The Conundrum of The Coaching Change: Food For Thought

Sabres fans have been calling for the heads of Darcy Regier and Lindy Ruff for the majority of this season. Coaching changes in the NHL are often viewed as a quick fix and many franchises will replace even those that have experienced playoff success. While Ruff has not won a Stanley Cup, he does have a Finals experience (’99) and has gone as far as the Eastern Conference Finals on 3 seperate occassions. He also had the most successful season in Sabres history, as the team exploded with goals, defense, talent, and heart in the 2006-2007 season, winning the only Presidents Trophy in team history. If Ruff is excused before his contract expires, he would likely receive 20 calls from teams looking to make room on their roster or front office. My opinion is as follows: Ruff is a man that can bring Buffalo a championship. I have always been a major supporter of his. This season has shaken my faith and I begin to wonder myself if he should stay or go. If you’re in the same boat as me, here is a look at the 7 NHL coaching changes thus far this season:

St. Louis – Nov. 6 – Ken Hitchcock in, Davis Payne out. The Blues were 6-7-0 under Payne and have since gone 24-6-7 under former champion Ken Hitchcock. Nobody saw the success of the Blues coming, especially after they sold off most of their players late last season. Bringing in Cup-winning vets Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner are not a coincidence. Current Standings: 4th in the Western Conference, 2nd in the Central Division (just two points behind Detroit and with one game in hand).

Carolina – Nov. 28 – Kirk Muller in, Paul Maurice out. The Hurricanes have said goodbye to Maurice for the second and likely the last time. The team was 8-13-4 under Maurice and has not experienced much of a turnaround (going 10-11-5), as they are battling in the Eastern Conference basement with the Sabres and Islanders. Current Standings: 15th in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the Southeast Division (18 wins in 51 games).

Washington – Nov. 28 – Dale Hunter in, Bruce Boudreau out. Here come the Capitals! While Hunter had a slow start with the team that absolutely quit playing under Boudreau, they are trending upwards and gaining momentum. Ovechkin has yet to snap out of his funk (for lack of a better term). Boudreau had the team at 12-8-1 before the Sabres destroyed them in late November and are 14-11-2 under Hunter. Current Standings: 3rd in the East, 1st in the Southeast (the Capitals and Panthers have the same amount of points at 55, but the Caps have the tiebreaker).

Anaheim – Dec. 1 – Bruce Boudreau in, Randy Carlyle out. The Ducks are currently red hot and look like the team that not only won the Stanley Cup a few years ago, but the one that finished last season on a tear. Things didn’t look up for the first month of Boudreau’s reign, but January was good to the Ducks. They are 11-10-3 since the change. Seeing that Boudreau received a job (and perhaps other offers) just after getting fired, I would expect the same for Lindy Ruff. Oh, and the Ducks were 7-13-4 before Boudreau came in. The playoffs are a long shot, but never say never on a team that has Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry. Current Standings: 13th in the West, 5th in the Pacific.

Los Angeles – Dec. 12 – Darryl Sutter in, Terry Murray out. Much like the Sabres, the Kings had high expectations coming into the season. After an average start, the Kings hired interim coach John Stevens (2-2-0) and then brought Sutter in. Under Murray, the team was 13-12-4. Since Stevens came in, Sutter has the team in the top 8, going 9-2-6. This is perhaps the biggest turnaround. Current Standings: 7th in the West, 2nd in the Pacific.

Montreal – Dec. 17 – Randy Cunneyworth in, Jacques Martin out. Longtime Rochester Americans coach and former Sabre Randy Cunneyworth replaces the former Ottawa coach. There is a big controversery over the fact that Cunneyworth cannot speak French, as he is the first coach in Montreal history to not be bilingual. I think this is a ridiculous distraction, and Montreal’s season isn’t going anywhere. The 13-12-7 team under Martin has gone 6-9-2 under Cunneyworth.
Current Standings: 11th in the East, 4th in the Northeast.

Columbus – Jan. 9 – Todd Richards in, Scott Arniel out. 11-25-5 through January 9. Can you say “2012 First Overall Draft Pick?” The Blue Jackets are a mess and in the middle of a season in which I saw this team battling for a playoff spot. Poor Rick Nash. At least the All-Star game will be played in Columbus in 2013. Look for them to rebuild. Again. Even after grabbing stars Jeff Carter and James Wisnieswki, the team is in no better shape. Philadelphia is laughing at the fact that they were able to dump Carter’s decade-long contract. 2-5-1 is the record under Richards. Current Standings: 15th in the West, 5th in the Central.

The summary is this: of the 7 teams that changed coaches, 3 are in playoff position, 3 have improved their records (the other 4 either have continued at the same pace or gotten worse), and 4 are 23rd or worse in the overall standings. Food for thought.

The Sabres playoff push begins tonight against Montreal.

Josiah LeRoy
(Twitter @JosiahDLeRoy)

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