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Coach Swap – NHL Edition

In the past three years, there has been a shift in focus on a different type of free agent; not necessarily the ones on the ice, but the ones behind the bench. While an experienced coach is an asset to a team, there have been many long-time, winningest, and high-profile coaches that have seen their tenure at one team end by one way or another, and then turn around and step behind the bench of another team. Let’s have a look at the most notable coach and front-office moves the past few seasons:

2013-14: Lindy Ruff goes South

The winningest coach in Buffalo Sabres history, and then second-longest tenured active NHL coach, Ruff led the Sabres to one Stanley Cup Finals, three conference finals, and overall eight playoff positions in his fifteen seasons with Buffalo. After a slow start to the 2012-13 season, which saw Buffalo go a tepid 6-10-1, Ruff was shown the door. He remained a “free agent” for the remainder of the season before being hired by the Dallas Stars after finishing in the basement of the Pacific Division and firing Glen Gulutzan. Ruff made the playoffs his first season behind the Dallas bench, and just barely missed the playoffs this season.

2013-14: Vancouver-New York Coach Swap

Perhaps the most high-profile coaching change of the 2013-14 pre-season; both Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers decided to respectively fire Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella, and they proceeded to hire each others’ former head coach. It was an incredible experiment of coach-swapping, with both coaches bringing their vastl different personalities, and game plans to their respective new teams. Vigneault was fired after two consecutive first-round playoff exits after coming one game shy of winning the Stanley Cup, Tortorella was fired after being promptly bounced by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the playoffs. The experiment was short-lived, as Torts only lasted one season behind the Vancouver bench, finishing clear outside the playoff picture, as his defence-first style failed to showcase the offensive flair of the Sedin twins. Vigneault, however, is still in New York and finding much success, having won the Presidents Trophy last season en route to a Stanley Cup finals appearance, and losing out in the Conference Finals this season.

2013-14: Oilers’ Gamble

Ever since making the Stanley Cup finals in 2006, the once great Edmonton Oilers have been a franchise struggling to find any footing in order to leap ahead of the pack; despite all the high draft picks they have accumulated recently, they simply haven’t been very good. Prior to the 2013-14 NHL season, Dallas Eakins was the hottest coaching prospect, with two consecutive division championships in the AHL and a run at the Calder Cup with the Toronto Marlies. With a solid role in the success of the Marlies, it looked as if Dallas Eakins was primed to take on a young, fresh off the AHL team in Edmonton to glory. It was a gamble that ultimately failed for the Oilers, as Eakins’ tenure as head coach in Edmonton was a nightmare, going 36-63-14 before being shown the door. More on the Oilers to come…

2013-14: Mid-season moves

Other notable coaching changes saw Ted Nolan return to Buffalo after an impressive run in the 2014 Olympics with Latvia; it did not translate into the NHL as Nolan coached the Sabres to consecutive basement finishes before being fired at the end of this season. The Winnipeg Jets showed Claude Noel the door before bringing in former Toronto Maple Leafs and Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice; Maurice hadn’t seen much NHL action, but kept busy coaching Metallurg Magnitogorsk in the KHL prior to piloting the Jets, a post he still holds today.

2014-15: Predators’ new Bench Boss

The Nashville Predators were established in 1998, and through fifteen seasons in the NHL, there was only one constant: Barry Trotz. Coming into the 2014-15 NHL season, the longest-tenured active NHL coach was finally shown the door after missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons. Former Philadelphia Flyers‘ coach and a Stanley Cup winner with the Carolina Hurricanes Peter Laviolette was brought in as the franchise’s second ever head coach. Laviolette’s tenure began with a playoff appearance, but the Predators were promptly bounced by the Stanley Cup Finalist Chicago Blackhawks

2014-15: Barry Trotz into Washington

… Barry Trotz was then promptly hired as the bench boss of the Washington Capitals. The winningest (and only) coach in Nashville Predators’ history was hired after Adam Oates failed to get the Capitals into the playoffs on his first full season as head coach. Trotz had an immediate effect on the Washington Capitals, propelling Alex Ovechkin into a more leadership-centered role. Though they lost out on a hard-fought second-round series with the New York Rangers, expect Trotz to keep coaching the Washington Capitals to more impressive finishes next season and beyond. Furthermore, don’t feel bad for the fired Adam Oates, because…

2014-15: Devils co-coaches

… He was hired as an Assistant Head Coach by the New Jersey Devils. After struggling through the season, head coach Peter DeBoer was shown the door, and Adam Oates and fellow Assistant Scott Stevens were promoted to co-head coaches. Their post is currently in question, as a new GM is sure to shake things up, but more on that later.

