Shanahan’s Missed Opportunity?

In my view, a perfect candidate [to replace Randy Carlyle] came available today. If there’s a coach in the NHL that has gotten more out of less for the past 15 years than Barry Trotz, I’m not aware of him. His record with Nashville speaks loudly of discipline and defensive awareness. Shanahan and Nonis should move swiftly. — Apr. 14, 2014.

The best three coaches in the NHL over the past decade are Mike Babcock, Dave Tippett and Barry Trotz. One of them [Trotz] is currently on the market after an unprecedented term with an expansion team. Nashville made it to the Stanley Cup tournament three or four times when it shouldn’t have while performing, almost exclusively, with direction and discipline behind center ice. These, of course, are words that require a dictionary here in Toronto. — Apr. 16, 2014.

Trotz would be a very good hire for the Maple Leafs, given his ability to craft and successfully implement a defensive game-plan. But, it seems that Shanahan and Nonis either disagree or are waiting for a lull in the basketball playoffs to announce a decision on Carlyle. — Apr. 28, 2014.

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Jan. 9) — Words written by a genius? Hardly.

My sentiments here from last April, however, are relevant given the fuss made over Peter Horachek and Barry Trotz this week — specifically, how the Maple Leafs’ new interim coach mentored under Trotz for nearly a decade in Nashville. Nine months ago, in the wake of another epic, late–season collapse by the Maple Leafs, the mentor was available.

Today, his pupil is guiding the Blue and White.

Missed opportunity? Only time will tell. Horachek, in my view, is an impressive, authoritarian figure that has gained much respect while working his way up through the coaching ranks. He and Trotz grew together in Nashville where Trotz was, far and away, the longest–serving coach of an expansion team in National Hockey League history (15 seasons); second, perhaps, in professional sport to Tom Landry, who guided the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League for 29 years (1960–1988). As mentioned in the preamble to this blog, Trotz quickly gained notice for overachieving with the Predators, who were neither crowded with Hall–of–Fame–caliber players nor a cap–straining budget (the club’s highest payroll rank, according to nhlnumbers.com, was 22nd of 30 teams in 2010–11; most years Nashville ranked from 27th to 30th).

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BARRY TROTZ (LEFT) AND ALEXANDER OVECHKIN OF THE WASHINGTON CAPITALS. NHL.COM

Beyond loyalty, it’s the reason Preds’ general manager David Poile stuck with Trotz for a decade–and–a–half — many times longer than the proverbial “shelf life” of a coach in the NHL. Though Nashville won only two playoff rounds, it qualified for the Stanley Cup tournament in seven of Trotz’ final ten seasons behind the bench — five more than Toronto in the same period. Poile finally decided to make a change last Apr. 14, letting Trotz go three days after Brendan Shanahan came aboard as president of the Leafs. Trotz was on the open market for exactly six weeks before Washington hired him on May 26. Shanahan waited until May 8 to re–up with a coach (Randy Carlyle) he would fire 40 games into the current season. My sources claim he never looked in Trotz’ direction.

The result, for now, was readily apparent with Washington in town for Wednesday night’s game — a 6–2 spanking of the Leafs. After a slow start, the Capitals are among the hottest teams in the NHL with a stunning 11–1–4 record since Dec. 4. More impressively, Trotz has introduced Alexander Ovechkin to the portion of ice 100 feet behind the center red–line — uncharted territory for the Russian winger prior to this season. Which provoked another comparison in the hours after the Leafs fired Carlyle: Would Trotz have been able to extract defensive recognition from Phil Kessel, a serial 100–foot performer? The notion seems laughable — akin to extracting the nuclear code from Barack Obama. But, Trotz might well have been the prime candidate for such an exhaustive chore with the Leafs. Instead, he is now Obama’s neighbor.

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TENSE–LOOKING PETER HORACHEK BETWEEN PHIL KESSEL (HOPPING OVER BOARDS) AND LEO KOMAROV (47) DURING HORACHEK’S DEBUT AS TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS INTERIM HEAD COACH WEDNESDAY NIGHT AT AIR CANADA CENTRE. NATHAN DENETTE THE CANADIAN PRESS

It should also be noted that Kessel — inevitable slumps notwithstanding — does the job for which he is paid… scoring goals. And he does it well.

Perhaps enough of Trotz has rubbed off on Horachek; heaven knows they worked together long enough. But, Horachek’s problem is two–fold: a) With an “interim” tag, he could easily develop “Supply Teacher Syndrome” — that which precludes serious application from his workers (we’ve all been there in our youth). Suppose, for example, Kessel decides he doesn’t like Horachek’s coaching philosophy. The player is locked in at $8 million per anum for the next seven seasons; the coach is all–but certain to be replaced by a full–timer next year. With such minimal leverage, what chance would Horachek have? And, b) Ovechkin, even when ignoring his defensive burden, is a more dogged, rambunctious player than Kessel, who avoids physical approximation whenever he can. As such, and among other concerns, this is bound to be one of the great coaching challenges in modern Leafs history.

