Amour. He is the definition of leading by example, as he was able to do it all during his playing career and still appears to be in good enough shape to play the game despite being 51 years old. He has done a phenomenal job of turning around a Carolina Hurricanes organization that struggled for quite some time, as he has made the playoffs in each of his three seasons with the club.
The 2020-21 season was the best the Hurricanes have had under Brind’Amour’s coaching tenure, finishing third in league standings with a 36-12-8 record. He has all his players completely bought into his system, and has the respect of the entire group. Expect another great season from his team in 2021-22.
3. Jon Cooper
There is no doubt that Jon Cooper has been given a great situation as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, despite not getting nearly as much credit as some of his team’s top players, he deserves some serious recognition for the Bolts back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
One of the hardest jobs of a coach at the professional level is keeping egos in check. That is even more true when dealing with teams that have plenty of elite talent. There is no team that fits that description better in the NHL than the Lightning, yet they have been able to play great together as a team thanks to Cooper’s leadership. He will look to try and lead his team to a third straight Stanley Cup Championship this season, something that hasn’t been done since the New York Islanders won four straight from 1980-1983.
2. Joel Quenneville
Though he had lengthy stints previously with the Colorado Avalanche and the St. Louis Blues, Joel Quenneville established himself as an elite-level coach during his time with the Chicago Blackhawks. During his time there, he was able to lead his team to three Stanley Cup victories, and missed the playoffs just once in his full 10 seasons there.
After the Blackhawks fired him during the 2018-19 season, he was scooped up once again that very next summer, this time by the Florida Panthers. He has been able to turn the Panthers into a serious contender during his short time there, and led them to a very impressive 37-14-5 record in 2020-21. They will once again be one of the better teams in the league in 2021-22, and Quenneville is a big part of the reason why.
1. Barry Trotz
Much like Tippett, Barry Trotz is a coach that is able to squeeze everything he has out of a roster. Throughout his career, he has coached some fairly average rosters over the years with both the Nashville Predators and the New York Islanders. In fact, the only time he ever had a legitimate contending roster was with the Washington Capitals, and he led them to a Stanley Cup championship in 2018.
After leaving the Capitals, Trotz joined the Islanders and has turned them into a force despite not having the best team on paper. He has been able to get his team to completely buy into his defensive schemes, and they have reaped the rewards. Despite some complaints that his teams are boring to watch, fans of his team won’t complain, as they are always competitive. He is a tremendous coach.
Feedback on List
As I have mentioned throughout this series, feedback is both welcomed and encouraged in the comments section. Whether you believe any particular player is too high, too low, or think someone should or shouldn’t have been included, please let it be known below. Make sure to stay tuned in the coming days to the next edition, which will take a look at the top 10 head coaches in the NHL.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Oil On Whyte, NHLtradetalk.com, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.