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Fired! The continuing curse of being coach of the year

Posted on May 10, 2016 by 40 Mile Commentator

By Rob Ficiur
This week the Calgary Flames fired 2015 NHL coach of the year Bob Hartley. How can a coach go from the best in the business to being so bad the team wants him gone? When you consider that Coach Hartley will be paid $2 million next year to not coach, you know that the team really did not want him back.
The stereotype winner of the Jack Adams (Coach of the Year) is a coach that gets his team to overachieve. Voters seem must believe the coach’s talent brought out more in the team than most people thought was there.  This is true for how Bob Hartley got the 2014 2015 Flames to surprise the experts make the playoffs and win their first round series with Vancouver. The next year, with higher expectations, the Coach of the Year finds it hard to surprise anyone. When the team (like the 2016 Flames) go back to the level everyone thought they were at, the lack of success must be the coach’s fault and he is fired.
The Coach of the Year trophy has been awarded 39 times. Looking back other patterns emerge about the coach of the year.
1. Only five coaches have won the award twice. Jacques Demers, then of the Detroit Red Wings, is the only coach to win the award in consecutive seasons (Detroit 1987 and 1988). Pat Burns won the Jack Adams the most times (3) with three different teams (Montreal, Toronto and Boston). Ironically Burns only Stanley Cup championship came with New Jersey where he did not win Coach of the Year.
Burns, Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn and Jacques Lemaire are the only other coaches to win Coach of the year more than once. Of the five coaches who won multiple awards, only Demers won it with the same team.  The other coaches had to be fired, then rehired somewhere else to win again.
2. Only four times has the Coach of the Year won the Stanley Cup that season. The voting for the awards is done when the season ends and before the playoffs start. The playoff coaching success or lack thereof, does not figure into the winner. The Stanley Cup Coach of the Year winners have been:  Fred Shero 1974 (Philadelphia), Scotty Bowman 1977 (Montreal), Al Arbour 1979 (New York Islanders) and John Tortorella 2004 (Tampa Bay).
3. Coaching a dynasty team does not lead to many awards. Scotty Bowman has nine Stanley Cup rings, the most of all the coaches. His teams in Montreal and Detroit were laden with stars; yet he won only two Jack Adams trophies. It might be harder to get superstars to play to their ability than it is to get average teams to over achieve.
Glen Sather the head coach of the Edmonton Oilers, who won four Stanley Cups in five years, won only one Coach of the Year award. Ironically Sather won the award in the 1985-86 season, the one year in that championship window that the Oilers did not win it all.
4. Coach of the Year can be fired at any time. In June 1997, Buffalo Sabres head coach Ted Nolan won the coach of the year. Before the next season started in October, Nolan had been fired. Fans can see why Hartley might be fired when the Flames did not play to their potential. In the case of Ted Nolan he was fired without losing a game. (Nolan and Sabres General Manager John Muckler did not get along – leading the change of coaches.)
Al Arbour coached the longest after winning coach of the year award. His seven seasons behind the bench (after winning coach of the year) included three more Stanley Cups, so they kept him around.  The second longest run of a coach of the year is Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff who coached Buffalo for 6.5 seasons after winning.
5. At this moment four coaches of the year are still with the team they won with. All four were rumored to be on the firing block this season. As of today they still have their jobs: Claude Julien (Boston 2009), Dave Tippet (Phoenix 2010) and Ken Hitchcock  (St. Louis 2012) and Patrick Roy (2014).
6.  The average Coach of the year stayed with his team 3.25 years after winning his championship. Is that good or bad? As of this moment, with three teams looking for NHL coaches, the average coaching tenure for the 30 NHL teams is 2.49 years. On average if you win Coach of the year, teams have given that coach an extra year to try make a winner out of their team.
Update: 2008 Coach of the Year Bruce Boudreau (who was fired 3 years 2 months later) and has since been hired and fired again was hired this week by the Minnesota Wild. According to the pattern Bruce Boudreau will lead the Minnesota Wild to the Central Division title in 2017. For this great feet he will win 2017 coach of the year; then 3.25 years later he will be fired again; and the cycle repeats itself again and again.

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