Some offseasons are notable for their free-agency frenzies, some for lots of changes in the front office, but the 2009 offseason has been notable for changes in a not so public position: goaltending coaches.
Ten NHL teams have made changes in the position this offseason, a full third of the league.
"Unbelievable," Mitch Korn, goalie coach for the Nashville Predators, described. "This has been a year like no other year in my business and I’ve been in this 18 years. I can’t believe how many teams have made changes is that area. It’s amazing."
The impact on prospects is both direct and indirect. Most goaltending coaches work with the organization’s prospects not just at camps, but also on visits to their teams. A good goaltending coach can turn a journeyman into an NHL regular. They can be star-makers for the most important position on the ice.
Normally a goaltending coach will survive changes in the head coach, but that was not the case this year. Five goaltending coaches were let go as part of a house-cleaning of coaching staff, six if you count one whose replacement was brought in last year in a coaching change. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater?
"There’s some truth to that," Korn said. "Now, there’s a lot of things we don’t know — we don’t know who supported who at what moments, but some teams thought they needed changes for the sake of changing. I hope I don’t get caught up in that at some point (laughs), but it’s part of the game."
The Montreal Canadiens fired Roland Melanson and later hired Pierre Groulx, who had been let go by the Florida Panthers in a clean-out of personnel. Groulx follows Jacques Martin to the Canadiens. The Panthers have not yet named a replacement for Groulx.
The Colorado Avalanche fired Jeff Hackett, along with the rest of the coaching staff. They have not yet named a replacement.
The Calgary Flames did not renew the contract of David Marcoux in a coaching overhaul that included bench boss Mike Keenan. Former backup Jamie McLennan will be the new goaltending coach, after serving as a pro scout/player development with the organization during the 2008-09 season.
Francois Allaire left the Anaheim Ducks and was hired by the Toronto Maple Leafs, following GM Brian Burke to the city. Allaire’s official title is Goaltending Consultant, while Cory Hirsch will remain Goaltending Coach for the organization as well.
The Columbus Blue Jackets hired David Rook, who was Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason‘s goaltending coach with the OHL London Knights. Rook most recently had been acting as a goaltending consultant for the St. Louis Blues, and with the Blue Jackets replaces Clint Malarchuk, who is likely done coaching.
The Edmonton Oilers fired Pete Peeters, who was just hired by Anaheim as a consultant. The Oilers brought in Frederic Chabot, who had previously worked with coach Pat Quinn with Hockey Canada. For the past couple seasons Chabot had been working in Europe, for the Berlin Ice Bears and Stockholm in Sweden‘s second division.
The Philadelphia Flyers fired Reggie Lemelin, who had been with the team for 14 years, and hired Jeff Reese, who had been let go by the Tampa Bay Lightning after eight years. Cap Raeder remains on as goaltending coach for the Lightning, after joining the team last year from the San Jose Sharks.
As yet not employed are Melanson, Hackett, Marcoux, Lemelin and Malarchuk.
"I’ve got to think the top unemployed guy is Rollie Melanson," Korn said. "In Montreal he was consistently considered an excellent guy, he’s coached a lot of very good goalies there, obviously (Jose) Theodore, even though he’s fallen on hard times. There’s a Hart Trophy and a Vezina that was a Melanson product from cradle to net. Carey Price, though he had a rough second half, has done exceptionally well. (Cristobal) Huet never played better than when he was in Montreal. I’m not lobbying for a guy to take my job, but I would say he might be the top guy unemployed.
"Clint Malarchuk’s a very good guy, he’s unemployed," Korn continued. "David Marcoux in Calgary kept (Miikka) Kiprusoff going and it’s not only the physical stuff, it’s the mental stuff and with all due respect to Mike Keenan, he’s a hard guy to play for. And whoever the goalie goach was there with Kiprusoff had a lot of bridges to rebuild, possibly on a daily basis. And so I give him high marks."
It remains to be seen if this summer’s turnover remains unusual, or if we are entering a new era of results-oriented accountability for goaltending coaches. Has a stagnant salary cap forced teams to look harder at coaching to gain an edge on the competition? Will a win-now approach shorten the tenure of goalie coaches around the league? The upcoming season will be telling.