School's in for new NHL coaches
With the Labor Day holiday passed and the kids off to school, the only ones left waiting are the nine new NHL coaches who are raring to go. As Tom Petty sang years ago, the waiting (as in the way-ay-ting) is the hardest part. That certainly is the case for three: Scott Gordon on Long Island, John Anderson in Atlanta and Barry Melrose in Tampa.
Gordon's case is one in which last season's assistants Gerard Gallant and John Chabot remain in place and, as such, according to Gordon, "should make the transition easier." Last season's AHL Coach of the Year (with Providence) knows what he wants to implement on Long Island and those two guys will provide valuable insight into the returning players. Still, Gordon -- like everyone in the business -- is always on the lookout for tidbits on players he'll begin coaching in a mere two weeks as a first-time NHL bench boss. General conversation that includes "what's this guy like?" or "what did you think of that guy?" will augment more formal internal discussions on personnel and direction.
Same thing for Anderson in Atlanta, as he and new assistant Todd Nelson -- who was also on his staff in Chicago with the AHL Wolves -- pour over Thrashers video from a season ago. They are getting a frame of reference for how the team played and looking for how certain guys performed in that context. Meetings with veteran players such as Ken Klee help balance what the new coaches see with what they want to change during the upcoming season. And for Anderson's staff, which also includes Randy Cunnyworth and holdover Steve Weeks -- the video sessions include looking at the opposition as well, so as to familiarize themselves with systems and tendencies of the teams they'll be facing when the regular season finally commences in October.
So, while the waiting is arduous, it is hardly idle. Nowhere is that more true than in Tampa where change has been the only constant of the offseason -- so much so that the drafting of Steve Stamkos first overall in June and the resulting "Seen Stamkos?" ad campaign is already a distant memory. Yes, the banner ads remain on the boards at area youth hockey rinks and the billboards are up on I-75 featuring the Lightning's new direction with Vincent Lecavalier as the team leader. Yet, the Bolts remained supremely active right up to the holiday weekend with their trade for Andrej Meszaros and subsequent six-year contract for the fleet-footed, puck-moving defenseman.
With all that, it's easy to lose track of new head coach Barry Melrose. He, after all is the man at the helm of all this change -- the man charged with bringing it all together on the ice, a tall order considering that Melrose has spent the past 12 years at ESPN. He won't get to Tampa full time until next Monday, but already the wheels are turning.
"This is the happiest I've been in a long time. I worked for a great company in ESPN but I'm excited being back in the rink -- back in the locker room, which has always been my favorite place in the world," said Melrose. "I can't wait for training camp to start. We've added so many pieces from so many pies, it's going to be a blast to finally make our own pie, see who fits with who, see it come together and see where the magic lies as players work in different combinations."
Melrose isn't nervous or apprehensive about stepping back behind the bench. He offered up the interesting view that, "the game has reverted back to a style that I'm comfortable with -- skating, attacking and speed-oriented. That's how it was when I coached in LA and that's where the league is now and that style is what makes the game great."
And before you think that Melrose waited for the game to get back to a style of his liking before taking another coaching job, consider that he had several offers over the years. The difference this time? "The people," he said. "Their ideas. What they want to accomplish. The way they approached me and the way they went after free agency."
Melrose went on to explain, "Bill Dineen, who I have the greatest admiration and respect for, told me once that often times the best jobs are the ones that come to you. That turned out to describe the situation in Tampa. It's been a whirlwind and it has been great. And I can't wait."
For Melrose and all the other new coaches in new places, the waiting game is almost over and the most important games of all are soon to start.