Early NHL standings show coaching changes work: Sabres and Oilers leading their division – USA TODAY

Posted: October 20, 2019 at 8:45 am


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SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports' Kevin Allen makes five declaration he believes will come true for the NHL season. USA TODAY

With coach Ralph Kruegers Buffalo Sabres (6-1-1) leading the Atlantic Division and Dave Tippetts Edmonton Oilers sitting atop the Pacific Division, offseason coaching changes are an important storyline in the NHLs early going.

But this is an old story, not a fresh approach

Last year, new coach Rod BrindAmour took the Carolina Hurricanes to their first playoff appearance in a decade andmade it to the Eastern Conference Final before bowing out. Coach Craig Berube, an in-season coaching arrival, guided theSt. Louis Blues to the first Stanley Cup infranchise history.

When you bring in a new coach, I truly believe you get the best from all guys, Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said. As a player, you get a chance to showcase what you are all about.

Historically, coaching changes often give NHL teams an initial boost, whether it is at the start of a season or in-season. In 2015-16, the Penguins fired Mike Johnston after 28 games and Mike Sullivan took them to a championship. That was six years after coach Dan Bylsma took over in-season for the Penguins and won the 2009 Stanley Cup.

Veteran coach Darryl Sutter took over the Los Angeles Kings in 2011-12 and won a Stanley Cup. Before his arrival, the Kings last won a playoff series in 2001.

I see in other sports (a coaching move)is not as big of a change, Waddell said. But I see in our sport, because we do roll 18 players on nightly basis, where a guyfeels its a fresh start and an opportunity to prove he deserves more ice time.

Buffalo Sabres captain Jack Eichel talks with head coach Ralph Krueger during the first period of a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.(Photo: Gene J. Puskar, AP)

The ice time reshufflehas long been thought to be a primary reason for the team improvement.In life, everyone always tries harder to impress the new boss.

Plus, new coaches often concentrate on improving the teams defensive play because thats the area where they can have instantimpact. You can teach a player to be moredefensivebut you cant transform a 20-goal scorer into a 40-goal scorer. Defensive improvement alwaysimpact the standings.

Teams that made off-season coaching switches:

Sabres (Krueger): No one in Buffalo istoo excited about the teams strong start because everyone remembers last seasons collapse after winning 10 in a row.

But Kruegers professorial style fits well withthis team, whichrelies heavily on young stars Jack Eichel, Rasmus Dahlin andSam Reinhart.

Canadian Krueger, the son of German immigrants, previously coached the Edmonton Oilers. But he was recently chairman of the Southampton soccer club and a well-respected motivational speaker. He once wrote a book, in German, called "Team Life: Beyond Setbacks to Success."

At heart, hes a kid from Manitoba who loves coaching hockey, said Sabres general manager Jason Botterill. He enjoyed his experience at Southampton, but he is fired up and excited to be back behind the bench. Our players are feeding off that. They understand the passion hes bringing.

Krueger, well-accomplished in international hockey, has always had the ability to instantly connect with players he coached. Botterill said he senses that Krueger always knows what to say in every situation.

When you sit down with Ralph, his entire focus is on you, Botterill said. You feel hes gone through a lot of experiences and hes pulled down a lot of knowledge from those experiences.

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Oilers (Tippett): With GM Ken Holland also in place, the Oilers seem to have a fresh,upbeat attitude. Tippett will make this team better defensively. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl cando the rest.

Anaheim Ducks (Dallas Eakins): Its not just goalie John Gibson getting it done, although he has been a big part of their strong start. Eakins has the team playing more up-tempo than they have in the past. Players seem to be buying what hes selling.

Philadelphia Flyers (Alain Vigneault): Vigneault has a long history of success at the NHL level, but will be judged by his ability to transform the Flyers into a consistent playoff team. Too early to determinewhat his impact will be.

Florida Panthers (Joel Quenneville): Quenneville'simpact is expected to be significant. However, the Panthers have been sluggish out of the gate.Players may need time to adjust to Quenneville, who won three Stanley Cups in Chicago. Sergei Bobrovskys .870 save percentage hasnt helped.

Ottawa Senators (D.J. Smith):The Senators are expected to be the NHLs worst team and theres notmuch Smith can do about that. But they seem improved.

Los Angeles Kings (Todd McLellan): McLellan is a respected coach, but the Kings management may be looking to the future, not this season.They may be looking forward to another top-five draft pick.

Follow Allen on Twitter@ByKevinAllen.

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Early NHL standings show coaching changes work: Sabres and Oilers leading their division - USA TODAY

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October 20th, 2019 at 8:45 am

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