In the NHL – and many other sports’ leagues
– the decision to change the head coach is treated like a magical potion that
will cure everything. Missed the playoffs? Fire the head coach. Star players
underperforming? Fire the head coach. Advanced one less round in the postseason
than last year? Fire the head coach. Haven’t won a Stanley Cup in four or five
years? Fire the head coach.
It isn’t that changing head coaches is
never the right decision, but it’s also a pretty well accepted fact that the
man behind the bench is often “scapegoated” and made accountable for problems
that go far beyond the realms of his influence.
In a salary cap era and in a league where
there is as much parity as there ever has been, being a successful NHL head
coach is tough. New coaches enter the league every year and only a select few
make it past their first two seasons on the job. Coaches who enjoy initial
success and are unable to maintain it don’t have the longest lifespan either.
In fact, even coaches who bring a Stanley
Cup to a franchise usually only have a few seasons before job pressures begin to
grow again – see Dan Bylsma, Randy Carlyle and Peter Laviolette in the
Laviolette is an interesting case in point.
It is clear that he is a quality NHL head coach. He won a Stanley Cup with the
Carolina Hurricanes in 2005-06 and reached the Finals again with the
Philadelphia Flyers in 2009-10. He is now coaching the Nashville Predators, who
are sitting atop of the Central division after missing the playoffs in each of
the previous two seasons.
There’s definitely an argument that
Laviolette’s message is a little unsustainable. However, he pulled Philadelphia
together for what was a near remarkable run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2010,
he followed that up with two second round defeats during a period when the
Flyers over-hauled their team trading away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter before
the 2011-12 season. He was fired just three games into the 2013-14 season.
Craig Berube has hardly improved on those achievements so far with the team set
to miss the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
His Carolina team just barely missed the
playoffs in 2007-08. They were 12-11-2 the next season when Laviolette was
relieved of his duties. They’ve reached the postseason on just one occasion
since. It’s easy to fire the head coach, but NHL teams with bad records usually
have bigger problems than just their head coach.
Of course, there are always counter
arguments. The Pittsburgh Penguins halfway through a season hired Bylsma at a
time when Michel Therrien had the team playing above .500 hockey, after
reaching the Stanley Cup finals one year earlier. Only a couple of months later,
the Penguins were champions and the decision to change coaches was considered a
big part of that success.
Darryl Sutter was also hired as a head
coach to replace popular incumbent Terry Murray. The Kings had made a so-so-
start to the 2011-12 season, but Murray was widely credited as the experienced
coach who had helped the franchise reach consecutive postseasons for the first
time since the early 2000s. Sutter’s success in LA is now legendary with two
Stanley Cup championships to show for it.
General Managers are also in a pressure
situation and most need to be seen as doing a proactive job if they want to
keep it. Firing the coach is often the only obvious move they can make,
especially in a league where the salary cap can make it difficult to shift bad
However, at the core of most successful
franchises is alignment throughout the organization. The coach, general manager
and executives work together on a clear vision, particularly as it relates to
personnel and style of play. That’s been fairly obvious in many of today’s most
successful partnerships including; Ken Holland and Mike Babcock in Detroit,
Dave Tippett and Don Maloney in Arizona, Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli in
Boston, Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi in Los Angeles, and Joel Quenneville
and Stan Bowman in Chicago.
These relationships don’t always have to
bring about a Stanley Cup - Todd Richards and Jarmo
Kekaleinen in Columbus, Jack Capuano and Garth Snow on Long Island, and Bob
Hartley and Brad Treliving in Calgary are evidence of the progress that
franchises can make over longer periods of time when GM and coach are on the
The challenge of coaching an NHL team and
the lack of job security are worthy of respect.
There’s already been four in-season head
coaching changes in 2014-15 with Paul Maclean (Ottawa), Peter De Boer (New
Jersey), Randy Carlyle (Toronto) and Dallas Eakins (Edmonton) losing their
jobs. Here’s a quick look at the coaches who could be on the hot seat this
spring with the playoffs and offseason fast approaching.
McLellan – San Jose Sharks
McLellan is the longest tenured coach in
serious trouble this offseason. There is a feeling that San Jose has missed its
championship window and McLellan was loyally entrusted with that window. The
Sharks must win all of their remaining games to stand much chance of reaching
the playoffs and even then the odds are actually quite slim. Maybe the
organization will put their faith in the fact that McLellan can coach, which he
clearly can, but it feels more likely that he will be lost in the overhaul.
Oates/Scott Stevens – New Jersey Devils
It doesn’t seem likely that the Devils will
start the 2015-16 season with a dual coaching set up. The team has played
better under the Oates and Stevens combination, but not great. In fairness,
it’s a pretty flawed roster. It’ll be interesting to see if either of these
coaches gets the chance to take the job full time this offseason, or whether
Lou Lamoriello looks outside of the organization for his man.
Nolan – Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres have a horrible record and no
coach with that sort of record is likely to survive without questions. Nolan
has inherited this situation more than he has created it, but Buffalo’s
organization will presumably be making some big decisions about future
direction after the next few games are out of the way.
Berube – Philadelphia Flyers
Berube has lost in the first round of the
playoffs and then missed the playoffs altogether. We’d point towards injuries
and a flawed roster as a big source of that, but none of that saves Laviolette.
Philadelphia have some core pieces, which should enable them to turn things
around quickly, but will Berube be a part of that?
Boudreau – Anaheim Ducks
It’s only fair to point out that the
Washington Capitals ultimately fired Boudreau because regular season success
didn’t marry up to postseason success, but it certainly hasn’t gotten any
better for them since he left. That doesn't change the fact that if Anaheim
doesn’t make some sort of a run in this season’s playoffs, Boudreau’s job could
be on the line.
Yeo – Minnesota Wild
After two seasons of consistent
improvement, the Wild have endured an erratic 2014-15 campaign. It appears that
Yeo has “saved” it with a strong second half run pushing seemingly securing a
postseason spot, but an uncompetitive effort in a playoff series could still
Maurice – Winnipeg Jets
Maurice hasn’t had long to work with the
Jets and he has them as close to a playoff spot as they have been since
returning to Manitoba. However, if they lose out on a playoff spot to the
Flames and Kings, expect Maurice’s job to be under review for an organization
that's starting to lose patience.
Labels: Written by Sebastian Egerton-Read - @Seb_Read