Shanahan boldly admonished his players during an impromptu media gathering today, but he has no more leverage than his NHL counterparts in the salary cap universe. Threatening players is a hollow act nowadays and who knows if it’s even possible to intimidate a member of the Leafs? Worst–case scenario, Shanahan doesn’t want you anymore and you are traded elsewhere. Many would consider that a blessing, not a curse.  

Horachek’s challenge can be traced to Shanahan’s call, last spring, to decide against hiring an available coach on a long–term deal — that which Trotz or Peter Laviolette would have demanded. Instead, he added two salary years to Carlyle’s pact with no term guarantee. The term, as it happened, was 40 games. If Plan ‘B’ does not include either of Horachek or Steve Spott, the 20th Maple Leafs coach since Punch Imlach was fired in April 1969 will be Shanahan’s measuring stick.

RIP J–P: The hockey world lost another jewel on Wednesday when Jean–Paul Parise died of lung cancer at home in Minnesota. He was 73. In his latter years, Jean–Paul was best known as the father of Zach Parise, star forward of the Minnesota Wild. But, from 1967 to 1979, J.P. was a plucky, dependable scorer and play–maker with the Minnesota North Stars, New York Islanders and Cleveland Barons. He had seasons of 27, 25, 24 and 22 goals (twice) during his career and point totals of 75 (in 1972–73) and 72 (in 1969–70) at Minnesota.

Parise began his career with Boston, playing three games in 1965–66 and 18 more in 1966–67 as a teammate of rookie defenseman Bobby Orr. He was left unprotected for the expansion draft in June 1967 and was selected by the California Seals. But, the Seals traded him (Oct. 3, 1967) to the Maple Leafs’ farm team in Rochester for veteran Gerry Ehman. While toiling for the Rochester Americans of the AHL, Parise appeared in one game with the Leafs — a 4–2 victory over the Bruins at Maple Leaf Gardens on Nov. 15, 1967. At 19:07 of the first period, Parise and George Armstrong set up a goal by Mike Walton to give Toronto a 3–1 lead (info courtesy the one — the only — Paul Patskou). It would be Jean–Paul’s only point in a Leafs uniform. He was dealt to Minnesota in a multi–player, minor league swap on Dec. 27, 1967 and it was in Bloomington that his successful NHL career blossomed.

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JEAN–PAUL PARISE’S FIRST MEDIA GUIDE BIO WITH THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS.

Canadian hockey fans of vintage recall Parise for his role in the 1972 series against the Russians. J.P. scored in Game 3 at Winnipeg and Game 5 at Moscow but will long be remembered for his near pole–axing of German referee Joseph Kompalla in the decisive eighth match.

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WHILE TEAMMATE GUY LAPOINTE LOOKS ON IN THIS TV IMAGE FROM MOSCOW, JEAN–PAUL PARISE THREATENS TO END THE DAY FOR GERMAN REF JOSEPH KOMPALLA.

It occurred in the first period at the Lenin Sports Palace after a deluge of early penalty calls against Team Canada. My friend Jeff Z. Klein spoke to Parise about the unforgettable moment in August 2012, just after the 40th anniversary of the legendary summit:

PARISE: I had never gotten a misconduct penalty. I don’t know if I was ever kicked out of a game before, ever. The way [the Russians] tried to manipulate the whole thing — what happened there, going back to how important the series was to them, in the sixth game they had a German guy by the name of Joe Kompalla officiating. In that game, he gave us 31 penalty minutes and just four minutes to the Russians. It was awful. And then a Swedish official was supposed to do the eighth game, but he was nowhere to be seen — he was sick or he just didn’t come to the game. So, the Russians insisted that Kompalla do the game in spite of us being against it. But, there was nobody else. It started right away — bang — in the first minute of the game, we got a penalty. Then, a minute later, another penalty.

KLEIN: There was also a penalty against the Russians; they were skating 4–on–3.

PARISE: So, they were regrouping and one guy went back to his own zone. I was waiting for him at the blue line and I went to hit him. The official, Joe, comes to me and says “two minutes for interference.” I said, “he was carrying the puck.” And, he says, “You got 10 [a misconduct]. I said, “if I got 10, you better not be calling anymore 10’s because you’re going to die right here.”

KLEIN: Is that really what you said, or thought?

PARISE: Well, he was German, so I don’t know if he understood. I said, “I’m going to kill you” or something like that. Not very nice.

KLEIN: You raised your stick right at his head.

PARISE: Showed tremendous control of my emotions by not [lowering] my stick.

Team Canada, of course, went on to win Game 8 — and the series — on Paul Henderson’s now–mythical goal with 34 seconds remaining.

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A RECENT PHOTO OF 1972 CANADIAN TEAMMATES PHIL ESPOSITO (LEFT) AND J.P. PARISE.

Parise was also the central figure in a seminal moment for the New York Islanders against the established New York Rangers during the 1975 Stanley Cup playoffs. Brad Kurtzberg wrote about that stunning overtime victory in The Bleacher Report (http://ble.ac/1KsB8bj).

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JEAN-PAUL PARISE AND WIFE DONNA WATCH INTENTLY AT THE XCEL ENERGY CENTER IN ST. PAUL AS THEIR SON, ZACH, PLAYS FOR THE MINNESOTA WILD.

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