Coaches — they’re hired to be fired.
That’s the old adage, anyway, but it’s holding true as the NHL reaches the midpoint of its season. Seven coaches have been turfed already, two shy of the record first set in 1981-82, then matched in 2000-01.
Coaches relieved of their duties this season were Davis Payne (St. Louis), Bruce Boudreau (Washington), Paul Maurice (Carolina), Randy Carlyle (Anaheim), Terry Murray (Los Angeles), Jacques Martin (Montreal) and, most recently, Scott Arniel (Columbus). That’s seven coaches fired during the first-half of the regular season, a pretty staggering number.
But oddly enough, this season is shaping up a bit like the coaching massacre of 2000-01. That year, only two of the nine coaches dismissed managed to make it through all 82 games — Florida’s Terry Murray and Chicago’s Alpo Suhonen were canned shortly after missing the playoffs — meaning seven faced the guillotine during the regular season.
Pat Burns was fired by Boston after eight games, Montreal canned Alain Vigneault after 20, Craig Ramsay got 28 games in Philly before he bit the bullet and Craig Hartsburg coached 33 before Anaheim let him go. Steve Ludzik got to game No. 39 before Tampa gave him his walking papers and two coaches — Butch Goring (Islanders) and Don Hay (Flames) made it to games 65 and 68, respectively.
So…what are the chances of this year’s coaching death count getting to nine?
Slim, but not nil. The argument could be made that Islanders coach Jack Capuano is on thin ice, but he’s barely had a full year on the job. Same goes for Randy Cunneyworth who, barring an epic collapse, will get to finish the season in Montreal. The Flames could part ways with Brent Sutter if they fall out of the playoff picture (it’d be their third straight missed postseason) and so could the Leafs with Ron Wilson, especially if they fall short of the playoffs.
The wildcard in all of this is timing. Teams that did the business early in the season were able to hire coaches of their choosing — St. Louis got Ken Hitchcock, Carolina got Kirk Muller, Washington got Dale Hunter, Anaheim got Bruce Boudreau and LA got Darryl Sutter — while the teams that waited too long ended up with second choices. No offense to Cunneyworth in Montreal or Todd Richards in Columbus, but both seem like stopgap solutions (at best.)
Teams looking to make a change now might just wait until the season’s over, so they can conduct a more thorough search and have all potential candidates available.