Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On the fence: Constantine going Wild?

Much ado has been made of the idea of Kevin Constantine being Jacques Lemaire's successor. Let's do a little myth debunking:

Myth: KC is a lesser JL clone.
Truth: Not true at all. Sure, they both have sort of an old school, demanding work ethic. And they both have terrifically smart hockey minds. And they both derive great pleasure from seeing their players grow and succeed. They both have players who want to come back and play for them, and who, after leaving them, are full of appreciation for how much they've learned under them. They both have players who can't wait to get out from under them. They both believe the defense is the foundation of a hockey system.

But outside of that (and I think most of those are GOOD qualities), they're unique individuals who have vastly different approaches to teaching the game, different temperaments, different backgrounds, different bench personalities. To think that bringing in KC and his staff wouldn't be as big a change for most of these guys as bringing in Carbo or Renny seems narrow-minded.

Myth: Free Agents won't want to play for KC even more than they didn't want to play for JL.
Truth: I think the real statement is that the Wild consistently don't have the personnel to be successful enough for free agents to want to sign here. And what I'm saying is that the coach and the system aren't the reason FAs don't want to come to Minnesota. It's the mediocre teams Doug Risebrough has cobbled together.

Look at it this way: Has anybody ever accused Mike Babcock of being a "players coach?" And yet some of the best players in the league are beating down the door with the winged wheel on it, taking less money, willing to live in Detroit of all places, to play for him. Why? Because they're not just playing for him. They're playing on a team with great players, with a culture of success, where nothing but the best is acceptable.

What about a guy like Scotty Bowman? Not a players coach, but hugely successful. You think any of those Stanley Cup winners he coached regret playing for the organizations in which he coached? Not likely.

Point being, the problem in Minnesota is at the very top of the food chain. Whatever coach they bring in has to be the kind of coach who can be successful even with mediocre players and I think we've seen KC do that. But moreover, I think it's time for Craig Leipold to consider installing a new GM. He won't do it, but that's what needs to happen.

Myth: Defensive coaches like KC keep their offensive studs on a short leash, which will keep talented FAs away.
Truth: Have you seen the Aeros this season? I think most Aeros fans would agree that Constantine has actually given guys like Kolanos, Locke, Schultz, and Pouliot a rather large degree of latitude when it comes to creative, sometimes risky, playmaking.

Sure, last year's team was all defense, all the time, but they had to be, because they had so little scoring talent on the team. And that's what KC has shown: An ability to adapt to the personnel he's got. Last season, he had no offensive talent but the guys learned the system well and were adept at a very plug-n-play style of game, so lines were constantly changing.

This season, you have guys who are strong offensively, but they play best with certain linemates, so out the window goes the plug-n-play system and in comes a slightly firmer (heh) roster of lines and special teams, ensuring some retention of chemistry.

Myth: They need to bring someone more offensive-minded in.
Truth: Um. Who are they going to play? This roster is built with defensive, solid two-way players, at least for now. I think you bring in a coach who, like KC, has a solid philosophy but can adapt the application of his systems and philosophy to accommodate the talents of the players he's given.

Myth: Constantine is the heir apparent.
Truth: I don't think so, nor do I think he necessarily *should* be. I like the guy, I think he's smart, a good coach, good with the media, cares deeply about his players, surrounds himself with good people. He's intense and fiery and isn't afraid to take risks. He's a former goalie (and we all know goalies are the smart ones).

But his reputation as a bit of a tyrant (whether deserved or not) does precede him, and his long absence from the NHL bench does make one wonder if perhaps that's not the level he's best at coaching. It seems he would not be a popular choice among fans, many of whom are already sour on the team, though I would assume and hope that fan opinion doesn't factor into a coaching decision. Riser hasn't done anything else that was popular, so why start now?

So, I'm ultimately on the fence. I wouldn't be upset with the move at all. I've enjoyed his time here in Houston and I think he'd be great with the young group of guys coming up, who mostly seem to be real quality kids who don't mind working hard. Even Sheppard may enjoy Constantine's version of tyranny more than Lemaire's.

I recall an interview with Pouliot when he was up with the Wild earlier in the season and Lemaire was riding his ass 24/7. He expressed a great fondness for Constantine and how much he learned from him and how much he helped him. Maybe I interpreted it wrong, but I thought he very much had the tone of, "Man, I didn't know how good I had it in Houston." So if Pouly is picking sides and choosing KC, how bad can he really be?

One thing I will say, Constantine isn't this funny:


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