Thursday, May 27, 2004

Dave Lewis Sleeps Safer

With his first NHL head coaching position in limbo, after two disappointing playoff defeats in the first and second rounds, Dave Lewis appears likely to stay behind the Wings bench. This has a lot to do with who's available on the coaching market. Up until yesterday, the biggest names of Joel Quenneville and Jacques Martin remained free picking. Jacques Martin was hired as head coach of the Florida Panthers, on Wednesday, replacing interim coach John Torchetti. In addition, Mike Keenan, who was fired 6 months ago after two years as head coach, was hired as general manager. Keenan replaces Rick Dudley, who incidentally fired Keenan. A soap opera in the front office. The Panthers have had four coaches in the past seven months. A quick recap. Keenan fired November 9. Rick Dudley goes 13-15-9-3 before John Torchetti (then assistant coach) takes over the reigns, to go 10-12-4-1. This is where Martin steps in. Martin is a snake-bitten coach. He was 1999 NHL coach of the year, won 3 Northeast Division titles in 8 seasons with the Senators, and led them to their first Presidents' Trophy in 2002-2003. But his success during the regular season has failed to convert to solid playoff runs. Martin and the Senators lost to the Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round this year, marking the fourth time in five seasons Ottawa has seen their team ousted by Toronto's team. How many times can you say "ditto"? Martin's eight and a half seasons as the Senator's head coach (half of the 1995-96 season) made him the NHL's current longest serving head coach of one team. Paul Maurice held the title before getting the ax December 15, in his ninth season with the Canes. Now the longest-serving head coaches are Lindy Ruff of the Sabres (hired July 21, 1997) and Barry Trotz of the Predators (hired August 6, 1997). Joel Quenneville was also hired in 1997, but the Blues fired him in late February. According to a source close to the Wings, Dave Lewis is likely to stay in command:
"The fact that it's taken fairly long, probably everything will remain the same. It would be a surprise if the Ilitches (owners Mike and Marian) called for a change...I'd be shocked if it's any different."
I don't see the Wings hiring Quenneville, since the Wings have had his number for the years he was in St Louis. Unless, of course, you follow the Detroit Piston Philosophy, and hire those whom you defeat. During the offseason, the Pistons fired Rick Carlisle and hired Larry Brown, whom they had defeated in the second round when he was with the Philadelphia 76ers. But I don't follow basketball much, so maybe that makes more sense to b-ballers... Another possible candidate is Paul Maurice, after his stint with the Hurricanes came to an end this past season. But I don't see that happening either. The Wings have told Lewis that a decision will be made by June 1. Owner Mike Ilitch is on vacation in Florida through Friday, and will meet with GM Ken Holland and the rest of management next week. My Take on Lewis At this point, I'm going to have to say keep Lewis. Sure, the Wings call it a bad season if they don't win the Cup. His playoff record (6-10) spells first and second round oustings, but the problem lies more in personnel issues. The Wings have lost the past two years because they have choked offensively, among other things. The injuries and goalie drama played a role this season. You have to respect Lewis for what he has done in the regular season (96-41-21-6). This past season the Wings easily won the Presidents' Trophy with a 48-21-11-2 record. Sure, Martin and Quenneville were successful in the regular season and axed, but Lewis is only two years into his head coaching stint. And, to be honest, we all knew that this roster was going to meet a sort of End of An Era (don't you love cliches?!) eventually. It was an aging team, behind an aging Captain, and I see the Wings in a transition stage now (which doesn't mean that they can't compete with the best of them while there). Also, with the looming lockout and End of the NHL as We Know It, there's no reason to make big changes now. If the Wings' management was honest with the situation, they would nip the problem at the bud and look at their roster rather than front office. A lot of contracts are up this summer, and it's a perfect time to make sweeping roster changes. The Wings did not lose because of Lewis the past two playoff runs. Give him another season. Cujo Ankle Update Curtis Joseph had minor arthroscopic ankle surgery last week to repair loose cartilage in his right ankle. Cujo also had surgery on August 19, 2003 to remove bone chips from his right ankle. That was when he threw the Wings for a loop, announcing the injury just before training camp started and when the Wings were trying to trade him (let's not start thinking about the Hasek fiasco...).


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