NHL Head Coaches Leaving at Record Rate

NHL Head coaches
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 10: Head coach Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights watches from the bench during the second period of the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 10, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

There have been seven (yes, that’s not a typo) NHL head coaches who have left their jobs during this 2019-20 season. Now, that seems to be an exorbitant number for just over a half-season of play. Some have been surprises and some have been expected due to their teams’ performance issues.

Let’s analyze all the NHL head coaches who have left and how that has affected each of their former teams.

NHL Head Coaches Gone This Season

Mike Babcock – Toronto Maple Leafs (173-133-45 in five seasons)

Mike Babcock had the dishonour of being the first head coach to get the axe this season. After going just 9-10-4 over the first 23 games of this season, it was time for Babcock to go. While he did some pretty good work getting the Toronto Maple Leafs back to a competitive team, things between him and upper management were getting tenuous, at best. If you coach in Toronto, the pressure to succeed is enormous. Sheldon Keefe has taken over the head coaching duties and has done very well with a 16-6-2 record.

So far, this looks to be a positive coaching change for the team. Time will tell and the Leafs certainly have a talented team. Now they need to show it.

John Hynes – New Jersey Devils (150-159-45 in five seasons)

John Hynes thought he’d have a very competitive New Jersey Devils team when the 2019-20 season began. After all, they had the first overall pick, Jack Hughes, and P.K. Subban added to his blueline. Just for good measure, they also signed tough-guy forward Wayne Simmonds. What looked good on paper didn’t get the job done on the ice and Hynes was let go. Hynes’ record was just as bad as Babcock’s, going 9-13-4 before he was gone. Alain Nasreddine was installed as an interim head coach and has done a bit better with an 8-9-3 mark.

While the Devils have improved marginally, the expectations for this season were exaggerated and whether Nasreddine stays behind the bench is still an undecided factor going forward.

Bill Peters – Calgary Flames (62-37-11 in two seasons)

Bill Peters was given the choice to resign after accusations of abuse spanning some ten years towards players both physically and racially were exposed. He decided to resign after an apology on November 29, 2019. While behaviour of this sort can never be condoned, at least Peters realized his actions held consequences. In his stead, Geoff Ward took over in an interim status and has turned this Calgary Flames team around. Ward has a very respectable 13-6-1 record and the Flames are again back on track.

It seems unthinkable that in any employment situation that abusive behaviour should be tolerated or ignored. There’s no place for it in the workplace and that includes professional sports.

Jim Montgomery – Dallas Stars (60-43-10 in two seasons)

Jim Montgomery was terminated as an employee of the Dallas Stars on December 10, 2019, for “unprofessional behaviour.” It was left at that until nearly a month later on January 3, 2020, that he stated that he admitted himself into an “inpatient residential program” for alcohol abuse. Good for him. Since Montgomery had a respectable 17-11-3 record over 31 games it became a mystery as to why he was fired. Again, his behaviour much like Peters cannot be accepted in the workplace. Rick Bowness took over the coaching reigns and has a 10-4-1 record thus far.

This coaching change, while imperative, has not affected the success of the team. The Stars are second in the Central Division and doing quite well.

Peter DeBoer –  San Jose Sharks (198-129-34 in five seasons)

December was not a good month for NHL head coaches, as Peter DeBoer fell into the ‘fired’ category on December 11, 2019, just one day after Montgomery’s firing. After losing five straight games and losing ground in a potential playoff spot, it was time for DeBoer to look for a new job… more on that later. The San Jose Sharks‘ defensive mediocrity and goaltending failures became too much to keep DeBoer in San Jose. Bob Boughner, replacing DeBoer, hasn’t fared much better, going 6-7-2 this season.

At this point, the Sharks are looking fairly pitiful, and even a head coach of Barry Trotz‘s capabilities may not be able to drag the Sharks to shore. Good luck Bob.

Peter Laviolette – Nashville Predators (248-143-60 in six seasons)

Peter Laviolette has taken the Nashville Predators to a Stanley Cup Final three years ago while also winning a President’s Trophy two years ago. Everything was fine, right? Nope. They have floundered this season under Laviolette (19-15-7) with inconsistency and some goaltending issues. That meant his demise. Adding a player like Matt Duchene was supposed to take them back to the promised land. Not so much. So, John Hynes who was let go in New Jersey and has some ties to the Nashville front office was brought in to fix the mess. He’s 2-2 so far.

The Predators are a quality team, and whether Hynes can jump-start the team back to reality is still unknown. The fact is, the Preds are a much better team than their record of 21-17-7.

Gerard Gallant – Vegas Golden Knights (188-113-62 in parts of three seasons)

This one had heads swimming when it was announced. Perhaps the Vegas Golden Knights have set their expectations so high with their immediate success over their first two-plus seasons that the bar has risen. The question is… as it always is, how much can the head coach do? The players must perform, and unfortunately, when they don’t, the coaching staff fronts the blame. Sometimes players are traded or demoted but most of the time, it’s the coach’s fault. Gerard Gallant took an expansion draft pool of players and directed them not only to the playoffs but the Stanley Cup finals in his first year. That wasn’t enough to keep his job.

In an extraordinary move, the Vegas team went to Peter Deboer, the second recently fired coach to go elsewhere. It’s too early to determine if this coaching change will be something upper management regrets or will boast about later in the season. Deboer is very qualified but firing Gallant seems to be nonsensical, especially with their success.

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