So here's a post I absolutely never wanted to write. Despite being an e-site on the internet staffed by basement trolls, historically this space has been very slow to get on a soapbox and say FIRE THIS GUY. I was still barely on board with Rodriguez after his third season and only called for Hoke's firing after the Shane Morris concussion fiasco. Meanwhile other parts of the internet call us Beilein slaps, because other parts of the internet are dirt stupid Rome listeners. And I love not just Michigan hockey but damn the torpedoes, screw your trap, let's score a buttload of goals Red Berenson hockey. Without Berenson it's likely I'm not a hockey fan of any variety.
But I kind of have to write this, because apparently missing the tournament for the fourth time in five years with the worst team Red Berenson's had since the mid-80s isn't enough for everyone involved:
I think Red Berenson will be back for a final season. We'll see what happens with meeting later this week with Warde Manuel. @umichhockey
— George Sipple (@GeorgeSipple) April 2, 2017
George has a pretty good feel for these things. Have been told the chances of him retiring are growing slimmer by the day. https://t.co/1WshrO0XUz
— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpathITH) April 2, 2017
This is why I was fretting about Michigan's post-Frozen-Four decision date on Berenson. If there was a decision to make it should have been made midseason, probably after Michigan handed a Tom Anastos-led Michigan State team two of their three conference wins. If not then, then immediately after the season. And yet.
Red Berenson is no longer a good hockey coach. Michigan's decline has been near-constant for a decade, with two items obscuring that: walk-on goalie Shawn Hunwick turning in two of the program's best-ever years in goal and last year's near-unprecedented pile of NHL talent. While Berenson should get credit for each, those are blips as Michigan hockey slaloms downhill.
Even when Michigan has been at a relative peak during their decline, North Dakota pops up to remind us that Berenson's approach has been lapped by modern hockey coaches. The last two times Michigan and North Dakota have met in the NCAA tournament Michigan has gotten outshot two to one. They won one of those with the greatest single-game goalie performance in program history. Last year they lost, meekly, because they could not even get out of their own zone.
That should have been the last straw. Michigan is no longer a program that can go into any game against a top-end foe and expect to have an even game even if their entire power play should already be in the NHL. North Dakota flat-out embarrassed Michigan in that game, and they specifically embarrassed Michigan's coaching.
It was not the last straw, so Michigan fans were treated to a season in which the only thing keeping them from a single-digit-win season was outstanding goaltending. Michigan finished 57th of 60 D-I teams in even-strength Corsi*. Forgive me if I bring out my inner Jim Rome right now, but that is flat-out unacceptable. Michigan controlled their zones about as well as 5-31-3 Niagara, 7-21-6 Alaska-Anchorage, and second-year independent Arizona State—which is still using club players.
Talent is indisputably down, but not that much. There are nine NHL draft picks on the roster and a tenth player (Luke Martin) will go in the next one. It is distantly possible that you could build a case for Red to return if Michigan had missed the tournament by a hair. They did not. They missed it by a mile, and the underlying numbers are even worse than the record.
Michigan's coaching is not and has not been an asset since Mel Pearson left. Pearson is working with scraps and guys from places so remote that Houghton seems like a metropolis in comparison. He's made the tournament twice in the last three years, and finished in the top five of even strength Corsi all three years. His talent is at best average in the WCHA; he outperforms. Berenson's talent was at worst league-average in the Big Ten; he underperforms.
Meanwhile there are signs every year that nobody's afraid of Red anymore—that nobody even respects him. This year Cooper Marody was academically ineligible for the first half of the year, which hasn't happened since I've been paying attention. Every NHL talent flees the instant it's an option. Jon Merrill missed half a season with personal issues a few years back; things never should have gotten that bad with him. When Andrew Copp jumped to the NHL after his junior season, Red slammed his character and that of his father. When Mike Spath related this, Copp's furious father responded at length, explaining why Copp decided that another year in Ann Arbor would not be a positive for his hockey career.
The year Copp decided to leave Michigan excluded him from the hockey banquet entirely: not a mention of his name. For the captain of the team. Does that sound like a rational person?
Red Berenson is 77. His hockey team was horrendous this year. He appears increasingly incapable of controlling the kids on his team. He's been on his "final" season for three years now. If he won't retire he is RedPa. Warde Manuel should do him a favor and prevent that from happening.
*[Corsi is your percent of all shot attempts. It is broadly more predictive of future events than actual goals, which are lower in number and subject to goalie vagaries.]