NHL coaches defy odds

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:47 AM ET

They must have naughty pictures of the team owner.

How else to explain the longevity of NHL head coaches Lindy Ruff and Barry Trotz?

In an industry where teams change coaches like underwear, Ruff and Trotz have somehow developed the staying power of Viagra, Ruff coming off his 11th year in Buffalo, Trotz wrapping up No. 10 in Nashville -- and signing another contract extension this week.

Neither team has won a Stanley Cup during their tenure. Between them, they've made it to one final. That was the Sabres -- nine years ago.

The Preds? Oh-for-four in playoff series under Trotz, the Dauphin product who cut his teeth in Manitoba.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll see two coaches who've probably squeezed the most from franchises that have either gone through bankruptcy (Buffalo) or a threatened move (Nashville). Hockey teams built, more often than not, on spit-and-duct-tape budgets, in markets not known for their drawing power.

"We're one of only seven teams that have made the playoffs the last four years," Trotz was saying during an NHL conference call yesterday. "We want to build those championship teams, but we haven't been able to. We have to do it a little bit on a shoestring budget. At the same time we pride ourselves on being one of those teams that can get to the playoffs."

If he were working for today's typical owner, Trotz would have been gone long ago. As it stands, he's the only coach the Preds have ever had.

In an era of disposable everything and instant gratification, it's actually refreshing to see old-fashioned loyalty and stability still exist in owners' boxes overflowing with ego.

Just look at some of the knee-jerks that run other NHL teams: Boston has had seven different coaches this decade, alone. Calgary, Florida, New Jersey and the Islanders, six each. Only the Devils have won a Cup in that time.

The average stay on the job for today's NHL head men is 3.4 years, and the other major sports aren't much better.

In the NFL, it's 3.7 years. The NBA, 3.5.

Baseball managers are secure, by comparison, and they've been in their current jobs an average of just 4.2 years.

Trotz credits his stay in the Music City with the reasonable expectations of his owners and GM David Poile.

He doesn't sing his own praises much, which tells you something, too.

"We don't have big egos," he said of himself and Ruff. "I just surround myself with really good people. I give a lot of responsibility to a lot of people in our organization. I can be front and centre a lot, but I don't need to. I recognize the players can tune you out."

Based on the stats, the tune-out factor kicks in sometime after Year 3.

So Trotz and Ruff have survived three cycles, the former getting his Preds into the playoffs again despite predictions of their demise this season.

"There's a trust, in terms of the players trusting that we have their best interests in mind," Trotz said. "And we've built a culture in both places. There's a lot of pride. It's not like the old school of 'Do as I say.' They've got to be part of your family, if you will, your hockey family."

Sounds kind of quaint, but it's working. And more than a few teams should be taking notes.

It's the slow and steady approach. Sticking to it. Qualities rare in a business whose motto may as well be "What have you done for me lately?"

"If you're knocking on the door enough, sooner or later you're going to bust through that door," Trotz said. "This year was a little bit different, with our team sort of retooling. Now obviously we've got to get to the next level. That's where we're going to be judged from now on."

And it that doesn't go so well, you can always get hold of some naughty pictures.

THE SURVIVORS

Longest-Serving Coaches

NHL: 11 years, Lindy Ruff, Buffalo; average, 3.4 years

NFL: 13 years, Jeff Fisher, Tennessee, Mike Shanahan, Denver; average, 3.7 years

MLB: 19 years, Bobby Cox, Atlanta; average, 4.2 years

NBA: 21 years, Jerry Sloan, Utah; average, 3.5 years


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