On Sunday, Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray fired his coach Randy Carlyle and replaced him with someone he knew quite well: Himself, jumping behind the bench for the first time in his career so he could feel the heat of this dumpster fire.
“I didn’t feel it was right to bring anybody in at this point in time,” Murray explained. “I had to be here. I had go downstairs and live it with these guys. I have to find out everything going on down here. It’s more problematic than I thought a while ago.”
Every team has its problems. It’s just a matter of how team management chooses to address them. Usually, it ends up as it did in Anaheim, with a coach losing his job.
Murray will be the 12th new coach to step behind the bench in the NHL since the end of the 2017-18 regular season. We figured it was a good time to take a look how the rest of them have impacted their teams, whether these changes have been for better or worse, and how hot their seats are going forward. Starting with our least effective …
11. Ken Hitchcock, Edmonton Oilers (Nov. 20, 2018)
Record: 15-16-4 | Hot seat rating: 10
In the most general sense, Hitchcock replacing Todd McLellan after 20 games this season is a abject failure because it fell short of its one particular objective: Saving the job of general manager Peter Chiarelli, who was fired on Jan. 22.
More specifically, it was supposed to turn the Oilers around into a playoff team, and Hitch is running just ahead (.486 points percentage) of where McLellan (.475) had the team. The offense outside of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl is paltry. The goaltending, which Hitchcock used to repair through his mere presence during stints with other teams, is third worst in the NHL (.893 save percentage).
Sure, there’s still a chance the Oilers could make the playoffs because the West wild-card race has slightly more teams involved than a March Madness bracket. But even if they did, would the next general manager want Hitchcock as his coach? Or, more to the point, would Hitch want another season of this? (And by “this” we of course mean “Mikko Koskinen.”)
10. Willie Desjardins, Los Angeles Kings (Nov. 4, 2018)
Record: 19-19-4 | Hot seat rating: 10
Firing John Stevens just 13 games into the season remains a panicky, reactionary, ‘Please don’t let us slip into the abyss of anonymity while LeBron and the Rams suck up all the air in L.A.’ move by management. Whether the Kings would have cycled back up in play with him behind the bench, as they somewhat have for Desjardins, is debatable. That this disaster of a season is a problem with construction — the Kings being an old, slow team in a young, fast league — rather than coaching isn’t debatable. An interim coach wasn’t going to change that.
Record: 13-8-3 | Hot seat rating: 8
The Flyers were 13-15-4 on Dec. 18. Since then, they’ve gone 12-8-3. That date may end up being significant in Flyers’ history. Not because it was the debut of interim coach Scott Gordon, promoted from the AHL after new GM Chuck Fletcher cut loose the old GM’s last coaching hire, Dave Hakstol. But instead because it was the NHL debut of another AHL call-up: Carter Hart. Hart has started 17 of Gordon’s 24 games as head coach and is responsible for 11 of his 13 wins, with a .926 save percentage and a 2.45 goals-against average.
Gordon deserves credit for parts of this Flyers surge back up the Eastern Conference standings. His approach to the players is a total 180 from the tension convention under Hakstol, for example. But the Flyers are scoring less on average under him (2.83) than Hakstol (3.00) yet are winning more thanks to the stabilization of their goaltending. Gordon is not the first coach whose success is manufactured by stellar goaltending, but that’s the scenario here.
His interim status and the Flyers’ tenuous re-entry into playoff contention make his seat a bit toasty as Fletcher looks to make his first coaching hire. But anything goes if the Flyers actually make the cut.
8. Jim Montgomery, Dallas Stars (May 23, 2018)
Record: 28-22-5 | Hot seat rating: 6
Montgomery doesn’t have the strongest case for having improved the Stars. Their points percentage (.555) is off last year’s pace (.561). Their possession metrics, as well as offensive and defensive numbers at 5-on-5, are down from last season under Ken Hitchcock. One could argue that the year goalie Ben Bishop is having — a plus-15.44 goals saved above average in 34 games — is the reason the Stars are currently in a playoff sport.
But the bottom line is that they’re in a playoff spot. After team president Jim Lites savaged stars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in the media. After Montgomery himself proclaimed “I haven’t been able to change the culture of mediocrity” in early January. After a 2-6-0 run in December had Montgomery admitting that he lost his way as a coach.
He’s kept this ship sailing, and has gotten better in the job as the season’s gone on — witness recent lineup changes that sparked a five-game winning streak. Dallas is looking like a playoff team.
