NHL Coaching Changes And Time To Change NCAA Hockey Tourney Format?

Marc Elliott

TOWER-SOUDAN… I hope you are all having an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend, that you are safe and sound as well and giving honor and tribute to those for whom this weekend exists. Some of the NHL coaching vacancies are beginning to be filled and there are still some with question marks surrounding them, but with former Detroit Red Wings Coach (yes that’s “former”)  Mike Babcock making a decision and going to the Toronto Maple Leafs, I expect that the other coaching dominoes will fall into place soon. But I will get to Babcock in a bit. The week kicked off with the Philadelphia Flyers hiring University of North Dakota Coach Dave Hakstol to be their next Head Coach.

I imagine that a handful of people around both teams and individuals knew about this, but for the most part Flyers GM Ron Hextall and Hakstol were fairly stealth about the entire process. A couple of things come to mind here; I believe Hextall wanted to both put his own imprint on the team and avoid the hiring of a coaching “retread”. God knows there are any number of big name coaches out there looking for jobs, but Hextall has gone to great lengths to think out the future of the team and to avoid some of the mistakes the club has made in the recent past with both roster moves and coaching hires.

Why Hakstol though? Well, that’s a good question. He will be only the 3rd coach in league history to go right to the show from an NCAA team. And with Herb Brooks and Badger Bob Johnson being the other two, he joins some pretty lofty company. And he has the credentials from the standpoint of his college record. In 11 seasons he assembled a 289-141-43 record, made the NCAA tournament all 11 seasons and made the Men’s NCAA Frozen Four in 7 of those seasons, becoming the runner-up in one of those tourneys.

His detractors though will be quick to point out that he never got a National title, and that is precisely what I wanted to bring up. I can all but guarantee you that I am anything but a NoDak fan. They aren’t my team. One cannot deny Hakstol’s excellence as a coach of that program though, it is that simple. But that got me thinking, it is extraordinarily hard to win that trophy, and winning a Stanley Cup is even more difficult. But here it is, if the NCAA tourney wasn’t a one off format, you would have to think that Hakstol wins at least once, maybe even more. Ditto for some other programs and coaches that are frequently maligned by their own fans for not winning a National title every year. (that makes me laugh at the thought)

I am sure this has probably been debated before, however, I can’t tell you if any serious discussion has ever been held within the NCAA or various hockey conferences. What if the NCAA hockey tourney went to a 2 out of 3 format? Keep the 16 team selection and the process that goes along with it. That is working right now and I see no reason to tinker with that. I understand that it would require 4 weekends of competition to accommodate. Therein is the only debate I can envision; how could that be worked out? My initial thought is that it could be done by taking a weekend out of the regular season, then hockey usually has to come to a screeching halt on the Final Four weekend.

So ok, instead of idling hockey for that entire weekend, hockey could play Thursday, Friday (Final Four semi’s on Sat.) and then Sunday if a Game 3 was needed to complete a series. The Frozen Four National title series could still be the following weekend after the Final Four. Of course these are just my preliminary thoughts, there are many, many things to consider, least of all would be TV provisions, locations and the like. Or would you make the semis and finals the only 2 of 3 series? I’m not sure, but I would love to see some serious thought and dialogue given to this…..

sometime after his Red Wings were ousted from the SC tourney by the Tampa Bay Bolts, Mike Babcock asked for and received permission to talk to other clubs and explore the possibilities out there for himself. With his Wings contract set to expire and having been with the club for 10 seasons, he was on the verge of coaching “free agency” and wanted to gauge his market value. That’s great for him and for the NHL coaching fraternity as I believe they have been the most underpaid professional sports coaching group out there relative to what it takes to perform that job.

“Babs” met with a handful of clubs, and it ultimately got down to 2 or 3 depending on your source, with the 3rd club most likely being the Wings, out of courtesy to them. But I think the most likely scenario was that he was going to go to a new team. Good for him and good for the Leafs, they have got quite the dysfunctional mess there to clean up and Babs might be the coach who can do that on the ice. By and large most observers believe him to be the current Dean of NHL coaches. And he is good, don’t get me wrong, but my list has him in a triumvirate of Quenneville, Sutter and himself. Babs is good though and I like his style.

Where does he rank though? He has been to 3 SC Finals winning one. The Wings never missed the playoffs in his tenure (have been in 24 straight) but have won only one series out of the last 4 tourneys. He has 2 Olympic Gold Medals with Team Canada, but between the Wings and the Canadians he gets to compete with some pretty strong rosters. That guarantees nothing though. Someone has to manage that talent and that is an art form unto itself. He will receive $50mil over 8 seasons. Will that turn out to be money well spent for the Leafs? Stay tuned…. PEACE