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Did Al Arbour (coach of '80s Islanders Cup winners) produce an NFL-style 'coaching tree'?

Aug 4, 2010, 11:30 PM EDT

billbelinfl.jpgIn the NFL, it’s very common for a successful coach to develop a “coaching tree.” Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense produced acolytes such as Andy Reid while a man who seemed to be Walsh’ polar opposite – cantankerous, defensive-leaning Bill Parcells – brought us guys like Bill Belichick. If those “individual branches” beget more great coaches, then it starts to resemble those Russian dolls to the point that it gets more difficult to recognize the starting point.*

* – After all, many will say that Paul Brown gave way to Bill Walsh and so on and so forth.

Anyway, Dominik of Lighthouse Hockey came up with a great summertime diversion. He asked if Al Arbour – the great New York Islanders coach who helped the team win a staggering four straight Stanley Cups in the early ’80s – was responsible for a coaching tree of his own.

What did he find? For the most part, no. From Red Berenson to a legend like Bryan Trottier, most of the people who gave coaching a shot fell short of even being suitable bench bosses. I thought I’d focus on a handful of the guys who at least had semi-interesting (if not particularly successful) careers. For complete summaries of these coaches and others, click here.

Let’s begin with Terry Crisp.

Terry Crisp

As Coach: Calgary, Tampa Bay, 286-267-78.

Today Center Ice subscribers know him as the cowboy hat-wearing color man on Predators broadcasts. But in his younger days he was a successful coach in three years in Calgary, leading them to their only Cup in 1989.

alarbour.jpgLet’s move on to Dave Lewis, a guy who was an original member of the expansion team and also sported an … um, unfortunate mustache during his coaching days with the Detroit Red Wings.

Dave Lewis

As Coach: Detroit (2002-2004), Boston (2006-07), 135-83-21. Fortunately Lewis would lift the Cup three times as Bowman’s assistant coach in Detroit. But when Bowman retired, Lewis took the reins and was given less than three strikes in the ever impatient Red Wings country. (Funny how his tenure coincided with goalies the fans ate alive.) For a coach with a .604 winning percentage, Lewis was cut no slack in either NHL locale.

Next, here are Dominik’s thoughts on Terry Simpson, the guy who had to follow Arbour as the next head coach.

Terry Simpson

As Coach: Islanders (1986-88), Philadelphia (1993-94), Winnipeg (1995-96). Total: 159-168-41. It never really worked for Simpson as coach. Succeeding Arbour was hard enough, but it went from bad to worse and he didn’t fare any better with the Flyers or Jets.

When I think of Simpson I think of this game, an 8-0 Islanders loss at the St. Louis Arena that I witnessed in person — in childish horror — as my dad tried to gently explain that things wouldn’t be the same without Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Al Arbour. (Arbour would return as coach just days later.)

brentsuttersadface.jpgFinally, we have the never-grinning Brent Sutter of the famous Sutter hockey family. His brother Duane also pursued a head coaching job but didn’t last as long as Brent did.

Brent Sutter

As Coach: New Jersey (2007-09), Calgary (2009-present): 137-88-21*.

The most decorated of any Sutter brother coach (if you include World Juniors), Brent led Canada’s WJC team to consecutive gold medals while also managing his junior team in Red Deer.

[snip]

When he was finally ready to leave his WHL team behind and enter NHL coaching, it turns out he wasn’t ready at all: He spent two mostly successful but miserable seasons (regular season anyway) as Devils coach before doing a bizarre “retire” bait-and-switch to get back to Calgary close to home and under his brother the GM. Can’t really fault him on the desire, but the methods by which he moved from Jersey to Alberta were, ah, “unsound.”

So those were the coaches associated with the great Al Arbour who seemed to make the biggest impact. If that list is any indication, great NHL head coaches do not necessarily develop other great coaches. Then again, assistant/associate coaches haven’t been around much longer than Scotty Bowman, so perhaps that trend will change in the future. Especially when you consider the fact that coaches have a much bigger impact on the game than ever before thanks to video study, positional (sometimes “trap based”) defense and other innovations.

  1. The Ol Goaler - Aug 5, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Oddly enough, one couldsay that Arbour himself was a branch of the coaching “tree” of Scotty Bowman! Arbour was the first Captain of the St. Louis Blues (coached by Bowman), and replaced Scotty as bench boss briefly in St. Louis.
    I was always astounded how Arbour would block shots, even though he wore eyeglasses as a player; with no concern for his body… (“He’s a hockey player!”)

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