clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Thrashers Put NHL Veterans Behind the Bench

New, 1 comment
One of my biggest concerns about the Thrashers has been the lack of NHL experience. Nothing has changed in that respect in the front office, but behind the bench the team will have guys who have played in the big show for many years.

We already know that John Anderson dressed 814 NHL games (roughly 10 seasons worth of NHL games) and then had an extensive AHL coaching experience. Today we learned that he will be joined by Randy Cunneyworth who suited up for the equivalent of 11 NHL seasons (866 career games played) and who served as an AHL head coach for seven full seasons. Cunneyworth was someone I wanted to see interviewed for the head coach job, so I'm very pleased to see his name added. They will be joined by Steve Weeks who had 290 NHL games as a goalie and Todd Nelson (just 3 NHL games).

Now NHL experience only gets you so far. Brad McCrimmon had a lot of experience, but he couldn't seem to get much out of the Thrashers defensmen. Curt Fraser had a long NHL resume and his players never played with that the drive he demonstrated in his NHL career (good luck in Grand Rapids Curt!). Translating that experience into on-ice success is the challenge.

Previous NHL playing experience does bring you credibilty with young players. If Cunneyworth leans over and tells a young defensemen "look I played over a decade in this league, here's what you need to do be successful" that is going to get him some respect. But that respect only gets you in the door, if you have experience but you give advice that is bad or unrealistic, then eventually it doesn't really matter. You have to combine that NHL experience with real coaching chops.

Both Anderson and Cunneyworth have had experience (and success) working with younger players. The Thrashers have a much younger roster and both their short term and long term success will turn on the speed and the extent to which their young players mature. Randy Cunneyworth and John Anderson are both coaches who have used systems that generate offensive chances and the Thrashers certainly could have used more creativity in that department under Coach Hartley.

Todd Nelson is probably Anderson's confidant and sounding board. Anderson will be in a new league, facing new challenges with many new players. It is very useful to have someone at your side who has been in the trenches with you before. If Anderson has a bad day as coach or makes a bad decision, my guess is that Nelson is the guy who can tell him that in private. Most managers need someone they can trust to give them honest feedback about their performance.

Steve Weeks is the guy with recent NHL coaching experience. While Anderson and Cunneyworth have extensive NHL experience as players the last time one of the pulled on a NHL jersey was 1998-1999 which is the season before the Thrashers started playing. You need a guy who has been around the NHL recently. Weeks brings that to the table as well as his experience as a former NHL goaltender.

I'm liking this coaching staff more and more. I like the Cunneyworth addition and Todd Nelson makes sense as Anderson's right hand man in the AHL. The biggest concern is the lack of NHL coaching experience in this sense. NHL coaches have be much more nimble than AHL coaches. What I mean is that with NHL CenterIce everybody can see what the opposition is trying to do on the power play and penalty kill, there are few surprises in the digital age you have to adjust quickly.

I still don't anticipate the Thrashers making the playoffs, but as a fan I could get excited about tuning in to watch a young team that plays hard every night. Those kids are going to make some rookie mistakes, but if they go all out they could also steal some unexpected victories and be fun to watch.