Keeping your head (coach)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 10:09 AM ET

It's an exclusive club. Three members.

Lindy Ruff. Barry Trotz. Craig MacTavish.

Of active coaches, only Ruff, heading into his ninth with Buffalo, and Trotz, heading into his eighth with Nashville, have lasted longer. The latest member, MacTavish, is heading into his sixth season behind the bench with the Oilers and does so with a four-year contract is his pocket.

All three are with the same team where they started their careers as head coaches.

Only 12 coaches in the 30-team NHL have coached more seasons than MacTavish, who is 10 wins away from joining the 10 who are in the 200-win club.

Which is all to say, as MacTavish goes into a new season it's now quite clear he's going to enjoy a very long NHL coaching career.

"When you consider the pitfalls inherent in this profession, I think longevity is the best measuring stick of coaches," says the last player to play without a helmet in NHL history, a four-time winner of the Stanley Cup as a player.

NO TIME TO SETTLE

The attention span of the modern day athlete has become so short that a coach lasting three or four years at one location has become a triumph.

"They dial out on you before you can settle in. To get to this point, I think it's a sign of stability in management and ownership," says MacTavish of staying in one spot since the start of his head coaching career.

"You also have to have a high level of competence if your players are going to continue to buy into your coaching style and your technical style."

You can fool an owner. Not a player. And once you've established yourself, a lot of that comes built in with your past performance chart.

"In a lot of ways you need success to build that confidence," says MacTavish, who had a major hole in his resume with a lack of playoff success until last season.

"We're all works in progress. After you've navigated your way through ups and downs, losing streaks and personnel issues, you know how to handle it. You've made your mistakes in the way you've handled players or with tactical things that didn't work. You just become better, that's all."

One win away from winning his first Stanley Cup as a coach, MacTavish won respect throughout the coaching fraternity.

"It was good professional confirmation that your style and your tactics work. I don't care who you are, you always second-guess yourself to a certain degree until you've had that success. Last year was damn near good enough."

There's more to this business than Xs and Os and Ws and Ls.

WISE AND WITTY

There isn't a hockey writer who discovered his honest, colorful, wise and witty way of dealing with the media at last year's Stanley Cup final who wouldn't love to have him come to their city to add content and flavour to their coverage.

MacTavish was certainly enjoying the whole experience himself.

"I've been around game long enough to know if you go to the finals and can't enjoy yourself when you are in the final then you are a loser. If you didn't enjoy the ride, that's my definition of a loser.

"I think we all had a lot of fun along the way. I think we kept it fresh for everybody. The players were fresh. You want to come out of that feeling like you enjoyed the experience."

Dial back to last November and the boo birds were out for him. The open line callers were calling for his job.

"I'm sure I won't be going the four years of this deal without going through it again.

"I think I have a pretty good handle on perspective.

"There's an old line in coaching that if it doesn't kill you, it'll make you better."


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