Thinking with an Empty Net: Coaching Changes and Draft Rankings


Every week or two, I have a few thoughts. This week I consider Gary Lawless’ call for Alain Vigneault as coach in light of the news that he’s available and look at Cory Pronman’s newest draft rankings.

Coaching Opportunities

  • Gary Lawless is mad. First he wants Byfuglien out, then he wanted Noel replaced by Alain Vigneault. Well, step one  is complete. Alain Vigneault is available. In fact, there are a lot of big-name coaches in play this off-season, and with a somewhat underwhelming free-agent market, a few teams may make their biggest splash behind the bench.
  • I think the fan base can afford to be a bit divided on whether Noel is a good coach. He has extensive experience grooming players. He’s well spoken and the media likes him well enough. The roster has clear problems from the net out and it’s hard to say whether a 9th place finish in the East is evidence of Noel getting a lot or a little out of his group.
  • That said, with news that Burmistrov wants out, the epic mystery of his line combinations, and outrageously bad special teams, there is a fair argument that Claude Noel is not be the guy for the job. Certainly that’s my opinion.
  • I like Alain Vigneault – I think he deserves credit for managing his roster to get the Sedins 100 points, and for turning Bieksa, Kesler, Burrows, and others into exceptional two way players from their humble beginnings as mistake prone bottom-of-the-roster guys. Vigneault boasts a .583 points % over his 800 game Head Coach career. He did very little with a mostly bad Montreal team in the late ’90’s, and did well with a good Canucks roster lately (6 of his 7 seasons, the Canucks won the Northwest Division). He has two President’s Trophies and three Jack Adam’s nominations (including 1 win). Impressive resume.
  • Still, how about Dave Tippett? He holds a .617 points % through 738 games with less talented teams all in the significantly harder Pacific division. His post-season success is even less than Vigneault’s, of course. But he has  one Jack Adams nomination (which he won) and three Pacific Division titles. One of them with the Coyotes, remember. Perhaps he’s better suited to squeezing wins out of an under-talented squad with a lot of replacement level bodies on the depth chart?
  • The Jets haven’t shown a strong sense for windows of opportunity, or at least haven’t tipped their hand clearly about when their intended window begins. With that in mind, Claude Noel may be a necessary ‘fall man’ should the team slide up the draft board for 2014 (intentionally or not). Money – both paying Noel and some of his assistants to go away and paying a big name big bucks – may also be a factor in standing pat.
  • This seems like the season to go hard after a difference making coach. They don’t come around every year. Were I a betting man, I’d bet the Jets quietly watch as better coaches find jobs before they’ve made a decision on Noel, trade Burmistrov after the draft for next year’s less valuable picks, and then replace Noel next year with an experienced but decidedly average coach (it’s Paul Maurice, let’s not kid ourselves).
  • (Hilarious side note: Patrick Roy to take over the Avalanche?! I’d give so much to play in Conference A next year…)

Draft Rankings

  • Cory Pronman came out with his new draft rankings this month. Pronman’s work at Hockey Prospectus is a must-read for draft watchers.
  • The draft this year is being discussed as perhaps 60 players deep, with top flight talent 10-12 player deep (of course, because the Jets select at 13th). Some are comparing the first round to 2003 – a year with 16 NHL All-Stars to-be selected in round 1 and Marcel Comeau’s first draft as Head Scout of the Thrashers/Jets franchise.
  • Famously, Corey Perry went 28th overall that year. Less famously, the Kings had two picks at 26th and 27th – taking Brian Boyle and Jeff Tambellini in a bid for the best Fat / Skinny combo seen since 1988. (In reality, of course, it was worse than the combo of Fat Kurri and haven’t-played-in-four-years Gretzky at the 2003 Old Timer’s Heritage Classic)
  • Speaking of the Oilers, everyone’s favourite story from that year, of course, is when the Oilers traded down from the 9th ranked North American skater in Zach Parise to take Marc Antoine Pouliot (I’ve linked to his career stats in case you wanted an extended laugh). Keep that in mind while Craig Button is prattling about how the Jets should trade down in a deep draft. BPA, Marcel Comeau. Please, for the love of wins. 
  • Anyway, Pronman’s rankings: a lot has changed in the 10-16 area since we last had a look 6 weeks ago. 
  • Hunter Shinkaruk still sits at #10. The diminutive scorer was over-looked for the World Juniors this year, but scored 86 points for the WHL’s 9th highest scoring Medicine Hat Tigers, and 91 in his 17 year old season. Still, he’s a LW and along with the surging Swedish LW Andre Burakowsky, is unlikely to be targeted by a squad with Ladd and Kane written in pen on the portside of the depth chart for years to come. 
  • Interestingly, Darnell Nurse slid to #11 in Pronman’s rankings. Nurse should remind Jets fans of Marcel Comeau’s first ever pick as Head Scout – the sizeable, dependable, tradable Braydon Coburn. Both are left handed, defence first giants at a listed 6’5". Both made waves with their smooth skating and range as large defenders. Though Coburn’s scoring was very poor in his draft year, it was for a Winterhawks team with 192 goals and 19 wins. Coburn’s four years of junior he had 37, 19, 30, and 44 points (Nurse had 41 this year and just 10 last season). The Jets may see Nurse as a Ron Hainsey replacement down the road. Whether Nurse is available anywhere near #13 is unknown, however, as ISS currently has him ranked at #6 overall. 
  • On the opposite end of the scale comes Ryan Pulock – my personal hope for the Jets’ first pick. The right handed, offensively gifted defender is all over the map in various draft rankings. Pronman has him at #12 (ISS at 14, if you were curious) and notes that his upside is as a top pairing defenceman with an element of risk in his game. Pulock’s elite level shot and keen offensive instincts added to stong gap control and transitional play draws my mind to Washington’s John Carlson. Both put up similar numbers in their draft year (Carlson: 59 GP 12-31-43 in the USHL and Pulock 61 GP 14-31-45 in the WHL). Though Carlson is a little taller, both are thick at a playing weight that hovers above 210lbs. Carlson has to be considered a better natural skater, has a little more edge to his game, and was more polished defensively at 18 than is Pulock currently. On the other hand, Pulock’s 17 year old season saw him put up a whopping 19 goals and 60 points and his powerplay work is elite as much because of his exceptional decision making as his shot. What do you bet some pro level coaching adds some speed and physicality to his game to complete to comparison? Pulock and Trouba as a top pair could be exceptional in 2018. 
  • Pulock may even give the Jets the flexibility to move Byfuglien in time. I think we all want a happy Gary Lawless, and I’m not pinning my hopes on Vigneault. 

