How do NHL Replacement Coaches Perform?

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin may be the best two players of the past decade. However, despite having these two superstars and numerous other stars over the past several years, the Penguins had been held without a Stanley Cup since the 2008-09 season. That changed last year when Mike Sullivan (I washed his golf clubs once, true story) took over for Mike Johnston after a so-so start was deemed not good enough by the big-wigs in Pittsburgh. The Penguins played great down the stretch and ultimately beat the Sharks in the Stanley Cup. Oddly enough, the Penguins team that won back in 2009 was also led by a mid-season replacement coach.

This season, four head coaches have already gotten the heave-ho with Claude Julien being the most recent. What should Bruins fans expect? While the Bruins aren’t exactly as good as the Penguins were last season, they’re also not tanking anytime soon. Right now, it appears that every team except the Panthers are pretty happy with their coaching change. Considering how tight the standings are, all four teams could easily make the playoffs and unlike the NBA, it’s fairly common that you see a low seeded team reach or win the Stanley Cup.

In the table below, you’ll see each coach, their record (counting OT and SO losses as a normal loss since this is gambling focused), and the amount of units you’d have won or lost if you bet on them every game.

Team Original Coach Record Units Replacement Record Units
Boston Bruins Claude Julien 26-29 -7.9 Bruce Cassidy 2-0 +1.3
St. Louis Blues Ken Hitchcock 24-26 -5.5 Mike Yeo 5-1 +4.4
New York Islanders Jack Capuano 17-25 -5.3 Doug Weight 7-4 +3.4
Florida Panthers Gerard Gallant 11-11 -1.4 Tom Rowe 13-19 -6.5
TOTAL 78-91 (46.1%) -20.1 (-11.9% ROI) TOTAL 27-24 (52.9%) +2.6 (5.1% ROI)

(Records through Saturday, 2/11/17)

Not too shabby, eh? All four of these teams had high hopes for this season and none of them were pleased with the way their season had been going. The Panthers firing of Gerard Gallant seemed a bit premature and it would seem that they are regretting that choice so far. The other three teams have appeared to have gotten a spark with their new coaches (small sample sizes aside).

So, is this how it always works? Does firing a head coach turn a team’s season around, or should you expect them to play essentially the same as they had before the coaching change?

I’ve gone ahead and taken a look at every NHL mid-season coaching change since the 2005-06 season to see how the teams were doing before the original coach was fired and how they did the rest of the season. Excluding the four from this season, 45 teams have axed their coach midway through the season and two teams have had three coaches during the season.

Year, Team Original Coach Record Units Replacement Record Units
2015-16 CBJ Todd Richards 0-7 -7.0 John Tortorella 34-41 -2.1
2015-16 PIT Mike Johnston 15-13 -1.0 Mike Sullivan 33-21 +5.3
2015-16 MIN Mike Yeo 23-32 -12.4 John Torchetti 15-12 0.0
2014-15 OTT Paul MacLean 11-16 -3.6 Dave Cameron 32-23 +9.8
2014-15 EDM Dallas Eakins 7-24 -15.8 Todd Nelson 17-34 -4.5
2014-15 NJD Peter DeBoer 12-24 -11.1 Adam Oates/ Scott Stevens* 20-26 -6.2
2014-15 TOR Randy Carlyle 21-19 +4.0 Peter Horachek 9-33 -22.8
2013-14 PHI Peter Laviolette 0-3 -3.0 Craig Berube 42-37 +3.4
2013-14 BUF Ron Rolston 4-16 -8.0 Ted Nolan 16-45 -21.0
2013-14 FLA Kevin Dineen 3-13 -8.9 Peter Horachek 26-40 -6.1
2013-14 WIN Claude Noel 19-28 -7.0 Paul Maurice 18-17 +6.2
2012-13 BUF Lindy Ruff 6-11 -4.5 Ron Rolston 15-16 +4.8
2012-13 TB Guy Boucher 13-19 -7.8 Scott Cooper 5-11 -6.5
2011-12 CAR Paul Maurice 8-17 -7.4 Kirk Muller 25-32 -2.0
2011-12 WAS Bruce Boudreau 12-10 -1.9 Dale Hunter 30-30 -2.4
2011-12 ANA Randy Carlyle 7-17 -9.6 Bruce Boudreau 27-31 -4.1
2011-12 LA Terry Murray 13-16 -5.3 John Stevens/Darryl Sutter** 27-26 -2.5
2011-12 MON Jacques Martin 13-19 -5.1 Randy Cunneyworth 18-32 -12.1
2011-12 TOR Ron Wilson 29-35 -5.4 Randy Carlyle 6-12 -4.8
2011-12 CBJ Scott Arniel 11-30 -15.4 Todd Richards 18-23 +6.1
2011-12 STL Davis Payne 6-7 -0.2 Ken Hitchcock 43-26 +5.9
2010-11 NJD John MacLean 9-24 -14.7 Jacques Lemaire 29-20 +7.0
2010-11 NYI Scott Gordon 4-13 -7.5 Jack Capuano 36-39 -2.3
2009-10 PHI John Stevens 13-12 -2.2 Peter Laviolette 28-29 -6.1
2009-10 STL Andy Murray 17-23 -1.8 Davis Payne 23-19 +4.6
2009-10 CBJ Ken Hitchock 22-36 -13.5 Claude Noel 10-14 -2.5
2008-09 PIT Michel Therrien 27-30 -7.6 Dan Bylsma 18-7 +7.0
2008-09 NYR Tom Renney 31-30 -5.6 John Tortorella 12-9 +1.5
2008-09 CHI Denis Savard 1-3 -2.2 Joel Quenneville 45-33 +3.0
2008-09 MON Guy Carbonneau 35-31 -3.4 Bob Gainey 6-10 -6.4
2008-09 OTT Craig Hartsburg 17-31 -15.4 Cory Clouston 19-15 +5.5
2008-09 CAR Peter Laviolette 12-13 -1.2 Paul Maurice 33-23 +5.8
2008-09 TB Barry Melrose 6-11 -4.5 Rick Tocchet 20-46 -16.4
2007-08 OTT John Paddock 36-28 -4.3 Bryan Murray 7-10 -4.4
2007-08 WAS Glen Hanlon 6-15 -6.7 Bruce Boudreau 36-24 +12.8
2007-08 ATL Bob Hartley 0-6 -6.0 Don Waddell 34-42 +1.4
2006-07 PHI Ken Hitchcock 1-7 -5.7 John Stevens 21-53 -17.2
2006-07 STL Mike Kitchen 7-21 -11.2 Andy Murray 27-27 +16.0
2006-07 CBJ Gerard Gallant 5-10 -4.7 Gary Agnew/Ken Hitchcock*** 28-39 +5.7
2006-07 CHI Trent Yawney 7-14 -2.9 Denis Savard 24-37 -3.4
2005-06 NJD Larry Robinson 13-18 -6.3 Lou Lamiorello 32-18 +10.7
2005-06 NYI Steve Stirling 18-23 -4.2 Brad Shaw 18-22 -0.2
2005-06 PIT Ed Olczyk 8-22 -10.1 Michel Therrien 14-37 -10.1
2005-06 MON Claude Julien 18-22 -4.9 Bob Gainey 23-18 +5.2
2005-06 LA Andy Murray 37-32 -1.6 John Torchetti 5-7 -0.8
TOTAL 583-851 (40.7%) -284.6 (-19.8% ROI) TOTAL 1024-1166 (46.8%) -39.2 (-1.8% ROI)

