dear anaheim: trent yawney needs to go

I haven’t written here in a while. I’ve escaped game recaps, failed to post PTOs, and have generally stuck to Twitter. Writing has ceased here for a bit because this team continues to disappoint me. When you’re not paid to write, and you do it for yourself, you’re under no onus to continue. Except, I feel the need to finally say something.

Norfolk Admirals Head Coach Trent Yawney needs to be replaced when the New Year arrives. Currently, all three of the major professional leagues are in the holiday roster freeze. As such, I don’t think that Yawney should go immediately. When it becomes 2014, he definitely needs to be relieved of his coaching duties and reassigned within the organization as a scout.

If you’re wonder what leads me to this conclusion, it’s been spelled out over the course of this season. For most of the first part of the year, the Admirals were routinely outshot by the opposition. Not by small margins like 1 or 2 shots, but wide totals. At first, Frederik Andersen and John Gibson were enough to cover up for these lapses. Then, Andersen got recalled and Gibson had to do it all by his own. Thus, Yawney began an over-reliance on Gibson without focusing on the players on his team.

Some help arrived last month, when former AHL Goaltender of the Year Brad Thiessen came back from Finland and signed an SPC with the Ads. Again, this crutch in net for Yawney would only last for so long. On December 6th, Norfolk traveled to rival Syracuse in an intense matchup. Eventually, the Ads would come back and win 4-3 in the shootout. It wasn’t without cost, however.

On a breakaway chance, Crunch captain Mike Angelidis ran into John Gibson. The resulting hit made Gibson leave the game, and clearly gave him a concussion. Brad Thiessen relieved him, and found some trouble himself.  A weird play would give Thiessen a “lower-body” injury, though he would finish out the game and claim the win. Later, it would be revealed that he suffered a groin injury and would be out for awhile. The next night, Igor Bobkov would backstop the Ads to a 2-1 win.

Thus, it looked like Yawney’s confidence in goal was severely shaken.  Mercurial Igor Bobkov would be starting, and possibly an ATO/PTO taking the place of the injured Gibson and Thiessen. Instead, Gibson would start at home against a top Eastern Conference team in Springfield. Everything was going well, until the last 2 minutes or so. Down 4-2, the Falcons would come back and tie the game and send it to OT and eventually the shootout. Gibson would later claim he had trouble concentrating.

The next night, Igor Bobkov went out. He didn’t perform the best but he had absolutely no help from his team. Despite Norfolk being awarded a total of 10 power plays, they only scored on 1 and failed to generate more shots than the opposition.  One game is an awful sample size. In the ECHL, which is of course a different game, Bobkov managed a .919 save percentage over 10 games.

Part of Bobkov’s success is that he played in a system that allowed him to succeed. Tim Branham’s team will outshoot other teams but does sometime fall to more talent or not great goaltending. Nonetheless, Bobkov may have gained some form of confidence on the Coast, and he most likely wants to translate it here. Unfortunately, Bobkov has only seen 4 games, where he’s posted a passable .910 save percentage.

All of this leads me to tonight. Norfolk was playing the second leg of a three-in-three and John Gibson had just started three out of four games in a very short amount of time. A smart coach would have gone to Bobkov, and hopefully created a system that lets him succeed. Unfortunately, that coach is either in Utah or on the bench.

Tonight, Trent Yawney sent out John Gibson on a back-to-back situation against a team that is trailing Norfolk by a small margin in the playoff chase. The result? An offensive goal fest, which I believe is not supposed to be “disciplined hockey”.   Gibson only stopped 22 of 27 goals, which is not good for him or most goalies. One of those goals was on the power play. Let’s take that away and look just at 5v5, and it’s still less than .900. I am not a doctor but it’s clear that Gibson needs some time to rest and really heal up from his injury. Instead, Yawney has decided to lean on his goaltender because he can’t figure out how to use the skaters.

John Gibson is all of twenty years old, and already a very accomplished goalie. He was unexpectedly thrust into the first starter role this year, and took it with aplomb. Unfortunately, he got injured. He has a nice future ahead of him within the Ducks organization. It would be best that he takes some time off now to become a better goalie a few years from now, when he’s between NHL pipes. Yet, Trent Yawney wants him to be Dominik Hasek every night.

I realize I’m applying a very microscopic look at Yawney’s decision making, and especially within the realm of a recent goalie decision. It’s bigger than that. This team is not trying to succeed every night, despite having some top quality talent. Devante Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem, Max Friberg, and Rickard Rakell all have what it takes to be NHLers.  Dave Steckel and Alex Grant have been impressive in their short time up with the Ducks, and Steve Whitney is a scorer at least at the NHL level. Hell, even the Giraffe can crash the net. Instead, this team falls back, has a passive power play, and only likes to shoot more when behind.

Whatever Yawney is doing is not work. The solution, at least for now, is right there on the bench. Jarrod Skalde is a former ECHL Coach of the Year, and his resume for the past few years is great. During his time in Cincinnati, the team got better each year he was behind the bench. Is he the full-time answer for the Admirals? I’m not sure, yet. Still, a half-season is perfectly acceptable to see if hec can try to get something out of this team. At 42 years old, he’s a younger guy who can relate to players in a development league. His last professional game was only eight and a half years ago.

The problem? Brass in Anaheim probably does not care as much as Admirals fans would like. Yawney was hired in the Spring of 2012, and thus has only been the coach of the top Ducks’ affiliate for a year and a half. They’ll point to his track record and getting the Crunch into the playoffs in 2012 as proof of his prowess. Unless this team goes dead in the water, as in, last place in the conference or league, Bob Murray and the Ducks won’t care. To them, Norfolk is a place to send guys on ELCs to clear room on the NHL roster so they can develop their game, or just a farm system. As much as they preach winning, they’re more focused on the points the Ducks continue to earn as one of the NHL’s best teams. If they get better players back from the A, the executives in Anaheim are happy. If their players come back worse, they’re probably going to take a look.

Nothing speaks to urgency right now in Norfolk for the Anaheim Ducks. What they know is that they’ve got a nice group of call-ups if they lose anymore players to injury. As long as those call-ups don’t get injured, they’re happy. As much as they care about “fan happiness” or “organizational trust”, they just want the next man up for the NHL team. Trent Yawney is more figurehead than coach right now, and it’s not like he’s going to get called for another NHL gig.

The solution is very clear. Reassign Trent Yawney for the rest of the year as a scout, having him evaluate defensive players before releasing him at the end of the season. Promote Jarrod Skalde to the head coach position in interim basis, and see if that can bring some success in Norfolk. Much to our dismay, alarm bells are not going off in Anaheim.


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Beneath The Scope

Beneath the Scope is a blog that covers the ECHL's Norfolk Admirals. Compete level has never been higher.

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