Tag: coaching changes


Under Pressure: Jeff Blashill


Here’s an understatement for you: Mike Babcock is a tough act to follow.

In the hearts and minds of Red Wings fans, Jeff Blashill may very well face an impossible task in trying to supplant the scowl of Babs. It cannot be easy to jump from the AHL to replacing one of the most respected bench bosses in recent history.

That said, for all the well-earned hero worship Babcock often inspires, there’s an argument that Detroit needed a breath of fresh air.

The Red Wings were as dominant as ever from 2006-07 to 2008-09, making three conference finals, two Stanley Cup Final rounds and winning one ring. They’ve been solid-yet-mostly-unspectacular since then, however:

  • Just one division title (in 2010-11).
  • Three first-round exits in their last six postseason berths, including two straight years of one-and-done. The Red Wings haven’t made it beyond the second round in that span, either.
  • They struggled to make the playoffs more than ever in recent years.

This is likely a case of oversimplifying, yet some may look at this situation in one of two ways:

A) Babcock squeezed every standings point possible out of a fading team.

B) Conversely, the franchise was begging for a jolt of energy.

It’s worth noting that the Red Wings remain a quality possession squad, although their exact rankings vary based on which specific metrics you use. The bottom line is that there’s a solid chance that Blashill has a decent group to work with, even if this obviously isn’t the stupidly dominant group many long associated with the Red Wings brand.

When your team is currently on a record 24-season playoff streak, expectations are inevitable, and Blashill faces a tall task. For all we know, setting the bar so high might not be such a bad thing.

If only Hurricanes had more time …

Kirk Muller

To most, 82 regular season games is an awful lot for a sport as rugged as hockey. If you ask Kirk Muller, it’s a shame that at leastthis campaign wasn’t, say, 90-or-so games long.

When the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock asked Muller if the team would be a playoff team if only Muller had time, the coach responded “I do; I really do.” DeCock goes on to make some “What if?” insights and even compares the Muller turnaround to the renaissance the team experienced when it switched to Peter Laviolette during their Stanley Cup run.

The baffling loyalty of Peter Karmanos and Jim Rutherford to Paul Maurice has once again cost them millions of dollars — and cost this market the fun of another trip to the playoffs.

If only Maurice hadn’t been brought back after last season’s colossal failure; if only Muller had been brought in a week or two earlier, when there was still time to turn things around; if only. Alas, the damage was done, and now the Hurricanes are running out of time.

It’s easy to put too much stock into late runs, which all too often fail to carry over to the fall. The Hurricanes are hoping, as was the case in the spring of 2004 and the fall of 2005, after the season lost to the lockout, the tone set in the spring will be the tone taken in training camp.

As noted in this space many times, the similarities between the circumstances that led to winning the Stanley Cup and these circumstances — new coach, new attitude, new labor agreement — have not been lost on the players.

Carolina’s players took about a month or so to adjust to Muller’s message, but they’ve certainly been a more dangerous team once the calendar changed to 2012. The most obvious – and considering the top-heavy nature of the team, probably most important – changes come in the work of Eric Staal and Cam Ward. They went from wildly disappointing (and thus overpaid) to the kind of franchise cornerstones who seem capable of keeping the Hurricanes reasonably competitive from year-to-year.

If you ask the team, their coach and at least one of the local columnists, the Hurricanes now have a coach to be competitive – they’ll just have to wait until next season to prove it.

Hurricanes fire Paul Maurice; Kirk Muller named new head coach

Paul Maurice

It’s a bad Monday to be a head coach in the NHL as the Carolina Hurricanes have fired coach Paul Maurice as their bench boss. Hurricanes GM Jim Rutherford announced the move today just hours after Washington fired Bruce Boudreau and brought Dale Hunter in there.

In this case, Rutherford says the team will announce a new coach later today and TSN’s Bob McKenzie says that it will be Kirk Muller that gets the call to take over. Muller has never been a head coach in the NHL but spent time in Montreal as an assistant to Jacques Martin and was the head coach of the Predators’ AHL team in Milwaukee this year.

(Update 12:09 p.m. ET: Hurricanes officially announce Kirk Muller to take over as head coach)

Maurice’s second term in Carolina ends as roughly as his first go-round did winding up getting fired in both cases. The last time Maurice was fired, Peter Laviolette took over and led the Canes to a Stanley Cup in 2006. The Hurricanes this time around would love to have the same thing happen here but Muller’s hands will be full in trying to get Eric Staal’s season turned around and helping the rest of the team figure themselves out.

Muller’s main goal will be to get the team’s defense straightened out as they’re last in goals allowed this season and in last place in the Southeast Division, just 14th out of 15 in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes just missed out on a playoff spot last season but have been beyond miserable this year. Muller’s task ahead is a tough one for a team that seemed to lose their skills over the summer.