  • I think you really gotta go goal-scoring. The art of picking goalies is alot easier if you make goaltending and playing defense your weakness. And that is what the NHL has become with shot-blocking and better goalie equipment: finding good goaltending.
    I’d prefer the exciting Mtl, Det and Chi team models than the 0-0 tie Vancouver coaching model. So no Vignault. Why didn’t they trade a goalie?! Why didn’t they start Luongo on his B-day?!
    As a reward for few misconducts, few suspensions, or being a Europe or outdoor game guinea pig, team could have the right to switch conferences for a few years or permanently if the travel increase is negligible. It was nice that the Jets had the opportunity to see and playoff play Washington and Pittsburgh. Is the ref who robbed Penner, fired yet??

  • And while the owners are pushing this change-the-channel 3pt league, coincidental penalties in a tie game could be served concurrently in the first two periods. Wiith “bonus mode” finicky reffing kicking in for games less than a goal a period. Benching Barker when they needed goals was dumb.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I love how often you comment, TKG. Thanks.

    Yeah, unfortunately, “good coach” is mostly code for “can convince teams to play extremely boring hockey.” Tippett and Vigneault are both boring, boring coaches. That said, both have a long leash for their skill players, and set them up for success as much as possible. Ray Whitney has career years under Tippett, the Sedins can play power-vs-power extremely well, but Vigneault was careful to put them in positions to rack up points instead.

    I think both guys would translate to more wins for the Jets. They would also both change how Byfuglien plays, in all likelihood, and forward roles would change quite a bit.

    But hey – wins!

  • Kevin McCartney

    Ultimately drafting and trades/waivers are decisive. NYI picked up Grabner a while back and seems almost as important a piece as Tavares in making the playoffs. The Nabokov signing worked out well.
    But off vs def IMO:
    LA was D, Boston a shooters O though their passing sucked, Chi O, Pit O, Det O, Ana D, Car D (Ward though defencemen worse than this yr’s Det), TB O, NJ D, Det O, Col O, NJ O…
    7 to 3 for getting goals as opposed to stopping goals. It doesn’t mean you don’t address keeping; Edm would’ve made playoffs if they picked up a goalie but one of the Schultzes are young.
    Good drafting and good 3rd liner signing here, but bad Jokinen pickup. Maybe go more sure-thing for one year like Carolina signing Semin to 1 yr $6.5M or 7M. Draft Zadorov and D, and pickup a top line FW? I’m having trouble estimating salries of few D UFAs this yr.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Your friend Cory made an elementary mistake. He doesn’t have goalies taken until 89th and 93rd. That has never happened before. I think Fucale is maybe a 2nd rounder but his technique looks solid and someone in need of a goalie will probably take him in the 1st round.
    Andrei Mironov is the only kid who made a solid playoff contribution on Dynamo; tied 2nd in D plus minus and goals. I can’t see him sliding out of the 2nd rd. J.Subban on name alone, good season bad playoffs, will go in the early 2nd round at latest. Nastasiuk had a good playoffs; he will go in the 1st round. If the Jets pick well they will be set for a decade.

  • Kevin McCartney

    Serving coincidental minors consecutively I meant, would add some scoring. For baseball, they gotta get more rundowns. Maybe limiting the prehitting formation of the two inflielders nearest 2nd base? Yeah, that’s the key! Make a 2nd baseman more likely to steal 3rd. Maybe change the balk rules, IDK how.

  • Kevin McCartney

    I’m sorry, I went back to the 2003 draft and the 2009 draft had a goalie at 38th as the latest pick in the last decade. This is amateur hour: missing a whole position.