NHL Handicapping: Gambling Effect of Fired Coaches
by Trevor Whenham - 1/13/2012
It has not been a good year to be an NHL head coach — at least not if you value job security. It’s only early January, and the season is only half over, yet seven head coaches have been fired so far since the season started. In a 30-team league that’s more than 23 percent of all positions. As crazy as that seems it could get worse — a quick look at the league brings up at least five other coaches who shouldn’t be too comfortable in their seats.
The firings this year have been for various reasons. The Kings and Capitals were supposed to be serious contenders in their conference, but both started the year flat. Anaheim and St. Louis weren’t taking the big step forward that they were supposed to, and management needed to try something new before it was too late. Montreal and Carolina could see their season slipping away fast and needed to make a change so they could decide if they were going to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Columbus was just too bad to stay the course.
While each situation has been unique, and the philosophy behind the replacement has differed, what should be interesting to hockey handicappers is what has happened to the teams in each case after the change. By looking back at what has happened we can perhaps be more prepared if and when the next changes are made:
St. Louis Blues
David Payne was fired on Nov. 6 when the team was just 6-7.
They have had luck with early-season changes in the past, so it was a good gamble — especially since Ken Hitchcock is a guy who can command instant respect because of his accomplishments and demeanor.
By any measure, the move has been a huge success.
The team is an impressive 19-5-6 since the change, and all but unbeatable at home. The impact was almost instant, too — the team had dropped three of four before the change, but went 4-0-2 in the first six under Hitchcock.
Bruce Boudreau was relieved of duties on Nov.28 — just over four years after he took over the team mid-season — and was replaced by former Capitals’ star Dale Hunter.
Boudreau is a very good coach — the Coach of the Year in his first season. His problem was an old one, though. He and the star player — Alex Ovechkin in this case — weren’t on the same page, and Ovechkin wasn’t going anywhere. The team was underachieving under Boudreau, but they were far from disastrous at 12-9-1.
The transition to Hunter wasn’t smooth — the team lost three of their first four, and that lone win came in overtime. They won three of their next four, though, and are 9-5-1 since that early 1-3 start.
The team isn’t much better now than they were before the change.
Kirk Muller took over for Paul Maurice on the same day that Dale Hunter was given his new job. The team was lousy before the change, and unfortunately has been lousy since.
They were 8-13-4 under Maurice, and 7-10-3 under Muller. The team lost Muller’s first four, and eight of their first 10.
Injuries have been an issue, but the bigger factor is that it doesn’t matter how good a coach is if he has no talent to work with.
GM Bob Murray knew that he had one last chance to turn this team around and save his job, so just two days after Washington made a change Murray fired Randy Carlyle and hired old friend Boudreau.
The team was a disastrous 7-13-4 under Carlyle, though they did win the game hours before Carlyle was axed. Boudreau was taking over a team with far less talent than he had in Washington, and it has shown in the results. The Ducks lost his first two, and 11 of the first 14.
They are 3-0-1 in their last four to show at least a hint of potential, but it has been ugly up to this point.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings were an attractive pick to do well in the West. I picked them to win the conference.
Injuries and a general lack of focus dropped the team to a wildly disappointing 13-12-4 on Dec. 12, though, so Terry Murray was fired.
Unlike the others so far, though, the transition wasn’t smooth.
John Stevens, a former coach of the Flyers, was elevated from assistant on an interim basis, and was in charge until Darryl Sutter was brought in on Dec. 21.
The team lost their first under Stevens and was 2-2 overall. Sutter was far more successful, though. He was 5-0-3 in the team’s first eight under his command, including 3-0-1 in the first four.
Jacques Martin was fired on Dec. 17. The team wasn’t terrible -- 13-12-7 -- but they were playing well under their potential.
In his place Randy Cunneyworth was elevated on an interim basis. That was a wildly controversial move in Montreal — Cunneyworth is the first unilingual English coach of the team in more than 25 years, and that upset the French-speaking fan base. That was a contributing factor to the struggles out of the gate — the team lost four in a row, and six of seven under Cunneyworth.
He’s just 3-9 overall and there has been all sorts of drama in the locker room, so those fans don’t have to worry about having an English coach for long.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Scott Arniel became the season’s seventh victim on Jan. 9. He was replaced by his assistant Todd Richards, a former head coach in Minnesota, on an interim basis.
he team was a dismal 11-24-5 under Arniel — by far the worst record in the league. Unfortunately, that can’t really be called underachieving given the talent they had.
Richards has only had one game to turn things around, and it was on the road the day after he started. However, it was a lifeless 5-2 loss to Chicago. It would take a miracle for Richards to find any respectability in this mess of a team.
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