Conference finals: A look at the coaches

Updated: May 22, 2006, 6:33 PM ET
By Scott Burnside |

Randy Carlyle
HOW HE GOT HERE: There is the impression, because he is a rookie head coach, that Carlyle came out of nowhere to lead the Mighty Ducks to the Western Conference finals. He didn't. He actually came out of the coaching strip mines.

Carlyle, who turned 50 the day after the regular season ended, spent six years between 1996 and 2005 as coach of the AHL Manitoba Moose, the top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks. In between, the native of Sudbury, Ontario, shuttled off to Washington, where he was an assistant, before returning to Manitoba, picking up -- at various times -- the titles of GM and president. Although Anaheim GM Brian Burke didn't hire Carlyle himself, he sure liked what he saw. Of the three coaches Burke has hired in his managerial career, Paul Holmgren, Marc Crawford and Carlyle, "they're all the same," Burke told "They're ass-kickers on the bench."

"He's been exactly what I was hoping for," Burke said of the longtime NHL defenseman. "We make a good team."

"He's been a very good coach for a long time. Very underrated," added former coach and GM Rick Dudley, who is now a senior scout with the Chicago Blackhawks and who played against Carlyle.

HOW HE EARNED HIS KEEP: Perhaps no coach in the NHL, let alone among the final four, has seen his team go through the transmogrification Carlyle has seen with the Mighty Ducks this season. Early on, Carlyle identified players he didn't think were a good fit, and bingo, Sergei Fedorov and Petr Sykora were gone. Later, Sandis Ozolinsh and Keith Carney also were jettisoned. In their place, a gaggle of untested youngsters. As Carlyle began to see what his young players were capable of, the team went from a defensive posture to an attack-oriented squad that ultimately bested the Calgary Flames in seven games, then destroyed the Colorado Avalanche in four straight.

"Anaheim, that's the team that adjusted the most during the course of the season," said former NHL netminder Darren Eliot, now a national NHL analyst. "They trapped their way back into the playoff race."

Now, the Ducks play a variety of styles that suit their immediate needs. There has, Burke said, been total buy-in among the players for Carlyle's systems.

"I saw Teemu Selanne skate backward between the blue lines. That's when you know the whole team has bought in," Eliot added.

Perhaps the most significant move Carlyle made, and one that might yet yield a Stanley Cup, was the decision to replace 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jean-Sebastien Giguere with untested rookie netminder Ilya Bryzgalov after Game 5 of the opening round.

Bryzgalov had started in place of Giguere, who was injured. But when Giguere returned, he struggled, and Carlyle pulled the plug. That he did so in an elimination game showed tremendous faith in Bryzgalov, who responded with otherworldly play that includes the second-longest shutout streak in NHL playoff history.

"[Carlyle] may be a curmudgeon, but he's done a really remarkable job," Eliot said.

THE MOMENT: Before Game 7 in Calgary, Carlyle wanted to give his team a day away from the rink. The weather wasn't conducive to bike riding, so the hard-nosed coach took the Ducks to a local billiards hall in Calgary and the team had a pool tournament.

While they were there, the players looked up to find a rebroadcast of the 1985 Smythe Division playoff series between the Oilers and Winnipeg Jets on the pool hall televisions. There, manning the blue line, was their head coach. Unfortunately for Carlyle, it was a game in which the Oilers crushed the Jets, a game in which he was victimized regularly by Wayne Gretzky, Jari Kurri, et al.

The Ducks players began hooting and yelling out some of the same comments Carlyle has been known to bestow on his players after their on-ice gaffes. Carlyle, to his credit, laughed at his own foibles, and the Ducks cruised to a Game 7 victory the next night.

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