By Rob Ficiur
Bets were on before the NHL season began about which coach would be the first fired. So far (as of this exact minute), zero NHL coaches have been fired. A CBC sports web poll asked fans to predict which coach would be the first to be fired. Internet polls are only one (probably unreliable) source of information; so before we announce the results of that poll, what does history tell us about when coaches will be fired (and who is most likely to be that coach)
In the last four full NHL seasons teams have changed coaches an average of 9.75 times per season. Twenty four of the thirty-nine new coaches started the season with their new teams. When did the other 15 coaches get fired and hired? The fifteen coaches hired mid-season joined their teams in the following months: October (1), November (7), December (3), January (3), February (1). Nearly half of the mid-season coaching changes that took place occurred in November. Teams that are out of a playoff spot on American Thanksgiving miss the post season 77% of the time.
What were the results of these fifteen mid-season coaching changes? Nine of the teams that made mid-season coaching changes still missed the playoffs. Of the five teams that made it to the playoffs the results varied as follows: Lost in round one (1); Lost in round two (2); Lost in the Stanley Cup final (1); Won the Stanley Cup (1). When the 2012 LA Kings won the Stanley Cup they became the third team, since 1970, to win a Stanley Cup after a midseason coaching change. The other two were the 1971 Montreal Canadiens (thanks to Ken Dryden) and the 2000 New Jersey Devils, where Larry Robinson replaced Robbie Ftorek with only eight games left in the regular season.
Last year four NHL teams fired their coaches in mid-season. Thanks to a website I found, it was possible to know exactly where each of these teams was the day they fired / hired coaches. The site http://www.dropyourgloves.com, can give you NHL standings for any day you input.
In 2013-14, mid-season coaching changes last season helped only one team make the playoffs. On October 7, 2013 the Philadelphia Flyers set a modern NHL record, firing coach Peter Laviolette three games into the season. The 2014 Flyers were one of the few coaching change teams to make the playoffs. (Hard to call three games into the season a mid-season coaching change)
On November 8, 2013 the 28th place Florida Panthers fired coach Kevin Dineen. The Panthers eventually finished 29th, so the team did not benefit from the firing. Fired coach Kevin Dineen was hired almost immediately as coach of the Canadian Women’s Hockey Olympic team. Dineen now has a Gold Medal thanks to his timely firing.
On November 13, 2013 the last place Buffalo Sabres fired their coach. Under their new coach they finished the season last; and as of this minute they are still last in NHL standings.
On January 12, 2014 the 25th overall Winnipeg Jets fired their coach. Under new coach Paul Maurice the Jets made a playoff run that fell just short…should they have changed coaches earlier?
Which team will be the first to fire their head coach in the 2014-2015 season? The CBC article and the fan poll both predict that the Toronto Maple Leafs Randy Carlyle will be the first coach to lose his job. I was surprised that, after missing the 2014 playoffs, that Carlyle returned as head coach. Rumor suggests that the Leafs might want to hire Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock when his contract runs out in June 2015. The Leafs will not fire their coach – at least not first.
Coaches Caution: Teams fire coaches when the team is not living up to their potential (or perceived potential). The veteran coaches in Arizona and St. Louis know that if their teams continue to lag under .500, they will be looking for work soon.
Conclusion: However, the first team that will fire their head coach this year is the 16th ranked San Jose Sharks. Todd McLellan, like Carlyle is a coach that I thought would be fired. McLellan’s Sharks had the humiliation of blowing three games to zero series lead. This continues a pattern of great regular seasons followed by disappointing playoffs. In his six previous years as Sharks head coach, McLellan’s team was eliminated in the first round three times. Their talented team made the league semi-finals in 2010 and 2011. Since then 39 NHL coaches have been fired. Patience runs out when a team does not play to the level people think they are at.
It is possible that this will be the first year that no NHL coaches are fired. It is also possible that it won’t snow this winter; and that the temperatures won’t drop into the -30 range. It is possible, but it won’t happen. Come November snow and cold will come to Southern Alberta – and NHL teams will begin firing their coaches.