Two years in a row Ruff has taken his Buffalo Sabres to the Eastern Conference hockey jerseys form china
finals. He’ll have his hands full this season, but if anyone can get Buffalo over the hump after losing co captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere, it’s Ruff.
3. Peter Laviolette, Carolina Hurricanes
The guy won a Stanley Cup two seasons ago playing a wildly exciting brand of hockey. He still gets top billing even if his squad fell off and out of the playoffs in 2006 07.
4. Michel Therrien, Pittsburgh Penguins
Tough as nails, Therrien defied critics who thought he wouldn’t last a season under new GM Ray Shero by deftly handling youngsters Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and especially rookie of the year candidate Jordan Staal. Now, he’s got to prove he’s the real deal by taking them far in the playoffs.
We still don’t know how Vigneault, the former Montreal Canadiens coach, managed to coax his team to the top of the Northwest Division and through the first round of the playoffs. The test is now to get them back.
6. Mike Babcock, Detroit Red Wings
The pressure was on Babcock and the Red Wings last season and he managed to get a much grittier effort out of his talented squad than many thought possible. If not for a bad bounce or two, they would have beaten the Ducks in the Western Conference finals. They should be back to the conference finals again.
7. Tom Renney, New York Rangers
Renney has done a splendid job with the Rangers, first getting them into the playoffs in 2005 06 when no one thought it was possible, and then following that with a trip to the second round and a tough series loss to Buffalo. He’s also done a masterful job of getting enigmatic star Jaromir Jagr to buy in.
8. Ron Wilson, San Jose Sharks
Lofty playoff expectations haven’t been met by the Sharks, but Wilson has seen his squad win at least one playoff round the last three postseasons.
9. John Tortorella, Tampa Bay Lightning
Two first round exits since the end of the lockout, but Tortorella’s Lightning made the playoffs in four straight seasons and won a Stanley Cup in 2004.
10. Andy Murray, St. Louis Blues
Murray, a stickler for details, wore out his welcome in Los Angeles, but he turned things around in record time in St. Louis last season. Now the challenge is to keep the Blues on track and guide them back to the postseason.
11. Jacques Lemaire, Minnesota Wild
Is Lemaire getting more than he should out of a Wild team that has yet to win a playoff round since 2003, or is he holding them back? Discuss among yourselves.
12. Ted Nolan, New York Islanders
Guess Nolan really can coach after all. The former coach of the year gets blacklisted from the NHL for a decade, and then takes a bunch of underachievers and malcontents to the playoffs.
13. Ken Hitchcock, Columbus Blue Jackets
Hitchcock doesn’t have much to work with yet in Columbus and his Flyers did struggle mightily out of the gate a season ago, which ultimately cost him his job. But Hitchcock is still one of the game’s great coaching minds.
14. Jacques Martin, Florida Panthers
Martin guided the Ottawa Senators to the playoffs for eight straight seasons, but his reputation is now on the line in Florida, where the pressure is on to make something out of a pile of young talent.