Stars, Devils, Senators, and Wild still looking to fill coaching vacancies

Montreal Canadiens v Pittsburgh Penguins

The first move in this year’s coaching carrousel has been made as the Florida Panthers are officially announcing Kevin Dineen as their 11th coach in franchise history this morning. For those keeping track at home, that would be ONE coaching vacancy filled almost two full months after the end of the regular season. Maybe they were waiting to see if Claude Julien would become available after the first round? Either way, there are still job openings in four difference cities for the any potential head coaches. Some names have been floating around since the beginning of the season and some names like Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant have caught fire over the last few months. Here’s a snapshot of the four teams still looking for a bench boss.

New Jersey Devils: After John MacLean failed so spectacularly to start the 2010-11 season, Devils boss Lou Lamoriello is taking a methodical approach this time around. Jacques Lemaire proved during the 2nd half of last season that the team has enough talent to win—they’ll just need the right coach to point the team in the right direction. The three candidates who are getting the most attention are Binghamton Senators head coach Kurt Kleinendorst (played under Lamoriello at Providence College and was with the Devils organization for nine years), Montreal assistant Kirk Muller (played his first seven seasons with the Devils), and respected, defensive-minded, former head coach Ken Hitchcock.

Dallas Stars: The Stars are a little further along in the interview process. Joe Nieuwendyk has interviewed Ken Hitchcock, Peter Horachek (Predators assistant), Glen Gulutzan (Texas Stars head coach); plans to interview Kirk Muller, and one final candidate who could possibly be Saint John Sea Dogs head coach Gerard Gallant. Since the day Marc Crawford was fired, that speculation has been that Nieuwendyk’s strong ties from his playing days with both Hitchcock and Muller would make them the leading candidates. Until both find jobs in competing cities or someone else is hired, they’ll continue to be the leading candidates.

Minnesota Wild: GM Chuck Fletcher has confirmed that he has interviewed Michel Therrien (Wild scout), Craig MacTavish, and Ken Hitchcock (asked for permission). Aside from each of those worthy candidates, Houston Aeros head coach Mike Yeo is another name that is likely to be considered as he recently lead the Wild’s AHL affiliate to the Calder Cup Final.

Ottawa Senators: Bryan Murray told the Ottawa Citizen that he started his coaching search last week. The Sens job is interesting in that so many candidates have ties to the owner or organization. Former Florida Panthers head man Peter DeBoer was in the mix for Ottawa’s job last time around, Kurt Kleinendorst is the head coach of their AHL affiliate in Binghamton, Dave Cameron is the head coach of the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (owned by Eugene Melnyk), and Hamilton’s head coach Randy Cunneyworth is a former Senators captain. On top of all those names, Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean has already been given an interview.

Aside from each of the candidates mentioned for each job, Hawks assistant coach Mike Haviland, Manitoba Moose coach Claude Noel, and Thrashers assistant John Torchetti have all had their names bouncing around the rumor mill. When the music stops, there will only be chairs for four candidates; but with the Panthers kicking off the hiring season, it looks like the coaching vacancies will start to get filled.

Ilya Kovalchuk, Jamie Langenbrunner and Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek react to coaching change


(Need to get up to speed on the New Jersey Devils’ decision to fire John MacLean and make Jacques Lemaire their interim head coach one again? Read these posts first.

Devils fire MacLean, re-hire Lemaire.

But why go with Lemaire all over again?)

It’s tough to say that I was surprised to hear that Devils GM Lou Lamoriello decided to fire overwhelmed coach John MacLean, even if I think the true fault falls at the feet of the seemingly bullet-proof “Loophole Lou.” After all, MacLean didn’t err profoundly by giving Ilya Kovalchuk a $100 million nor did he lean toward nostalgia with questionable acquisitions of Jason Arnott and Brian Rolston over the last few years.

But ultimately the coach’s head was lopped off, as is often the case with sports teams. You may know the cliche that “you cannot trade the whole team” after all.

So the Devils once again took a trip down memory lane by bringing back Jacques Lemaire for the third time in franchise history. So, the question is: how are some of the biggest figures in the organization reacting to the changes? We’re so glad you asked, because Tom Gulitti of the Fire & Ice blog found answers from high-priced sniper Kovalchuk, team captain Jamie Langenbrunner and team owner Jeff Vanderbeek.

Kovalchuk insisted he had no problems with MacLean, though he was scratched for an Oct. 23 game against Buffalo because he was late for a mandatory meeting the morning of the game.

“I’m not the reason (why MacLean was fired). Don’t worry,” Kovalchuk said. “Everybody has their own opinion, but in the situation that we are, (a coach gets fired). It’s unfortunate, but we have to live with it and move forward.”

When asked to describe his relationship with Lemaire, Langenbrunner said,“We’ll see. Right? You guys obviously wrote a lot about what that was like last year – some truth, some not. I respect him as a coach. I think he’s a very smart hockey man. We’ll do what’s best for the team. He’s a very good hockey guy.”

We’ll see? That’s an interesting way to start off an otherwise PR-soaked answer, isn’t it?

  • Finally, Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek was saddened that the team needed to fire MacLean but also admitted that change was needed. Of course, many will question whether this was the right type of change. But as Langenbrunner would say, “we’ll see.”