The Blues season is over, ending two games short of making it to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1970. Because of the disappointment of getting knocked out, I’m hearing some fans suggest that the Blues replace coach Ken Hitchcock.
With Finals coaches Peter DeBoer of San Jose and Mike Sullivan of Pittsburgh in their first years with their teams, perhaps the Blues just need that jolt of energy a first year coach brings to get over the hump.
Since the 2004-2005 lockout (AKA the salary cap era), there have been eleven Stanley Cups (including this season), and 22 coaching appearances.
That leaves out coaches that repeated going to the Finals with the same team (Joel Quenneville twice after his first Finals appearance, Darryl Sutter once, Claude Julien once, Mike Babcock once), giving us seventeen coaches in the Finals for the first time with their team.
Of those seventeen, seven reached the Finals in their first year with their franchise; Dan Bylsma with the ’09 Penguins, Peter Laviolette with the ’10 Flyers, Darryl Sutter with the ’12 Kings, DeBoer with the ’12 Devils, Alain Vigneault with the ’14 Rangers, and DeBoer with the Sharks and Mike Sullivan with the Penguins this year.
Notably, none of the seventeen taking a team to the Finals for the first time were with their team as long as six years, as Hitchcock would be next season.
Four Finals coaches; Craig McTavish with the ’06 Oilers, Randy Carlyle with the ’07 Ducks, Bylsma with the ’09 Penguins and Jon Cooper with last year’s Lightning, were in their first NHL coaching job. So thirteen of seventeen had coached at least one team in the NHL before taking their club to the Stanley Cup finals. Those are pretty strong numbers, and make me believe that if a change occurs, the Blues need someone with experience.
In the eleven years since the lockout, a coach has been fired after making the playoffs 28 times, and eighteen times the team has returned to the post-season.
Of those eighteen times, five coaches have led their teams to the Finals in their first season after taking over a team that had disappointed in the playoffs the year before. Bylsma in ’09 and Sullivan this year in Pittsburgh, Laviolette with the 2010 Flyers, Sutter with the Kings in 2012 and Vigneault in 2013 with the Rangers. The two times since ’06 that a first year coach led a team that hadn’t been to the playoffs the year before to the Finals have both been turned in by DeBoer, with the ’12 Devils and this year’s Sharks.
Overall, the numbers indicate that it isn’t a bad bet to replace a playoff coach. That being said, there hasn’t been a coach that took his team to the conference finals or farther that was relieved of his duties immediately after that season. Ottawa’s Bryan Murray left coaching to concentrate on the GM job immediately after the Senators Finals appearance in 2007, and the Penguins fired Michel Thierren during the season after he took the Pens to the 2008 Finals.
If the Blues are going to replace Hitchcock, they should have guidelines.
First, the replacement should be a proven winner. DeBoer, New York’s Alain Vigneault, Sutter, Laviolette and Mike Babcock all took multiple teams to the Finals. Secondly, he should have a style that fits with the Blues current heavy roster. And third, he should be able to get the most out of Vladimir Tarasenko.
Right now, there are four coaches on the market that fit those criteria.
Former Anaheim and Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, who won the 2007 Stanley Cup with the Ducks. Ron Wilson, who has coached four teams and led Washington to the 1998 Finals. McTavish, a former Blue who is currently in Edmonton’s front office after leading the Oilers to the 2006 Western Conference Championship. And Larry Robinson, who led the 2000 Devils to the Stanley Cup and is an associate coach with the Sharks.
Of course, the Blues could turn to one of their assistants, Kirk Muller or Brad Shaw, or one of their front office people like Al MacInnis or Martin Brodeur. But winning coaching experience should be a prerequisite for any replacement for Hitchcock.
At the end of the day, there may not be a clear option better than Hitch.
He did a sensational job working around the injuries this season, and did have the club two games away from the Finals. Moving on from him isn’t a complete roll of the dice, but it may not be the panacea many fans are looking for, either.
The chart below details each time since the lockout that a team has fired a coach that took his team to the playoffs.