(For the record, his hot seat is at six because we’re not sure what happens to GM Jim Nill if Dallas falls short of the playoffs this season. A new GM could mean a new coach.)
Record: 28‑18‑6 | Hot seat rating: 3
It’s difficult to rate and rank Reirden. The Capitals aren’t winning (.609 points percentage) as they were last season under Barry Trotz (.640). They’re scoring more goals, but are also giving up more on average. Their special teams percentages are down from last season while their 5-on-5 metrics are up.
The defensive issues are, by far, the biggest concern for Capitals fans, although they do seem more systemic to the team’s personnel changes over time than anything Reirden’s done systems wise. The bigger issue might be that Reirden is learning as he goes as a first-time head coach, which includes how to handle slumps and how to manage egos, especially on a championship team, to maximize effort. It’s not coming together quite yet.
Record: 23-23-8 | Hot seat rating: 0
This year was a mulligan for the Rangers and Quinn, who walked into what he knew was going to be a slow and steady rebuild. He’s gotten more out of this Rangers team than many expected, as their 5-on-5 numbers are slightly better than they were last season under Alain Vigneault. But the most positive change between the former and current coaches is in the way Quinn handles young players. Look no further than Pavel Buchnevich. When Vigneault would scratch him, the moved seemed arbitrary; when Quinn does, it seems like part of a larger, concerted effort to cultivate his talent. Quinn has answered the hype from his BU-to-NHL leap and has proven effective in a no-stakes Year 1 for the Rangers.
Record: 16-18-6 | Hot seat rating: 1
Much was made about Colliton being 26 years younger than the man he replaced, Joel Quenneville. Heck, at 34 years old, he was one year younger than Duncan Keith, too. But that youthful optimism has served him well during this most unlikely of resurgences from the Blackhawks, as they climb the standings with a seven-game winning streak. Chicago is having fun and playing meaningful hockey, which are two things they seemed miles away from having when Quenneville’s historic run with the franchise ended after 15 games. It felt rather impossible as late as January.
How much of that falls to Colliton? A good part of it. After getting a few weeks under his belt — a “training camp” some argue he should have had in September had Chicago fired Quenneville in the summer — the Blackhawks started finding some structure they lacked this season. Their possession numbers went from being in the toilet to being middle of the pack. He gave some players more responsibility, challenging them. And Stan Bowman gave him a few new toys to play with.
They’re riding some heavy power-play and shooting percentage bumps through this winning streak, and will still likely fall short of the playoffs. But Colliton looks like he might be a keeper, and the fact that the Blackhawks are even in the playoff conversation now is stunning.
Record: 28-21-6 | Hot seat rating: 4
If the season ended today, the Hurricanes would have a better points percentage (.564) than they’ve had since 2008-09, a.k.a. the last time this franchise appeared in the postseason. So give Brind’Amour credit. For all the questions about his hiring as a total head coaching novice, he’s gotten something out of this squad, especially on offense. Their expected goals percentage (56.98) is way up from last season (53.12) while their possession numbers are higher than they were in Bill Peters’ last year. That the Hurricanes are 21st in goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (2.36) despite having the third-worst shooting percentage (6.81) is a heck of a trick.
Off the ice, Brind’Amour has cracked the whip but also allowed for rewards of the team’s effort, like the Hurricanes’ goofy victory celebrations. He’s worked smartly with team consigliere Justin Williams to manage this roster with an ex-player’s insight. But let’s face it: In Tom Dundon’s world, it’s all about the results. And Brind’Amour’s Hurricanes aren’t yet a playoff team.
3. Craig Berube, St. Louis Blues (Nov. 19, 2018)
Record: 19-13-2 | Hot seat rating: 8
When Berube was hired on an interim basis, after the Mike Yeo ‘hired your next coach to be on the bench with your current coach’ experiment failed after parts of three seasons, his Blues promptly went 3-5-1. By Jan. 3, they were in last place in the entire NHL. Rumors that the entire roster, including Vladimir Tarasenko, was available circulated.
And now they’re in a playoff seed, having won six in a row. What a league.
While the goaltending of rookie Jordan Binnington (1.72, .931) stabilized this team in his 13 games, this turnaround can’t just be credited to the crease. Berube has gotten this offense going through a reinvigorated forecheck, line juggling and an activated defense. Under Yeo, the Blues averaged 2.95 goals per game. Since Jan. 3, they’ve scored at a 3.11 goals per game clip under Berube.
More importantly, he’s managed to help the Blues locate their defensive responsibility again. Jake Allen saw a parade of odd-man rushes and choice scoring chances early in the season. In contrast, Binnington is seeing just 3.07 high-danger shots per game.
