Monday, January 12, 2009

Christmas and Coaches

Well that was a wonderful break over Christmas, much of it spent playing knee-hockey with my nephews and Blades of Steel on the old Nintendo. Good times had by all and a nice break from heavy-duty Oiler watching (and work). I probably could have/should have mustered something about the meaning of Christmas, but I ended up just taking a break instead.

Last night's game was very interesting and I think, on the level of the coach, speaks to the experience of the fan. I was over in Lowetide's gameday thread and noticed some positive commentary about Andy Murray, the coach of the St. Louis Blues. Here are a couple of samples:

"I know this will raise some hackles but Andy Murray is a terrific coach. This club is riddled with injuries - McDonald, Kariya, Brewer, McKee, Johnson and now Steen.And they're busting their asses, playing physical, playing well." (Black Dog Hates Skunks)

"Blues fans are clamouring for Murray's head right now; I'm really not sure why. He's a perpetually good coach." (Jonathan)

"That's exactly what I remember about the man, helluva coach and his LA teams at least seemed very motivated and never quit." (Uni)

Now compare this with some of the comments about one Craig MacTavish that have been floating around the internet. The basic sentiment among many Oiler fans is that MacTavish needs to go. He's had a long string of mediocre squads achieve mediocre results and he's been making certain questionable decisions. Now I don't know about the decision-making that comes from Murray, but his career results are nothing magical compared to MacTavish:

Now obviously a coach can only do so much, but Andy Murray's record of mediocrity would seem to be pretty comparable to that of MacTavish.

In the micro view we have last night where Murray's team scored the first goal on the road and then blew it. They still entered the third period in a tie and with hope... but they were outshot in the third period 11-3 and spent most of the time in their own end against a mediocre team missing it's best player. If this is the Oilers on the road in Columbus minus Nash, it's a sign that MacTavish has lost the room and everyone is up in arms. Not to mention, Murray's team is in last place in the conference.

The thing is Andy Murray is a good coach. The best way I know to compare (with thanks to the Contrarian Goaltender) would be to compare results immediately before and after a coach's firing. It would be ideal if I had more examples of Murray's work, but he's only coached in two NHL cities, so the sample is somewhat limited, although on two occasions we have the benefit of him coaching and not coaching a given team in the same season. So here's Murray's first and last year in LA along with his first year in St. Louis compared to LA the year before and after he left along with the year before his arrival in St. Louis:

So it would seem that Murray is getting pretty good results when compared to others (Larry Robinson, Mike Kitchen and John Torchetti) with the same or similar personnel. I guess the rambling point that I'm trying to make here is that just as Murray probably isn't the problem in St. Louis, MacTavish probably isn't the problem in Edmonton. Sometimes the players (like this year's Blues) just aren't very good.

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