And indeed, New Jersey’s Peter DeBoer and the Kings’ Darryl Sutter aren’t likely to be filling out forms in the unemployment office anytime soon after guiding their respective teams to unlikely runs to the title round.
But their success just might put the other 28 coaches around the league on notice. With the immediate success DeBoer and Sutter have enjoyed, there may be a few more general managers around the league with even quicker trigger fingers.
DeBoer was hired by the Devils last June and has taken a New Jersey club that missed the playoffs last season and led it to the Cup Final for the first time since 2003. This is after failing to reach the postseason in three years in his first NHL job with Florida, where he was fired after the 2010-11 season.
Sutter, meanwhile, provided the Kings will an even quicker turnaround. He was hired Dec. 20 and took an underachieving squad struggling to stay over .500 at 15-14-4 and went 25-13-11 the rest of the way. That still just barely got Los Angeles into the playoffs as the eighth seed in the West, but the Kings rolled through the first, second and third seeds with ease, going 12-2 in the playoffs to reach the Cup Final for the first time since 1993.
While it’s unusual to see two first-year coaches facing off in the Cup Final, it has become something of a trend of late to see coaching changes pay immediate dividends. The Flyers reached the Final in 2010 after firing John Stevens and replacing him with Peter Laviolette that December. Stevens, interestingly, served as the Kings interim coach after Terry Murray was fired and remains an assistant under Sutter.
Laviolette lost in that 2010 Final to Chicago and coach Joel Quenneville, who was a midseason hire the previous year. That 2008-09 season also saw Dan Bylsma hired by Pittsburgh in February, and Bylsma went on to lead the Penguins to the Cup that spring.
Coaching changes in earlier eras have also had immediate impact. Al MacNeil took over the Canadiens midway through the 1970-71 season and led the Habs to yet another Cup in 1971, while Larry Robinson, now one of DeBoer’s assistants, guided the Devils to the Cup in 2000 after general manager Lou Lamoriello fired Robbie Ftorek with just eight games left in the regular season.
And there’s certainly been many more coaching changes that haven’t worked such amazing wonders. More than half of the league’s 30 teams have changed coaches in the last calendar year, with six teams hiring new bench bosses last offseason, eight more making changes during the season and Calgary and Edmonton parting ways with their coaches after the regular season concluded.
Of those 16 changes, only two have resulted in trips to the Final. But in the high-pressure world of NHL coaching, those two success stories will put a lot more pressure on the other 28 guys behind the bench to produce results, and produce them quickly.