Thursday, April 24, 2008

Right Man for the Job?

It's easy to like Kelly Buchberger. Hell, if you're a long time fan of the Oilers it's damn hard not to love the guy. After all, he was the epitome of a heart and soul player during his tenure in Edmonton, willing to make personal sacrifices not many others would and paying for it with his face and fists.

After hanging up his skates as a player it wasn't the least bit surprising to me that he found his way back to the organization in a coaching capacity, first with the Edmonton Road Runners soon followed by a year as Player Development Coach and most recently as the bench boss with the AHL's Springfield Falcons.

Again the personal sacrifice should be noted as 'Bucky' took the job knowing that it would mean a long period of separation from his family who stayed behind in Edmonton.

The Falcons had their best season in a number of years after horrible associations with extremely thin Tampa Bay (getting better now) and Phoenix parent clubs. Several Oiler prospects had memorable stretches while in Springfield this season and some of the credit for that should go to Buchberger and assistant coaches Jeff Truitt and David Bell.

However, not everything has been parades and rainbows with the farm club this season.

An improvement in the standings still didn't result in a post season game. Injuries piled up to the point where at the end it virtually became a rotating door for players joining and leaving the team. The on-ice product is reportedly frustrating for fans, media, players and management alike. Players coming and going, falling on and off the injured list, sliding up and down between the AHL and ECHL and there was even the possibility of quiet dissention simmering in the room.

There will be a AHL/ECHL Season in Review done for HF in the next little while so I won't go into the detailed performances of specific players here. Instead, let me briefly acknowledge that a handful of players had positive developmental years including Liam Reddox, Rob Schremp, Slava Trukhno and goaltenders Jeff Deslauriers and Devan Dubnyk.

For now I only want to look at the coach and ask the same question Oiler fans asked back in early August of 2007: Is Kelly Buchberger the right man for the job?

My personal opinion is NO and here's why:

1) Not enough coaching experience - Yes he is a 'man of the people' and some players can relate to him because of that but does that mean he can coach? Yes he played for 16 or 17 years in the NHL but does that automatically mean a guy can coach? He spent 1 year behind the bench with the Road Runners then another on the road as development coach. He's definitely got guys on the farm into great condition, there is no denying that, but are they better players?

2) Proof is in the Pudding - Look at how the Falcons performed this year. Sure it was the AHL team's best record in a few years but they still missed the playoffs and were so badly out shot on a nightly basis that it was frustrating for everyone associated with the team be it media, fans, players or staff. Springfield was rarely able to keep their opposition from getting +35 shots per night with perhaps the worst example coming on March 22nd in a 4-1 loss to Hartford where the Wolf Pack outshot the Falcons 45-16.

More than 5 players told me that the team's systems stiffled offensive creativity and defensively consisted of little more than 'rim the puck' and 'chip it off the glass and out'. The opposition simply outmanned the Falcons wingers in the defensive zone preventing the predictable chip out thus keeping Springfield on the defensive for most of the game.

3) 'Screecher not a Teacher' - Perhaps the most unsettling description that has reached me out of Springfield is that Buchberger berates players on the bench for their mistakes as opposed to constructively telling them how to fix their errors. That style, especially with young players still learning the game, is destined to fail as very quickly players will stop listening.

4) Who Thrived? - Tim Sestito and Liam Reddox were particular 'Bucky players' and are frequently named by the coach as being top performers. Both are more likely to be career minor leaguers than significant NHL contributors (although both could see spot duty) and really, is it any wonder why those types of players would find success under a coach who was basically the same type of player? On the other hand, the players who came to the AHL expecting to produce offensively seemed to struggle for most of the season. Slava Trukhno had 3 excellent weeks and little else, Colin McDonald notched all of a single point in the last two months, Danny Syvret was shipped out of town because his offensive game fizzled, Cody Wild and Harlan Anderson couldn't bring their offensive game with them after joining the team late in the year. Outside of Schremp, Pouliot and Thoresen, no players really lived up to expectations in the offensive sense. Coincidence??

Personally I see Kelly as a quality assistant coach, someone the players (especially the grinders and plummers) can use as a role model. I've been reminded that extensive injuries contirubted to the lack of offence in Spriingfield and that is true; the Oilers move guys up to fill their holes leaving the Falcons thin at times.

Geoff Ward was supposed to be the farm coach and he was a good one. Rob Daum was hired on with the NHL Oilers and then a few weeks later Ward took the job with the Bruins and Bucky slipped into the vacancy.

In hindsight, I think the AHL job should have gone to Daum and believe still that a swticheroo this summer might be for the best. Have Bucky come up to the NHL as an assistant role where he would fit in with MacTavish and Huddy as former Oilers. Meanwhile Daum, who has a proven track record with offensive players, could go to Springfield and become the head coach there. That alone would give Jeff Truitt a fine tutor for coaching in the minors as Daum has a couple AHL seasons already under his belt already including a 50-win season in Houston (let alone the impressive CIS record that most fans will wrongly scoff at).

Now I have formulated this opinion after speaking with many people in and around Springfield but I conceed, I haven't yet spoken to Buchberger himself. That said, consider this an opinion in the works and I'll let Buchberger explain to me where I'm wrong (which I am quite open to being told). That conversation is overdue but I'll let you know if it changes my perceptions after I have it.


fakedarylkatz said...

To be a head coach I think you need more than one motivational trick in your bag and screaming at kids is not the best one to have in any case. I was never a fan of giving this job to Kelly and if I read your story correctly he has done more harm than good this past year. Promoting him to the big club will not be a good move.

oilerdago said...

Very good observation on the shots on goal. Have read in many places that JDD seemed to hit the wall in mid-season and this would explain this (in addition to how many games he played). With more support, JDD may be more ready than people think.

A question for you re getting the puck out of their zone. Could some of the "chip & rim" strategy be attributed to the fact that the Falcons did not have the puck moving D-men?

The 06-07 Oilers had this issue in spades and from what I saw when they were called up, Young and Peckham did not excel at this.