The hiring of Kurt Kleinendorst as head coach in Binghamton is both surprising and yet the least surprising choice for the AHL side of the franchise. It’s a feel-good move meant to encourage a deflated fanbase (with two terrible recent seasons and news that the franchise will likely leave), but also the path of least resistance. Kleinendorst was coaching ERC Ingolstadt in the DEL (Germany) as an mid-season replacement (for Emanuel Viveiros in late November). He took the team from a 6-10-4 start and went 17-12-3 with a surprise run to the semi-finals of the DEL playoffs. Elite Prospects shows him as having another season on his contract with Ingolstadt, but if Kleinendorst was really interested in coaching in Europe he’d seek out higher profile (and paying) jobs in the KHL or NLA, something he’s quite obviously avoided until he was left unemployed by Minnesota.
Those of you with long memories will remember I favoured the idea of promoting Kleinendorst to the head coaching job in Ottawa rather than bringing in Paul MacLean. At the time I argued that one of the main reasons MacLean was chosen instead was because Bryan Murray was familiar with him (from their days in Anaheim) and you can say much the same thing with Kleinendorst’s hire. Throughout Murray’s tenure the organisation showed a preference for known quantities (eg trading for a burned out Martin Lapointe or all the work done for Luke Richardson). I thought Dorion might be turning over a new leaf, but with Kleinendorst actually reaching out to the organisation the decision became all too easy for him (the 22-person list the org is touting means nothing more than that–I’ve seen no reports of interviews or actual process). Was this the right decision? Let’s look at his record since leaving Binghamton:
2012-13 NCAA Alabama-Huntsville 3-21-1 .125 (fired after the season)
2013-14 AHL Iowa 27-36-13 .441
2014-15 AHL Iowa 2-10-0 .167 (fired)
2015-16 DEL Ingolstadt 17-12-3 .580 (mid-season replacement)
None of this is particularly impressive and if you look at his coaching career outside his Calder Cup win there’s not much to get excited about. That aside, you can argue results are often more about the lineup than the coach (although following that line of logic too far and a coach is never responsible for anything). When I looked at coaching success earlier this year it was clear that a good coach can’t make a bad roster better–what they can do is take a middling or good roster and make it achieve its potential. Oddly, either young inexperienced coaches or experienced coaches with losing histories statistically have the larger and better impact on rosters (with the exception, at the NHL level, of Cup-winning coaches not named Randy Carlyle). Kleinendorst fits the latter two categories (although the articles I read did not examine Calder Cup winning success), so perhaps despite a non-existent coaching search and an unimpressive coaching record this will work out. It’s worth keeping in mind that whatever system Kleinendorst prefers he’ll be running Guy Boucher’s system. In the end I remain dubious but hopeful about the move.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)