Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Arny's Army Take II (No Mutiny This Time!)

In all of the other posts on potential replacements for MacT (Constantine, Quinn, Renney and Crawford)I've compared the coach to those coaches he preceded or followed at the NHL level (hat tip for the methodology to the Contrarian Goaltender). That doesn't work too well for Scott Arniel since he doesn't have any NHL head coaching experience. So what does he have on his resume? He played 730 career NHL games and many more in the minor leagues to end his career. He transitioned quickly from player to assistant coach. He started his coaching career as an assistant with the Manitoba Moose 2000-01 before joining the Buffalo Sabres as an assistant to Lindy Ruff in Buffalo for three seasons from 2002-03 to 2005-06. For the last three seasons Arniel has been the head coach of the Manitoba Moose, the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, and is currently waiting for an opponent in the Western Conference final of the AHL playoffs. This past season Arniel won AHL coach of the year. He's also the last winner of a head coaching job awarded by Steve Tambellini.

Could the Edmonton Oilers be interested in Scott Arniel? I would think so. The fact that Tambellini is familiar with him is a point in his favour. The fact that he's also been very successful is another help. In his first season as coach of the Moose the team went from a 44-24-7-5 record under Alain Vigneault to a 45-23-7-5 record under Arniel. He's had similar success each year making his regular season total a tidy 141-73-11-15. That's a very nice record, though I think it's also fair to say that Arniel inherited a very good team. His name has been mentioned in a couple of the usual places (you're in good company now Willis) as a possible replacement. He also fulfills a lot of the criteria that Tambellini has hinted at in the past: some NHL experience (as an assistant), he comes from outside (the Oilers) organization, he's taking his team deep into the (AHL) playoffs.

There are also some things in this interview Arniel did in December of 2008 that will help us to learn a little bit about him:

"I think it is very important that you align yourself with a G.M. that you have a history with and someone that has a lot of the same beliefs on the type of team and style of play that you want to play. Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff were a great example of that in Buffalo."

Edmonton is a good fit here for Arniel. It's one of the few destinations where Arniel does in fact have some positive history with the general manager. Given the fact that Tambellini said something very similar in his press conference at the end of the year Arniel seems like a very good fit.

"The first couple of months on the job with the Moose was a real eye opener as a coach. You come into the job thinking you have all the right tactics and strategy to instantly have success, but I soon realized certain things wouldn’t work with that team or I didn’t have the type of team needed to play the way I envisioned. I learned very quickly that I had to make adjustments and figure out what worked best with group of players that I had at that particular time."

I think this is a very positive sign. On the one hand, Arniel came to the job with a plan in place. He had a strategy and he had tactics that he wanted to implement. That's important. On the other hand, he wasn't dogmatic and was willing to adjust to his personnel. That's also important. Taken on its face these comments speak very well of Arniel. However, I find them a little bit puzzling for two reasons. First, the Moose were very good in Arniel's first season so it doesn't seem like they would have really struggled to implement his system. So I went to check it out and, sure enough, the Moose started Arniel's first season 5-8-2-2 and ended up at 9-8-3-2 by the end of November. So it would seem that Arniel isn't just blowing smoke and that he really did make changes (either that or he's tricked himself into thinking that way when they started winning more games). The other thing that seems odd is that I'd always thought that most AHL teams use the same system and tactics of their NHL parent club. At least in Manitoba, it seems that this is not exactly the case (although I'm sure there would still be some consistency between the two).

Another article mentions that Arniel was in charge of the Sabres power play in 2005-06. It would seem to follow that he would also have an impact on the way the PP is run for the Moose. For whatever reason, I haven't been able to find the team power play efficiency stats for AHL teams, so if anyone knows where to find said data, please pass it along. Anyway, Arniel did well with the PP in Buffalo in 2005-06 as they had an efficiency of 21.2% which was good for 3rd in the league. If Arniel ran the PP in Buffalo during the rest of his time there he managed to put up 14.4% for 20th in 2002-03 and 15.8% for 19th in 2003-04. Hopefully they turned to him after the lockout...

Overall, I'll be pretty pleased if Arniel is hired as head coach. He's competent, has learned the trade under some good people and is able to adjust to the hand that he's been dealt. Although he's only been a head coach for three years, he's been a professional coach for seven... wait... Three AND seven... the man is practically divine! I'm convinced.

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