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The best midseason coaching changes in recent NHL history

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The life cycle of an NHL coach is fickle and often unfair.

A cold start, shooting stars, and cold winter speed bumps can have even the most prestigious winner, Jack Adams, pack up his clothes and head to the airport — — in the blink of an eye.

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This season, despite being only a month old, there are already at least half a dozen names in the hot seat to varying degrees, all struggling to get their teams to the start of the season fans and pundits have tagged them for.

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Teams like the St. Louis Blues, who lost eight games in a row, and the Vancouver Canucks, who took their first victory only in October, are among the most vocal fan bases out for blood, but they’re far from the only clubs. looking forward to hockey. can save his season.

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Others, such as the lowly Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets and even the Toronto Maple Leafs, deeply rooted in the pressure cooker market at the center of the hockey universe, surrounded a coaching hum that ranged from a dull tone to a deafening roar, often leaning more towards the latter. .

There's no guarantee that a mid-season change of coach can change the course of an NHL team's season, but these hires will go down in history as some of the best.  (Getty images)
Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan took the NHL by storm when he replaced Mike Johnston on the bench in 2015 to win back-to-back Stanley Cups. (Getty images)

All of this begs the question that lies at the heart of any franchise-changing decision, such as those that concern any bench boss: can firing a coach mid-season change the fortunes of your club?

The simple answer is yes, but it’s much more complicated.

For every 2022 Jay Woodcroft with a brilliant .724 win percentage and a run to the Western Conference Finals, there are a dozen more 2015 Peter Horacek, each with their own setbacks. littered throughout recent NHL history.

So, who is the best trainer to jump into the fray in the middle of their team’s campaign? And have they all dramatically changed the tone of their franchise?


Bruce Cassidy (2016-17)

On February 7, 2017, as the Boston Bruins sat behind the scenes of the playoffs, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney sent his longtime coach, Claude Julien, to pack. With a 26-23-6 average, the Bruins have struggled to regain their relevance since their trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2013.

Julien’s club had missed the playoffs in both previous seasons and it seemed that his message was starting to get old for the Black and Golds.

He was replaced by Bruce Cassidy. at the time, as he had not coached at the NHL level since leading the hapless Washington Capitals until the 2005 lockout. .

Cassidy, however, found a way to pull the Bruins out of the slump, ending the year 18-8-1 as interim bench boss before his club was eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, earning their permanent responsibilities. as head coach.

The run will mark the first of six consecutive Stanley Cup playoff appearances for the Bruins under Cassidy, including a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2019 and a victory for Jack Adams in 2020.

Unfortunately, all that success still wouldn’t be enough, as failing to win the hockey grand prix unexpectedly cost him his job in the 2022 off-season. However, this mid-season trade could hardly be called anything other than a resounding victory, even if it didn’t lead to an outright Bruins victory.

Rick Bowness (2019-20)

Speaking of getting closer to the grand prize, Rick Bowness and his Dallas stars nearly won it all during their first season at the helm.

Replacing Jim Montgomery, who left the club due to .

In fact, Bowness’s real shining moment only came after the NHL suspended operations due to COVID-19 and eventually returned to play in the infamous bubble.

Isolated from the rest of the world, the Stars fired up, surprisingly reaching the Stanley Cup Finals as the fourth seed and nearly toppling the Tampa Bay Lightning dynasty before it even began.

However, perhaps the manager’s greatest achievement was to unleash the offensive potential of Miro Heiskanen, who at the age of 20 scored 26 points in 27 playoff games.

Unfortunately for Bowness, this success was not repeated in his later years as a Stars coach. In the next two seasons, the Stars will miss the playoffs altogether in 2021 and then lose in the first round to the Calgary Flames in 2022, marking the end of his stay in Texas.

Dominique Ducharme (2020-21)

While the Montreal Canadiens’ disastrous start to the 2021-2022 season will always define Ducharme’s tenure as head coach of the Canadiens, his shortened 2021 campaign was an absolute disaster for Montreal.

