Last week we took a stat-heavy look at the beloved Monsters and drew a few conclusions, like they struggled to win games in regulation, had a difficult time scoring at even strength, took too many penalties and couldn't keep the puck out of the net away from Quicken Loans Arena. Now it's time to review the organization's staff individually. I'm not going to assign grades, mainly it will be a discussion of role and some anecdotes and conclusions.
Dean Chynoweth (Head Coach, Forwards/PP) - To say Coach Dean is not looked on favorably by fans of the Avalanche and especially the Monsters is not much of an overstatement. The impression is generally that he's a Sacco-clone, relic of the old administration, incompetent dump-and-chase tool that listlessly chews gum behind the bench while LEM burns to the ground in front of him. Some of that is true to a point, but I still maintain that he wasn't far off from doing what a "better" coach could do, at least until midway through this past season.
The talent pool Chynoweth has been charged with coaching is neither deep nor broad and even though every AHL team deals with injuries and callups, the Monsters had more than their fair share and that share was untimely at best. Once Bryan Lerg went down in the 35th game of the season, the Monsters fell from solid playoff squad to bottom-feeders and some tragic personnel management flaws were the main culprits.
The "Give the puck to Mark Olver and see what happens" offense: Building a strategy around a certain player is a chancy proposition at best yet that's what ended up happening in the second half of the season. Mark Olver is a decent scorer and can carry the puck into zone, but he also hogs the puck too much and isn't proficient at getting the other 4 guys on the ice involved with the play. As 5v5 and especially PP offensive play devolved into Olver (or whoever) sitting on the right half-boards holding the puck forever, scoring effectiveness went down and down. There were some variations especially with other players on the ice, but the perimeter passing setup remained the same and it was obvious that the opponents were aware of this and defended it quite easily.
The "Line Blender": One consequence (or cause!) of the ineffective offense is that nobody scored much. Instead of diversifying tactics, players were continually shifted this way and that in the lineup. Every player played on every line at some point in the year resulting in no clear roles for both the players and the lines themselves and a lack of chemistry other than a few instances like the Smith-Schumacher pairing. I like the idea of players earning more PT by playing well, but overall the lack of clearly defined roles seemed to confuse guys more than anything else.
The "Play until you suck" goalie strategy: This was utterly baffling. There is a wealth of evidence showing that goalies playing on back-to-back nights are not as strong and with two young guys that both can win games, why let one get cold sitting on the bench for multiple games in a row? Even AHL teams that have a clear #1 rarely play them on consecutive nights. Twice Pickard recorded masterful & dominant shutout victories and was back in net less than 24 hours later, and got smoked because he was out of gas. This had the wonderful by-product of killing confidence while overworking and underworking Sami & Picks at the same time.
The "Doghouse": As we saw in Colorado with Joe Sacco, this is a shitty way to try to motivate guys and generally results in resentment and apathy more than anything else. Chynoweth and Sgarbossa's long-running feud boiled over at the end of the year to absolutely comic levels. Consistent benching did absolutely nothing to help Mitch Heard's game over the course of the season and publicly blaming him for a loss at the end of the year was totally uncalled for. Garrett Meurs improved rapidly in the first half of the season yet fell out of favor and flatlined in the second half while spending too much time in the press box. Noted facepuncher Vincent Arseneau impressed the coach enough to start getting a little time with the skill guys, had one terrible game with 3 stick penalties and spent the rest of the year with the Cutthroats. The most egregious example was when Agozzino was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, which lead to a goal against, and was benched the next game. The only game he's missed in 2 years with the Monsters.
Some of these issues are chronic, but for the most part the truly awful aspects didn't manifest until the second half of this season and by the end things were getting downright bizarre. If the Monsters had played .500 hockey from January 9th to the end of the season, they would have made the Calder Cup playoffs and this discussion might be a sidebar to a good 2013-14 campaign. It didn't work out that way and now we are left to wonder if this will continue or are the Avs going to look at different options for the LEM coach next year. Regardless of who the coach is, this team is crying out for more prudent use of personnel, stable defined roles and a diverse offense.
Randy Ladouceur (Defense/PK Coach) - Ladouceur replaced David Oliver as the defensive coach this year and implemented a version of Coach Roy's system from the Avs, it took some time but it really started to show some dividends by the end of the year.
Matt Hunwick arrived after being demoted by the Avs and promptly started playing as a third wing more than a defenseman. Put up a bunch of points but made some horrible errors that usually ended up as odd-man rushes the other way or uncovered opponents having free reign in front of the Monsters net. Ladouceur worked diligently with him and after a while he started playing solid D at the expense of only a little offense.
Brett Clark was like a second D coach on the ice and had a tremendous effect on the younger Dmen. Paired a lot with Lauridsen and Duncan and especially the ATOs like Iafrate and Pufahl at the end of the year, his positional play and calmness with the puck allowed the other guys to learn by doing. He will be missed.
The PK was also a bright spot for the team and got as high as 5th in the league for a stretch, ending up 7th in the Western Conference.
Listening to the opponent feeds during some of the Monsters games, Randy's pretty well thought of in the hockey world. A good, steady veteran coach is what was needed this year for our young defensemen and he worked out nicely.
Jean-Ian Filiatrault (Goalie Coach - part time) - Brought on by the Avs and Francois Allaire to oversee the development portion of the organization's goalies, it was nice to have a professional working with Sami and Picks over the season unlike last year when there was nothing. If you look for a number that stands out about the goalies' performance, it's hard to find anything given that the few stats we have access to are colored by team performance.
Since the goalie coach is never on the bench, it's hard to guess how much time he spent with the team, but I usually heard reports when he was working with the guys and it seemed like a fair amount.
I doubt he cared much for the "Play until you suck" goalie usage strategy employed by Coach Dean, hopefully he was one of the reasons it was abandoned. Going forward next year, I'd like to see him having more input on who plays when as long as it won't be totally ignored at the coach's discretion. Coach Roy used Allaire's recommendations in all but a few cases this year, no reason the same can't work in Lake Erie.
Having a guy like this in the organization is a long-term investment, one I'm glad the Avs are finally making.
Jock Callander (Coach-at-large, also in LEM administration) - Without a defined role it's hard to evaluate Coach Jock's impact on the team. Really, most of what I know about him is from listening to him do color commentary when the Monsters are on local TV, best I can say is I'd love to have a beer with him some time. It's odd that he's the only Asst Coach in the organization that you ever hear from, but he also has the the least specific job. I know he's got a ton of experience which I'm sure helps the players on and off the ice and he's definitely a fixture running practices. Good job!
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My initial plan was to include the players here too but it would have ended up like 5000 words long and even more boring so what we'll do is next article will cover the guys that are coming back and those that are leaving will get a sendoff article sometime this summer.