2014-15: Rise of the Assistant Coaches and Other Moves

Following suit with the New Jersey Devils, the Ottawa Senators promoted Assistant Dave Cameron to Head Coach after firing Paul MacLean to reach the playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs also promoted Peter Horachek from Assistant to interim Head Coach to the complete opposite effect; Horachek had been fired from the Florida Panthers at the beginning of the season and replaced with Montreal Canadiens Assistant Gerard Gallant. Former Detroit Red Wings Assistant Bill Peters got his shot in Carolina after Kirk Muller was fired prior to the start of the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins fired their GM Ray Shero in favor of part owner of the Carolina Hurricanes Jim Rutherford, whose first move as GM was to axe winningest coach in franchise history and youngest coach to reach 250 wins Dan Bylsma…

2015-16: Babcock Bidding War

A building that is collapsing despite countless renovations is in need of only one thing: Demolition. The Toronto Maple Leafs collapsed in magnificent fashion this season, failing to show up for more than half of the season. This cost a staggering amount of people their job; among them scouts, GM Dave Nonis, and two head coaches, Randy Carlyle and interim Peter Horachek. With Mike Babcock’s contract running out in Detroit, a massive bidding war was underway with several teams bidding for his services; and with good reason, too. With ten seasons coaching the Detroit Red Wings, Babcock has never failed to make the playoffs, has won one Stanley Cup, and is the only coach who is a member of the Triple Gold Club. Reports stated that at one point, Edmonton, Buffalo, Toronto, and Detroit were all in on Babcock; Buffalo appeared to be victorious in the bidding war, but in the twelfth hour, Toronto finally managed to retain Mike Babcock’s services. The most high-profile coaching change prior to the following season, Babcock is already being hailed as the savior of a stumbling franchise. Only time will tell whether he is successful in Toronto, as the Leafs are two years away from making their Stanley Cup drought a half-century.

2015-16: Oilers try again

It’s been nine long years for Oilers fans. The Oilers hold the longest active playoff drought at nine seasons. Season after season, excitement has been palpable, with high draft picks earning Edmonton a lot of prime talent that has failed to pan out so far. This season is different, though, as they have a complete overhaul: new GM Peter Chiarelli brought in from outside the organization (after being fired by the Boston Bruins this season); former Sharks’ head coach (and winningest in franchise history) Todd McLellan behind the bench after successfully coaching Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle at the World Championships, and what is sure to be Connor McDavid as another highly touted forward to bolster the Oilers’ lineup. Perhaps the last season at Rexall Place will see some playoff hockey.

2015-16: Sharks net DeBoer

With the announcement of Peter DeBoer being hired as the head coach of the San Jose Sharks, there is a visible trend that the NHL values head coaching experience at the same level. DeBoer has seven seasons under his belt, missing the playoffs in all but one of the seasons he’s coached (though it’s notable that the only time he’s coached playoff hockey it landed the New Jersey Devils in the Stanley Cup Final). It will be exciting to see what the Sharks do this off-season given the tumultuous season that they experienced in 2014-15.

2015-16: Former Penguins find a home

The Pittsburgh Penguins were a team in a state of disarray at the beginning of this season, evidenced by their GM and coaching change. For a team with such talent to have nothing to show for it, a shakeup was necessary. Don’t feel bad for either Ray Shero or Dan Bylsma, though, as both have found themselves another position in the NHL. Shero now serves as the GM of the New Jersey Devils, while Dan Bylsma has been announced as the 17th head coach in Buffalo Sabres history, bringing much excitement to a fan base that was actively rooting against its team.

2015-16: New talent and pending vacancies

The Detroit Red Wings have a strong history of building from within; and with the departure of Mike Babcock for Toronto, AHL affiliate head coach Jeff Blashill is going to get the call, pending the end of the Grand Rapids Griffins’ playoff run. Blashill previously served as an Assistant to Mike Babcock in 2011-12 before being handed the reins of the Griffins. The Philadelphia Flyers have brought in University of North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol; though Hakstol has no NHL coaching experience, he has plenty of coaching experience, with a storied and successful career at UND. On paper, every team has a coach, though Ray Shero is rumored to be interviewing for a new head coach for the New Jersey Devils, with former Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean rumored to be a prime candidate.

Pedro Rengel

Pedro Rengel

Originally hailing from the tropical paradise of Venezuela, I moved to Canada at age 11 for the sole reason of falling in love with hockey as a self-proclaimed Pittsburgh Penguins fan. Now a Canadian citizen, my mad love affair with hockey represents a statistical contribution as opposed to an anomaly. Being able to write this well despite having Spanish as a first language is enough of an anomaly (I'm occasionally biased).
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