By Rob Ficiur
As the puck drops on a new NHL season all thirty teams are optimistic that
their off season changes will take them to the next level. Since opening
day a year ago seven coaches were fired because the team’s performance was
not where management thought it should be.
Since the NHL lockout of 2004-2005 there have been 98 new head coaches
hired; which usually means that 98 head coaches have been dismissed (which
normally means fired). Sixty one percent of coaches are fired (and hired)
in the off season. November and December are the most popular months to
fire (and hire) coaches mid-season. Ten coaches have been fired in each of
those two months.
Despite the training camp optimism there have been four coaches fired in
October since 2005.mThe October coaching casualties have been teams that
underachieved the year before and got off to a bad start in the new season.
The hope in firing the coach early in the season is that there is time to
regain momentum and make the playoffs. Los Angeles (2012) and Pittsburgh
(2016) are the only two teams since the 2005 lockout to have fired a coach
mid-season and win the Stanley Cup that year. They are also the only team
to win the Stanley Cup with a new coach at the helm since the salary cap
system came into effect after the lockout.
Who will be the first coach fired this season?
1. Vancouver – The Canucks have won only a single playoff series since they went to the 2011 Stanley Cup final. They have alternated good years and bad years.
Under John Tortorella the team missed the 2014 playoffs with 83 points. The
next year new coach Willie Desjardins increased that number to 101. When a
new coach gets a team to achieve past its previous success that can
sometimes be a problem. In his second year Desjardins’ team dropped from
101 to 75 points. Long forgotten was the 18 point improvement in year one.
Why the Canucks did flop last year is the only question being asked. When a
General Manager builds his team around two 36-year-old superstars, it is
hard to get excited about the team’s future. The Canucks added 31-year-old
Louie Erickson to help the offense; but nothing to strengthen the defense
and goaltending that was weak.
2. Winnipeg – The Jets made the playoffs in 2015 and then dropped 21 points and missed the 2016 playoffs. Once again coach Paul Maurice is on the hot seat. Is he the top notch coach who brought an underdog Jets team into the playoffs? Or is
he the ineffective coach who was fighting to stay out of the Western cellar
in 2016. If the 2017 Jets don’t take off for the sky in the first few
months of the season, then they will jettison this coach and try a new one.
3. Montreal – Why did the Montreal Canadiens go from 110 points in 2015 to 82 points in 2016? One easy answer is that the five month injury to starting goalie
Carrie Price hurt the team. Hockey is a team sport and one injury cannot
not justify a 28 point drop. Or can it? With a healthy Price back this
year, Terrien must show he can create a winning team. Rumors, true or not,
abound that recently dismissed Colorado Head Coach Patrick Roy will be
Montreal’s next coach if this year’s Canadiens don’t start winning.
4. Boston – In 2011 Claude Julien coached the Boston Bruins to their first Stanley Cup championship since 1972. That was six seasons ago. Hired for the 2007-2008
season, Julien is currently the longest serving NHL head coach. After
missing the playoffs the last two seasons, Julien could be looking the first
fired this year if his Bruins don’t start winning like they did in 2011.
5. St. Louis – The Blues have had 100 plus points in each of the last five seasons. In spite of their regular season success their playoff seasons have been too
short. In each of the last two years rumor had it that the Blues might fire
head coach Ken Hitchcock for someone who can take the Blues to the next post
season level. In a move I have never seen before the Blues have hired
former Minnesota head coach Mike Yo as the Blues head coach for the
2017-2018 season. This new season will be Hitchcock’s last year as Blues
bench boss, while Yo acts as an understudy (officially assistant coach). If
the Blues stumble at all, the replacement is already in place for St. Louis.
Having made, and justified, these predictions, it is quite probable that the
first coach fired will not be one of the above listed above. When and which
coaches are fired is unpredictable for fans and media alike. One thing is
sure, within the next month at least one coach will be fired in the NHL.