The St. Louis Blues will be in search of a new assistant coach this offseason. That may not make some team fans all that unhappy.
Assistant coaches in the NHL are an interesting lot, as the St. Louis Blues have proven in recent history. While we normally give all the credit, whether positive or negative, to a head coach, we forget the impact their staff can have.
Sometimes fans get it, such as the uproar when the Blues failed to retain the services of Kirk Muller. Other times, assistant coaches leave and you would be hard pressed to find anyone who even knew they were there.
In the case of Marc Savard, you’re going to find a mixed bag of reactions. That’s because he gave the team a mixed bag of results.
The team announced that Savard was leaving his position as assistant for the Blues. He is leaving coaching entirely to spend more time at home.
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“Marc has decided to step away and will not coach in the National Hockey League in 2020-21,” said Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong, reported by Chris Pinkert. “I want to thank Marc for his work with our coaches and players during his time in St. Louis and wish him nothing but the best.”
“I appreciate Marc’s work and dedication this past season and wish him well in his future endeavors,” added Blues Head Coach Craig Berube, again from Pinkert’s article.
All pretty standard stuff really. But for any fans of the WWE, future endeavors often follow something slightly off behind the scenes. As tightly as the Blues ship is run, we will never really know.
What we do know is there was evidence on both sides of the argument for the job Savard did.
While there were various reasons to bring Savard in as a coach, such as identifying with the skill players, the main reason he was brought in was to spice up a languid power play. Statistically, he accomplished that.
The Blues went from scoring 50 power play goals in 82 games, scoring on 21.1% of their opportunities, to 49 goals in 71 games, and scoring on 24.26% of their chances. That’s more than a 3% increase and almost as many goals scored total in fewer games.
That might not seem like much on the surface. However, three percentage points can separate a decent power play from tops in the league.
St. Louis was third in the league for power play percentage for a decent amount of the season and actually finished third in the league. They were 0.1% better than the Vancouver Canucks power play that we heard so much about during the playoffs.
The problem, whether you can blame Savard or not, was the eye test. Goals might have come at a slightly better pace, but the overall power play unit was still pretty bad.
Statistically they were better, but like so many baseball players these days, it was either home run or strike out, so to speak. It was not as though the Blues would simply fail to score on a power play, since lots of teams do that. They would fail to even enter the zone at times, or even threaten the goal.
Under Savard, the Blues continued along their time-honored pastime of passing the puck far too much. Maybe that’s on the players more than anything, but you would expect them to listen to a coach eventually. Perhaps Savard was not that coach.
The power play unit looked more skilled under Savard and the passes were quicker when the team actually got set up. However, the unit still seemed overly indecisive, wanting the next guy to make the play instead of themselves.
Maybe that comes from Craig Berube, who has gone for a quality over quantity approach with shots in general. Perhaps Savard could not break old habits.
Whatever the case, the power play, or lack thereof, was one of the many reasons the Blues exited the 2020 playoffs far too often. They got away with it in 2019, getting so much contribution from other areas, but it bit them in the rear in 2020 just as it did when they lost to the Nashville Predators in 2017.
We’ll never fully know what Savard might have provided this team due to the relatively short nature of his stay. For now, all we know is he has chosen to be with family and nobody can begrudge someone that at this time in history.
Perhaps the next assistant can break these Blues habits.