Evan Grossman | NHL.com Staff Writer
Jan 18, 2007, 9:24 AM EST
Commanding the talent-rich and Titanic-deep Anaheim lineup on a nightly basis qualifies as a dream job for any NHL coach. Only one guy gets to be the Ducks’ bench boss, and for the second year, that lucky man is Randy Carlyle.
Carlyle spent a total of seven years with the Manitoba Moose (IHL and AHL), intertwined with brief assistant coach cameos in Winnipeg and Washington before getting his first crack at an NHL head coaching position last year in Anaheim.
For Carlyle, a longtime minor man and NHL assistant, coaching in the NHL All-Star Game (Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET, Versus, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio) in Dallas represents a brilliant reversal of fortune for a man who never was completely convinced he’d ever make it as a big-league bench boss.
“No, I don't think you could ever say you'd be convinced of that,” Carlyle said. “I think when I made the change to go to Washington as an assistant, I thought it was imperative that I do that to give me an opportunity to get back into the NHL only from the standpoint of not having been there as an assistant in seven or eight years, how much the NHL had changed, the dynamics of it, the players, the attitude, the whole lifestyle of the new NHL player, I thought it was important to get back to it at some point.”
Carlyle played 16 years in the NHL and won a Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 1980-81 before getting his first coaching job as an assistant with Winnipeg in 1995-96. He coached in Manitoba from 1996-2001 before a two-year stint as an assistant with the Capitals. He returned to Manitoba for the 2004-05 season before getting the head coaching job in Anaheim after the lockout.
“I wasn't happy with the role I was given or taken on in Manitoba,” Carlyle said. “I'd left coaching, I went to the president's chair, general manager's chair. I really didn't enjoy the job for the time that I was in it. I said I had to get back in coaching, and I wasn't going to be afforded that opportunity in Manitoba. I sought out other opportunities. I found an opportunity in Washington. Thankful to George McPhee, Ted Leonsis and especially Butch, Bruce Cassidy, was the head coach at the time. I knew him from the IHL days, coached in Grand Rapids, I coached in Manitoba. We actually coached in the IHL All-Star Game together. That was our first exposure together. I had a strong relationship with his general manager in Bob McNamara. Seemed like a good fit. Big step.
“I spent 18 years in Manitoba, in one place,” Carlyle said. “Nine years as a player, another nine years in management of some form. There're strong ties there. But it was a big move. It was a step. Obviously now the way things have worked out, it was a step that was -- a decision that was wisely thought through. It was difficult for myself and my family, but we couldn't be more excited with our opportunity here now.”
This season, he has as good a shot of winning the Stanley Cup as any coach in the league. A large part of that is because of the incredible lineup the Ducks ice every night and Carlyle has made managing personalities and ice time assignments look easy all year. The addition of Chris Pronger over the summer instantly gave the Ducks the best defensive duo in the league with Scott Niedermayer.
“Well, any time you have an opportunity to coach a player like Chris Pronger, obviously there's really not a lot of coaching that does take place, per se, because of the status of the player,” Carlyle said. “Obviously with us, we tried not to put a tremendous amount of pressure on Chris Pronger. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on himself. For a coaching staff, we just try to direct him as little as possible and allowed him to get his feet wet, get comfortable with our group.
“The pressure that comes with the trade, the acquisition of that player fitting into your system, at times that can be more difficult than it needs to be,” Carlyle said. “We felt that it was necessary for us to give him his time and space and allow him to do the things that he does well. Obviously, he's made a huge impact on our blue line. There's been a lot said about Pronger and Niedermayer. Obviously we feel there is some form of psyche that we have two of the top defensemen in the league able to play on our blue line. Our mandate is actually to have those two players play at least 50 to 55 minutes of the hockey game. That usually spells out one of them is going to be on ice at most times. We think that's a huge advantage for us.”