When you look back at the 2011-2012 season and try to grade the team and its coach, one thing is easy to pick up on. They missed the playoffs. It is easy to say, “Well, he did great for a while, so obviously he has what it takes to coach in the NHL, right?”
Yes, you have to assume that because he was able to get his team playing first-place lights out hockey for a large portion of the season, that he can probably coach at the NHL level and be successful, with the right experience, an open mind and management giving him the right pieces through trades and the draft.
For me, however – the largest question of whether or not Glen Gulutzan can get the job done is which lessons he learns from this past season and how fast he can rectify the mishandling of the situations last year.
It isn’t as simple as learning to manage egos, put the right players together and call shift changes at the right time against each team. There were larger issues that Glen faced and largely handled wrong. At least in my limited point of view.
The main issue was certainly talent management. Instead of punishing Mike Ribeiro for his poor defensive play by knocking him down to the third line and letting someone who at least works hard fill the second line center position (you have to think Fiddler would have been okay in between 2 of the wingers that were rotated around Ribs throughout the year, at least until Mike got the message).
Instead he pulled Ribeiro up a line, gave him the cushy first line ice time that got him and his wingers away from the oppositions top talent. This meant he was defended less and he wasn’t defending (or not defending…) the team’s best offensive threats each night like a second line might. This left the task to Jamie Benn and his rag tag line of misfit 3rd and 4th liners that were drudged up and put on the second line. He was playing against harder opponents more often and had less time on ice over all. He still scored at a higher rate than Mike Ribeiro and while his line let in more goals, the CORSI proves that it was actually less if you take into consideration his level of competition.
Another instance of this was when the team brought up young Reilly Smith. After he finished his season in college the management brought him to the big team in hopes of a end-of-year push that might get them back into the playoff picture. The kid had one game with the Benn line before being buried onto the bottom half of the squad and not seeing as much ice time as even the third standard third line did. My theory is you have to give someone like Reilly some games with a good line, at the very least to get him to used to the players he was going to be playing with and at the most to let him adjust to going from collegiate athlete to the big show.
That didn’t happen. But even with all of the mismanagement of the young man, it didn’t hold a candle to the domino effect of consequences the Ribeiro-situation had on the team. Because Benn played on the second line, he played with Steve Ott and a rotating winger that included Brendan Morrow when he wasn’t out with a broken everything and even better – Adam Burrish, the coolest guy on the team but the biggest black hole for offense I have ever seen.
I’m not saying the team wouldn’t have been offensively lopsided if Ribeiro hadn’t been moved up. You can argue that having Jamie Benn in the middle of players like Otter and Burrish would make a more effective offensive line than Ribeiro in between the two. But if I were the coach (and I am, according to EA Sports) I would have punished Ribiero before I rewarded him. Maybe if Glen had pulled the third line of Fiddler/Dvo/Nystrom up to the second line position and stuck Ribeiro with Ott and Burrish on the third line he would have stopped coasting on the back check and the problem would be null?