Replacing Claude Julien, who seems to be on the wrong side of these things all too often, Ducharme’s regular season was, frankly, pretty awful all things considered. Replacing Julien on February 24, 2021, the Canadiens posted a respectable, if unimpressive, 9-5-4 record, losing five of their previous six.

From that point on, however, DuCharme’s Canadiens fared even worse, playing under .500 hockey points in his 38 games as head coach, finishing 15-16-7 and advancing to the postseason only because of the strongest Northern Division.

At least that’s what the conventional wisdom went before the Canadiens’ first round matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which we now know was .

Montreal would use that momentum until the Stanley Cup Finals, shocking the entire hockey world, before finally losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning like their Dallas Stars brethren did a year earlier.

Ducharme, of course, would last less than seven months in that position and win just eight games with the Canadiens before being fired in favor of Martin St. Louis.

Still, it’s hard to argue that Ducharme’s mid-season replacement was anything but a resounding success, at least initially, for the Canadiens that season.


John Cooper (2012-13)

John Cooper’s place on this list is quite different from any of the previous three, although this list would be incomplete without him included.

Cooper struggled hard in his first season as head coach, replacing Guy Boucher and his 13-17-1 record in March of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 NHL season.

With his club already well on its way to playing Nathan McKinnon, Cooper was unable to turn his success with the AHL affiliate of the Lightning’s Syracuse Crunch into victories for the NHL team, delivering a meager 5-9-3 record en route to third overall. . 2013 NHL draft pick.

However, what followed was nothing less than John Cooper’s master class. It completely turned the tide for the Lightning, bringing them back to the playoffs the very next season and taking them to the Finals the year after in 2015.

The Lightning have since become a National Hockey League class under Cooper’s tutelage. Except for an injury-riddled 2016-17 season, and in 2019, the Lightning have reached the conference finals every year under Cooper since 2015.

Of course, they also did it by winning two Stanley Cups as Cooper quickly wrote himself into the annals of hockey history as one of the game’s greatest coaches.

Craig Berub (2018-19)

On January 2, 2019, the St. Louis Blues finished last in the entire NHL with a 15-18-4 record.

The club, which played the first 19 games of its season under head coach Mike Yeoh, struggled a lot, while interim head coach Craig Berube did not fare much better with his own 8-9-1 record at the time.

Just a few short weeks later, after calling out former goalie prospect Jordan Binnington from AHL affiliate San Antonio Rampage, the club found new gear.

Berube and his new starting goaltender, ranked second in Calder’s ballot that season, eventually went from worst to first, finishing the year 40-20-5 and then reaching the Stanley Cup Final after Binnington’s heroism.

Once there, the club became the first team to move from last place in the standings at any point after their 20th game of the season to defeating the Boston Bruins in seven games to secure the club’s first-ever championship.

It’s pretty hard to do better as a mid-season replacement than win the whole damn game, but Berube did just that, taking his team out of the doldrums to the league’s highest peak.

Perhaps he could turn to this club for inspiration after his side’s mediocre start in 2022-23.

The best

Mike Sullivan (2015-16)

What’s better than winning the Stanley Cup as a mid-season replacement? What about back-to-back championships as a mid-season replacement?

That’s exactly what Mike Sullivan did in 2015-16 and 2016-17 when he led Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins to their first NHL repeat champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston, who led the Penguins to a disappointing 15-10-3 start after the club pushed them. purchase Phil Kessel.

Perhaps even crazier was that the Penguins somehow had a Kessel blockbuster that would allow them to keep their first-round pick if they missed the playoffs, which seemed crazy at the time but looked in the game. when Johnston was fired on 12 December. , 2015.

After the change in coach, things began to improve for the Penguins as the club turned around in a hurry. Crosby started after a slow start to his campaign, while Sullivan eventually unified the famed Penguins, which was instrumental in the club’s first quest for Stanley Cup supremacy, ensuring that Kessel would eventually become .

Then, in an encore, Sullivan helped the Penguins improve their record to 50–21–11, two more wins than the 2015–16 season, and ended the club’s fourth (and most recent) season with 50 wins over their then 50 -year history. . As soon as the playoffs hit, Sullivan helped Crosby get stronger and…


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