In praise of NHL coaches, and Jack Capuano's tan

"How many of these kids you figure I get to actually coach in the NHL?"

Things I ponder while wondering if Kirill Kabanov will one day make Matt Martin an offer for #17*, and at what price...

[*Caveats: 1. Kabanov wore 71 in Lewiston, 37 in Isles camp last year. 2. They might never share the same roster for long. 3. KK has a #17 tattoo now, but hey, those things can change.]

Depending on where you plant your mileposts, the average NHL head coaching tenure is usually between two and three seasons. A full third of the league's coaches have been on the job a year or less, and that class will grow from 10 to 11 whenever New Jersey gets around to naming a coach.

Only seven guys have coached their current teams for more than three full seasons, and at least three of those -- playoff coaches, all of them -- were the topic of firing rumors last season. (As if to show how fickle the position is, one of them, Claude Julien, survived to win the Stanley Cup.)

Just about all NHL jobs feature charter flights, but the glamor stops there for head coaches. They make significant coin, but they earn it as the scapegoat of first resort when things go wrong; even winning the Stanley Cup only buys you momentary job security. The daily grind, intensity, second-guessing, and short tenure makes it the one featured position that most NHL fans do not dream of holding.

That's why it's good to see Jack Capuano with a nice summer tan.

Not that I particularly really care about the status of Capuano's skin, but the aforementioned context does make me sympathize with just about every NHL coach.

Capuano got the job opportunity he dreamed of when the offer to coach the Islanders came along last season, but he stepped right into the fire of a struggling, injury-depleted team on a losing streak that threatened franchise records. He quickly became acquainted with just how bad the injury situation could get as he steered his team through what was in many ways a lost season by December.

In terms of levers to pull and responsibilities to weigh, an NHL GM has more on his plate than a coach -- but he also has more job security. Meanwhile, the equipment men and trainers have more toiling in the unsung trenches to do -- but they don't have fans blaming them for every loss and every player who fails to hold up his end of the bargain.

Day after day, night after night, a coach must concern himself with who's hot, who's cold, who's healthy and who's just arrived from the AHL, all while trying to keep a team of individuals both loose and focused, feeling independent yet prepared, and trying not to let the randomness of NHL officiating and NHL justice get to him, even though the wrong combination of those two could one day cost him his job.

The unending summer topics for this website drive home for me that there's rarely an off day for GM Garth Snow, but at the end of last season the guy I most hoped would get to step away for some R&R was Capuano. A coach combines the constant travel and early mornings of equipment men with the job security of a fourth liner. That's a position that deserves a break.

With that in mind, it was fun to see a well-tanned Capuano cutting up in interviews during mini-camp last week -- a camp spent developing prospects he may never get to coach in the NHL.

You may have seen these videos from the official site already, but they show the coach in relaxed mini-camp mode -- while still putting up with the reporter questions ("Who stood out?") that a coach has to field night after night during the long NHL season.

 

Capuano after the Camp-Ending Scrimmage

(on Anders Lee, Brock Nelson, Kabanov, Calvin De Haan, Ryan Strome)


Capuano after Day 4

(on camp, on Lee, on not singling out guys in a summer mini-camp)


I know there's a segment of fans who, throwing everything else aside, enjoy Capuano's friendly, easy-going (and player-friendly?) demeanor in contrast to the more buttoned up on-camera style of his predecessor. Maybe some players appreciate the same.

We've seen the intense side of Capuano during the season. But I have to imagine the cordial demeanor helps a man stay sane in an insane profession.

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