5 NHL coaches were fired during the regular season and as soon as the season ended, other teams wasted no time in shoving the head coaches out the door. And as usual, most were unfair. So far, four more coaches paid the price.
1. Dallas Stars – Lindy Ruff
Ruff is a good coach, but he has never won the big one. Last year, perhaps he got the Dallas Stars to over-achieve and that led management and fans to expect big things this season. But Dallas – with many notable big names and star players – did not show anything this year. Instead of building on or at least matching last year’s progress, Dallas regressed back to their old position of two years ago, so Ruff’s dismissal could have been predicted. Dallas has a lot of big salaries for underachieving players so many of them could be next and Dallas has made that clear by imitating Anaheim and bringing back their only Stanley Cup winning coach, Ken Hitchcock whom St. Louis fired earlier.
2. Florida Panthers – Tom Rowe
Florida is in the unique position of firing their coach during the regular season and then firing his successor in the off-season. Gerard Gallant had taken the Panthers to a seldom-realized division title last year and actually had a winning record this year too when Florida without any warning became the first team to fire a coach and replace him with General Manager, Tom Rowe. But of the 5 teams that fired their coaches during the regular season, the Panthers were the only team not to respond to the new coach and improve. Now Rowe has been removed as both coach and general manager, but at least retains a job as special adviser. Dale Tallon is back in the General Manager’s harness. All this is done by an organization that seldom makes the playoffs, ensuring consistent bad attendance, and is a leading candidate to be shifted to Quebec, Hartford, or elsewhere. Florida is a laughingstock and these coaching changes show why. Unlike Tampa Bay where hockey is popular, the ownership and management are a major reason why hockey remains unpopular in the southern part of the state. Gallant was a leading candidate to be hired in the off season and the new Las Vegas Golden Knights showed their savvy by making him their first-ever coach, something that might have been predicted.
3. Vancouver Canucks – Willie Desjardins
If any coaching change was the most unfair during this season, this has to rank near the top. Desjardins was placed in charge of a team on the way down, with its two top stars, the Sedin brothers over the hill and near retirement. Somehow he was expected to turn this team that has no top young draft choices on its roster into winners. Even in this downward spiral, Desjardins had approximately a .500 record over three seasons. Vancouver needed to rebuild with young stars as early as back then. Who is the Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews on this team? No one. Not even the best of coaches can do anything if the team’s top players are aging and in decline and no good young talent for the future has been added. How good a coach was Desjardins? We’ll never know, at least in Vancouver.
4. Los Angeles – Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi
This ranks near the top as the most controversial change of the season, Los Angeles getting rid of the coach and general manager who gave them their only two championships. Admittedly, Lombardi might have slipped. Since the last championship, the Los Angeles attack has consistently declined and Lombardi has failed to find the right replacements either by draft, trade, or free agent signing. Trading for Ben Bishop when the team needed more offense was extremely questionable. But do you take such an extreme step as firing him only three years after winning it all for the second time? And the decline of attacking personnel is hardly Darryl Sutter’s fault. He still has this team playing well defensively. Lombardi and Sutter will immediately become leading candidates to be hired again sometime and somewhere in the future.