Not All NHL Coaches Appreciate the Transparency of Parity

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 30: Center Brad Richards  of the Dallas Stars skates the puck against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period at American Airlines Center on September 30, 2010 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Mike Heika makes the interesting case that the NHL has pretty much attained parity.

Maybe not true parity, but less and less difference in the talent level of teams. To the extent that Heika says coaching and team effort is what wins games for a lot of NHL teams.

James Gordon has a similar thought, writing that while the Ottawa Senators aren’t great, they’re average, and average is good enough for the NHL, where good enough is defined as being one of the 53% of all teams to make the playoffs.

The redefining of good enough is a combination of parity, mostly from the salary cap, and a playoff format that invites in tons of teams. It doesn’t take much to make the playoffs and once you’re in, a team can make a stand from there, much like Philadelphia did last season.

But any kind of extended winning streak is also usually enough to push an average team into the playoff picture. It’s very early, but despite their recent struggles (3-6-1 in their last 10), if the playoffs started tomorrow, the Lightning would be in.

That’s because they got off to a strong start. If Guy Boucher figures this swoon out and gets the Lightning to play around .500 the rest of the season, Tampa’s all set for the playoffs.

All of this parity spotlights just how bad some teams are, though.

Like the Islanders recently fired their coach, Scott Gordon, when really he was playing with a glorified AHL lineup. He couldn’t get the team to play up to NHL average, so he lost his job.

Tom Renney is coaching an AHL-caliber team in Edmonton that also hasn’t been able to play up to NHL average.

Over in New Jersey, coach John MacLean can’t get his team, which has some talent on it, anywhere near NHL average. Brent Sutter is in the same situation in Calgary. Both probably won’t have coaching jobs at the end of the season.

In the NHL, you really just need to get your team to average (right now 14 teams are at .500 or higher). The problem is when a team is playing below average it’s painfully obvious and right away the coach’s job is in trouble.

So parity is good for teams, probably good for fans (unless you’re a Devils, Flames, Oilers, or Isles fan), and dangerous for coaches.

The good news for coaches is that if you’re starting with an average line-up, smart coaching should allow you to win some games.

I’m not sure MacLean’s gotten that memo yet, though.

Average is the new excellent, but some coaches are struggling to get their teams to even the average level.