Gerard Gallant said “it’s unbelievable what’s going on” in regards to NHL coaching changes.
Gallant had become the longest tenured coach in the Pacific Division after the San Jose Sharks fired Peter DeBoer four days earlier. Now, about a month later, Gallant is out after two-plus seasons as the Golden Knights’ coach and DeBoer is his replacement.
It’s the latest example of why NHL coaches should rent, not buy. Seven already have lost their jobs, and there are more than two months remaining in the regular season. The league record of 11 coaching changes in a season, from 2002-03, is in play.
All because sometimes these moves work. Two of the past four Stanley Cup champions were led by replacement coaches. Every team wants to be the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins or the 2019 St. Louis Blues.
“I would say yeah, I’ve been surprised (by the turnover),” New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz told reporters Thursday. “But, at the same time, there’s different pressures. There’s so much on the line for ownership, management. Expectations are the death of a lot of coaches.”
Trotz would know. He and the Washington Capitals parted ways in 2018 after he led them to the Stanley Cup title.
Firing a coach midseason has become commonplace for teams that begin with high hopes and disappoint early on. Everyone thinks they can find the next Mike Sullivan (Pittsburgh) or Craig Berube (St. Louis).
It doesn’t always work, but it does enough to make it a viable option. It’s also an easier change than blowing up an underachieving roster.
“(Gallant) and (assistant coach) Mike (Kelly), like I said, it was easier to let them go than let 15 of us go,” said Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who was part of the 2016 Penguins. “It’s just too bad that they’re the ones that had to pay for our inconsistency.”
Most new coaches have done what they’ve been charged to do. Whether it’s putting players on edge, the benefits of a new message or something more, coaching changes are getting results.
Midseason replacements were a combined 55-34-9 entering Thursday (.607 points percentage), when DeBoer debuted behind the Knights’ bench. Their predecessors were 82-77-24 (.513).
The Knights hope they see similar results by going from Gallant to DeBoer. If they do, that will just encourage more teams to continue to spin the coaching carousel faster and faster.
“The list is endless of teams that are in this situation at some point or another,” DeBoer said at his first news conference with the Knights. “A little bit of adversity is always a good thing.”
Another coach who might be feeling pressure is the Minnesota Wild’s Bruce Boudreau, who is working under a first-year general manager, Bill Guerin, who didn’t hire him.
Boudreau did himself no favors Tuesday. He incorrectly filled out his lineup card, and the Wild were forced to dress 13 forwards and five defensemen against Pittsburgh.
The grateful Penguins proceeded to score seven goals on Minnesota’s short-handed defense in superstar Sidney Crosby’s first game since Nov. 9.
Maybe double-check your work next time, Bruce.
RJ’s best and worst
Review-Journal hockey writer Ben Gotz gives his best and worst NHL teams each week (record and goal differential are through Friday):
1. Washington Capitals (32-11-5, +31)
Alexander Ovechkin has 30 goals in 48 games. He has never scored fewer than 30 in a season.
2. Boston Bruins (28-9-12, +34)
Their record would look much better if they weren’t 0-7 in shootouts. Keep practicing, Brad Marchand.
3. St. Louis Blues (30-10-8, +26)
Since Craig Berube was named coach Nov. 19, 2018, they’re 68-29-14.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (30-13-5, +34)
Sidney Crosby announced his return to the lineup Tuesday with a four-point night.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning (29-15-4, +38)
Since Dec. 23, they’re 12-2. Somehow, those losses are to the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild.
27. Anaheim Ducks (19-24-5, -28)
They have 19 power-play goals, tied for the second-fewest in the NHL.
28. New Jersey Devils (17-23-7, -42)
Firing general manager Ray Shero on Jan. 12 was a curious move. Interim GM Tom Fitzgerald should have a real shot to keep the job.
29. Los Angeles Kings (18-26-5, -30)
They have a few players on expiring deals that could create interest around the trade deadline.
30. Ottawa Senators (16-23-8, -36)
They are 1-5-4 in their past 10 games after Saturday’s win.
31. Detroit Red Wings (12-32-4, -82)
At least center Dylan Larkin got his wish: He wasn’t voted into the All-Star Game.