It's not exactly a national secret that hockey teams tend to go through coaching changes about as often as a high school kid goes through a change of clothes (speaking on personal experience, that's about once per year). As we begin the conference finals, it's probably worth pointing out that three of the four teams taking part -- the Pittsburgh Penguins, Carolina Hurricanes and Chicago Blackhawks -- experienced a change behind the bench during the regular season.
Pittsburgh Penguins. Out: Michel Therrien, In: Dan Bylsma.
Record Before Change: 27-25-5
Record After Change (not including playoffs): 18-3-4
If you're a Penguins fan there was simply no in-between when it came to Michel Therrien: you were either counting down the days until he was replaced, or you respected the in-your-face mentality he had in a "the coach is not supposed your friend" type of way, and recognized the job he did turning around what was a hapless, emotionless team as recently as 2005-06. Following a typical 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers during that debut season, a fuming Therrien produced one of the greatest, brutally honest, tell-it-like-it-is coaching meltdowns in the history of organized sports, calling his defense, among other things, soft, while saying their overall goal was to be the worst group in the league ... and that they were succeeding. The team finished that season with the lowest point total the franchise had seen since 1983, the year before Mario Lemieux arrived in Pittsburgh.
The following two seasons, the Penguins advanced to the playoffs, while falling just two wins short of winning the Stanley Cup in 2007-08, losing to the Detroit Red Wings in six games. The honeymoon was quickly over for Therrien this season, as the team hit a slump in early December, losing 18-of-28 games through middle of February. Following a 6-2 loss in Toronto, Therrien was replaced by Dan Byslma, previously the head coach of the team's minor league affailiate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. When Bylsma took over the team was in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of a playoff spot.
In the following months, the Penguins, aided by the return of Sergei Gonchar and some astute moves by general manager Ray Shero (hello, Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz, and Craig Adams), not to mention a more aggressive fore-checking strategy implemented by Bylsma, went on an 18-3-4 run to not only qualify for the playoffs, but earn a top-four seed. Following the team's opening-round win over the Philadelphia Flyers, Bylsma was rewarded with a three-year contract extension.
Chicago Blackhawks. Out: Denis Savard, In: Joel Quenneville
Record Before Change: 1-2-1
Record After Change (not including playoffs): 45-22-11
Denis Savard received one of the quickest in-season hooks in the history of the league, receiving his pink slip from general manager Dale Tallon after just four regular season games in a move that, to say the least, raised a few eyebrows. After sitting behind the bench during the team's first winning season since the 2001-02 campaign, and helping return the 'Hawks to relevance, Savard entered the year as coach that was, sort of, on the hot seat. Here's what CBC had to say about his job status just prior to the start of the season:
Savard is heading towards the two-year mark and, admittedly, it would take a really big tank job by the Blackhawks out of the gate to threaten his job security. If Chicago merely struggles a bit below expectations in the first half, he's probably not going anywhere.Four games into the season ... gone. The timing was curious considering that Tallon told TSN's Darren Dreger that prior to the season -- and right around the time Joel Quenneville joined the organization-- Savard would not have to look over his shoulder, even if the team stumbled at the start of the season.
Like Therrien in Pittsburgh, Savard made himself a somewhat legendary figure in Chicago (not counting his playing days, of course) for a rant that featured a slogan that would be immortalized on T-shirts when he talked about players not wanting to "commit to the indian."
Quenneville came to Chicago with 11 years of coaching experience with the St. Louis Blues and Colorado Avalanche, while never finishing with a losing record and only missing the postseason two times. Under his watch, the Blackhawks finished the regular season with 104 points (their most since 1992-93, though, the 92-93 team didn't have the benefit of Bettman points) and a second-place finish in the Central Division. Despite losing on Sunday to Detroit in game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the young Blackhawks are just four wins away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1992.
Carolina Hurricanes. Out: Peter Laviolette. In: Paul Maurice
Record Before Change: 12-11-2
Record After Change (not including playoffs): 33-19-5
Peter Laviolette's dismisal was the third coaching change of the season, while the Hurricanes were actually maintaining a playoff spot at the time of his firing. Though, when you fail to the qualify for the playoffs in three of your four years on the job you're probably two years overdue for a change if your line of work is in the NHL (in fairness, that one year the team made the playoffs it won the Stanley Cup).
Paul Maurice began his head coaching career in the NHL way back in 1995-96 when the Carolina Hurricanes were still based in Hartford, sporting the greatest jersey in the history of the league, while rocking out to Brass Bonanza. During his initial nine-year tenure with the franchise, the Whalers/Hurricanes qualified for the postseason just three times, while advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2002 before losing to the Detroit Red Wings in five games.
After taking over this season (following his rather pedestrian two-year stay in Toronto) the Hurricanes finished the regular season as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, winning 18 of their final 26 regular season games. That momentum has carried over to the playoffs, as Carolina has eliminated a pair of division champions -- the New Jersey Devils and the No. 1 seeded Boston Bruins -- on its way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In all, seven teams made in-season coaching changes this year (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Carolina, New York Rangers, Ottawa, Tampa Bay, Montreal) while five of them (Pittsburgh, Chicago, Carolina, New York, Montreal) went on to make the playoffs. Three of them are still playing. We've already seen two non-playoff teams begin coaching searches thanks to the exit of Craig MacTavish in Edmonton, and the resignation of Jacques Lemaire in Minnesota, and who knows what Lou Lamoriello (seven coaching changes in the past nine seasons) has planned in New Jersey. It all makes Lindy Ruff's 11 years on the job in Buffalo all the more impressive.