The Coaches Room is a regular feature throughout the 2019-20 season by one of four former NHL coaches and assistants who will turn their critical gaze to the game and explain it through the lens of a teacher. David Marcoux, Rob Zettler, Rob Cookson and Randy Carlyle will take turns providing insight.
In this edition, Rob Zettler, former assistant with the San Jose Sharks, writes about how coaches handle the extended break built around All-Star Weekend, the challenges, advantages and goals.
The mandatory extended break for NHL teams is here, with 17 clubs taking off this week leading into the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis and 14 more getting their breaks next week.
For coaches, there are three aspects of this elongated break that if handled appropriately will give their team the best chance for success coming out of it:
1. Rest matters for us too
As much as these breaks built around All-Star Weekend are welcomed by players, coaches feel the same way.
As a coach, you really carry the weight of the season seven days a week, 24 hours a day. You're always thinking about ways you can make your team better, individuals better and what you need to do systematically or individually. You carry that into a game and into a practice. So to have a couple of days to get a bit of a reprieve, it's nice that you just get to take a breath for a second.
It never leaves you, but at least you know you've got a couple days to kick back and press the reset button. That matters. As the coach, your team looks to you every day to see what kind of vibe you're bringing to the dressing room. Resetting the mind and gaining some energy for the last third of the season matters.
2. Preparing to return to play
Once you go into the break, you realize you'll realistically have one, maybe two practices before you play your next game. It's not like you have a ton of time to get the guys back rolling into it, so there's no real time to think you're going to change anything drastically systematically.
Most coaches wouldn't try that at this point in the season anyway. They want to tighten up some of the parts that aren't working as well as they think they could, but since your practice time is so limited, you're not making big changes.
There are times when you literally sit as a staff and stare at the lineup. You look at it and you see your 13 or 14 forwards, your seven or eight defensemen, and you just say, "OK, let's put in the pieces and what does this look like going down the stretch, what potentially do we need to help us?"
You have time to tweak your lineup a little bit too.
Video: NHL Now evaluates the first half of the NHL season.
3. Unencumbered full team evaluation
Any coach will tell you the game is never far from your mind, even when you're on a break, but part of this break requires you as a coach to start thinking about the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline. That comes into focus now.
The break gives the coach a chance to step away from everything but at the same time give a full evaluation of the team, where it's at and what the needs might be without having his mind clouded by the grind of the schedule, the next practice, the next game or the next road trip.
All of that, the game preparation, the practice preparation, individual video, it all takes up a lot of brain space, a lot of time and a lot of energy amongst the whole staff. The break gives you a little bit of extra brain space to think big picture.
You may say, "OK, we're in this thing and we've got a shot at it, so what do we need?" You start thinking, "If we could have a piece, what should that piece be?"
Of course, everybody wants a high-end forward and a high-end defenseman, but if you can add a piece, what does it look like and what does it do to your team? Last year with the San Jose Sharks, we needed a top-six forward and we were fortunate to get Gustav Nyquist. He helped us get to the Western Conference Final.
You start to have some of those conversations during the break, when you feel like you can focus on them.
A lot of times, it's the coach having those conversations with the general manager and then the coach talking to the staff about those conversations and asking for ideas, thoughts, opinions on if what he and the GM talked about makes sense for the team.
Every team is different.
The St. Louis Blues might be saying, "We're good with what we've got." Maybe another team is saying, "We need to fill this position with some depth in case of injury." And maybe another team is thinking if they should be trading a player away when they may still be in the race.
For example, look at the Pacific Division right now. It's crazy. You've got a first-place team in the Vancouver Canucks with 58 points and the next four teams (Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights) each have 57.
You've got a lot of teams going, "Are we in this for real or what are we right now?" That's a very hard thing to determine, but that's why you have to have these conversations. They're important to have both for the immediate future and for the long-term success of your team.