Despite all of this, we have to keep the temperature turned up on Berube’s hot seat. He’s an interim coach. Granted, if the Blues rally for a playoff spot, there’s a compelling case to keep him. But with so many big name coaches available (and the biggest, Joel Quenneville, having some St. Louis ties), his status as the next coach of the Blues isn’t on solid footing yet.
2. Bill Peters, Calgary Flames (April 23, 2018)
Record: 34-15-6 | Hot seat rating: 0
The Flames are a better possession team under Bill Peters. But that was sort of a given, wasn’t it? His Hurricanes teams were always top of the pops in Corsi, but were always torpedoed by either a sputtering offense or bad goaltending. So the pleasant surprise here for Peters in Calgary is an offense that’s the second-most potent in the NHL (3.67 goals per game) and goaltending that features 33 solid games of David Rittich being dragged down by 27 games of .889 goaltending by Mike Smith for a passable .901 team save percentage.
How much of the offensive spark can be credited to Peters? A bit, we think. The Flames are averaging over two more shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 (30.97) to go along with the upticks in possession metrics and a plus-9.02 in expected goals.
But there’s a bunch more beyond the numbers here for Peters. The Flames talk about his attention to detail and preparation. “What we do in a game, what other teams do in a game, faceoffs, any small detail … We have it covered,” forward Garnet Hathaway told the Calgary Sun. “Every drill in practice, there are a few details that have to be hit. Otherwise, you’re up in the stands so you see that when we don’t get the details rights, we’ll start the drill over. I think that has helped us stay accountable and I think it’s helped us stay structured in our whole game. You can build off the small things. When you have those pretty strong foundations, I think it’s easier to keep improving.”
He walked into the Calgary room and addressed their issues from last season head-on and has their attention on and off the bench. There’s a lot that’s gone right for Calgary this season (and GM Brad Treliving should be credited as well), but Peters’ arrival isn’t coincidental to it.
Record: 32-16-6 | Hot seat rating: Negative-10
In hindsight, it was like a hockey rom-com. The Stanley Cup winning coach, jilted by his team over money and a desire to trade in for a younger model. The hapless franchise, jilted by their franchise player and summarily written off by much of the hockey world. They find each other out of necessity, and wouldn’t you know it, they made magic together.
But seriously: Trotz has helped tighten up the Islanders’ defense significantly. They’re averaging five fewer shots against per game over last season. Their goals-against per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play is 1.8 vs. 2.54 last season. Much of this is their system, but the play of Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss in goal — thanks in no small part to goalie guru Mitch Korn’s influence — has been outstanding.
They’re 10 points clear of the playoff bubble. Barring catastrophe, Trotz is going to do what no other hire will do in their first season at the new helm: Win the Jack Adams.
Bob Murray, Anaheim Ducks (Feb. 10, 2019)
It’s impossible to judge Murray as an NHL coach, given that this Lou Lamoriello cosplay is his first time behind the bench. We can, however, judge him as a general manager.
Is this an ideal roster for 2019? No. It’s too plodding and punch-less for the current incarnation of the NHL, which isn’t helped by the second line being anchored by a cicada shell that used to house Ryan Kesler. But the Ducks were also coming off seven straight seasons of over .600 points percentage hockey, and the West playoff bubble is so mediocre, so this should be a team that’s in a playoff spot right now.
That it isn’t falls on two things. First, goalie John Gibson‘s back broke from carrying the team for three months, and his .900 save percentage and 3.26 GAA in January contributed to their 19 losses in 21 games run. Second, Gibson’s collapse ultimately meant he could no longer be the air freshener covering up the stench of this team’s play under Randy Carlyle. Even in their best moments this season, the Ducks were a house of cards built on terrible possession metrics and an expected goal differential at 5-on-5 of minus-30.07, the worst in the NHL.
Like we said, we can’t judge Murray as head coach but we can judge him as a general manager. And in our judgement, he waited far too long to fire a coach whose team was being propped up Weekend At Bernie’s style by a goalie pushing for a Hart/Vezina sweep while the rest of the team withered. He did so because the coach was his friend, to the point where it took a 2-15-4 run and his team quitting on him to finally end his tenure. Look, they don’t give ticket refunds if your team loses, but darn, if Ducks fans wouldn’t have a class action suit for dereliction of duty here …
Anyway, good luck to coach Murray in his multi-week evaluation process. And to the next guy he hires to take over the Ducks as well.