(* Co-Coaches) (** Stevens went 2-2 as interim before Sutter took over) (***Agnew went 0-5 as interim before Hitchcock took over)

As we can see, the coaches that were fired were, in general, terrible. From a gambling standpoint, betting on them would have resulted in close to a -20% ROI, which is a feat in itself. Just as a guideline, if you had bet on each team, every game, for the past decade, you’d end up at about a -2% ROI.

Seven of the coaches that were fired had winning records at the time and only one was profitable (Randy Carlyle, 2014-15 Toronto). On the flipside, nine teams were more than 10 units in the red at the time they fired their coach. Edmonton’s Dallas Eakins was the worst at -15.8 units at the time of his firing.

If we look at the replacements, we see wildly different results. As a whole, their winning percentage is about 6% higher than the coaches they replaced. Their ROI essentially returns to the average of -2%.

34 of the 45 teams had a better winning percentage with their replacement coach, which means that 75% of the time, firing the coach is at least a short-term improvement. Strangely enough, that same 75% rate has applied to the four teams that have fired their coach this season.

17 of the 45 have actually had records over .500, while 20 have been profitable. While 75% of the replacements have helped their team become “better”, only about half of those teams have actually been “good”. Obviously some of these teams would have been cellar-dwellers no matter who was behind the bench so some of the blame has to be put on the players rather than the coach.

A handful of these teams have gone on to make the playoffs and as you’ll see, they’ve had quite a bit of success.

Year Coach Record Units Result
2015-16 PIT Mike Sullivan 16-8 +4.9 Won Stanley Cup
2015-16 MIN John Torchetti 2-4 -1.4 Lost in 1st Rd
2014-15 OTT David Cameron 2-4 -1.7 Lost in 1st Rd
2013-14 PHI Craig Berube 3-4 -0.6 Lost in 1st Rd
2011-12 WAS Dale Hunter 7-7 +2.3 Lost in 2nd Rd
2011-12 LAK Darryl Sutter 16-4 +11.2 Won Stanley Cup
2011-12 STL Ken Hitchcock 4-5 -1.9 Lost in 2nd Rd
2009-10 PHI Peter Laviolette 14-9 +4.2 Lost Stanley Cup
2008-09 PIT Dan Bylsma 16-7 +7.2 Won Stanley Cup
2008-09 NYR John Tortorella 3-4 +0.6 Lost in 1st Rd
2008-09 CHI Joel Quenneville 9-8 0.0 Lost in 3rd Rd
2008-09 MON Bob Gainey 0-4 -4.0 Lost in 1st Rd
2008-09 CAR Paul Maurice 8-10 +0.2 Lost in 3rd Rd
2007-08 OTT Bryan Murray 0-4 -4.0 Lost in 1st Rd
2007-08 WAS Bruce Boudreau 2-4 -1.9 Lost in 1st Rd
2005-06 NJD Lou Lamiorello 5-4 -1.3 Lost in 2nd Rd
2005-06 MON Bob Gainey 2-4 -0.5 Lost In 1st Rd
Total 109-94 (53.7%) +13.3 (6.6% ROI)

Three of the 11 Stanley Cups won in this sample size have been won by replacement coaches. 16 teams make the playoffs each year, making a total of 176 playoff teams over the past 11 seasons. Only 17 teams with replacement coaches have made the playoffs, which is essentially 10% of the total. With that being said, statistically, you’d expect maybe one of those teams to win the Stanley Cup, not three.

A replacement coach can’t turn a terrible team into a great one, but they have shown their ability to turn an average team into a great one. For all you NHL executives out there reading this, if you’re on the fence about firing your coach: do it.

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One comment on “How do NHL Replacement Coaches Perform?
  1. Nice article Mark. Can you tell me what the record of these teams is on the 1st game with the new coach? I know it’s 3-1 this year, it’s a favorite angle of mine, I wonder if it’s a winning move. Thanks

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