How do NHL Replacement Coaches Perform?

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.

TeamOriginal CoachRecordUnitsReplacementRecordUnits
Boston BruinsClaude Julien26-29-7.9Bruce Cassidy2-0+1.3
St. Louis BluesKen Hitchcock24-26-5.5Mike Yeo5-1+4.4
New York IslandersJack Capuano17-25-5.3Doug Weight7-4+3.4
Florida PanthersGerard Gallant11-11-1.4Tom Rowe13-19-6.5
TOTAL78-91 (46.1%)-20.1 (-11.9% ROI)TOTAL27-24 (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, TeamOriginal CoachRecordUnitsReplacement RecordUnits
2015-16 CBJTodd Richards0-7-7.0John Tortorella34-41-2.1
2015-16 PITMike Johnston15-13-1.0Mike Sullivan33-21+5.3
2015-16 MINMike Yeo23-32-12.4John Torchetti15-120.0
2014-15 OTTPaul MacLean11-16-3.6Dave Cameron32-23+9.8
2014-15 EDMDallas Eakins 7-24-15.8Todd Nelson17-34-4.5
2014-15 NJDPeter DeBoer12-24-11.1Adam Oates/ Scott Stevens*20-26-6.2
2014-15 TORRandy Carlyle21-19 +4.0Peter Horachek9-33-22.8
2013-14 PHIPeter Laviolette0-3-3.0Craig Berube42-37+3.4
2013-14 BUFRon Rolston4-16-8.0Ted Nolan16-45-21.0
2013-14 FLAKevin Dineen3-13-8.9Peter Horachek26-40-6.1
2013-14 WINClaude Noel19-28-7.0Paul Maurice18-17+6.2
2012-13 BUFLindy Ruff6-11-4.5Ron Rolston15-16+4.8
2012-13 TBGuy Boucher13-19-7.8Scott Cooper5-11-6.5
2011-12 CARPaul Maurice8-17-7.4Kirk Muller25-32-2.0
2011-12 WASBruce Boudreau12-10-1.9Dale Hunter30-30-2.4
2011-12 ANARandy Carlyle7-17-9.6Bruce Boudreau27-31-4.1
2011-12 LATerry Murray13-16-5.3John Stevens/Darryl Sutter**27-26-2.5
2011-12 MONJacques Martin13-19-5.1Randy Cunneyworth18-32-12.1
2011-12 TORRon Wilson29-35-5.4Randy Carlyle6-12-4.8
2011-12 CBJScott Arniel11-30-15.4Todd Richards18-23+6.1
2011-12 STLDavis Payne6-7-0.2Ken Hitchcock43-26+5.9
2010-11 NJDJohn MacLean9-24-14.7Jacques Lemaire29-20+7.0
2010-11 NYIScott Gordon4-13-7.5Jack Capuano36-39-2.3
2009-10 PHIJohn Stevens13-12-2.2Peter Laviolette28-29-6.1
2009-10 STLAndy Murray17-23-1.8Davis Payne23-19+4.6
2009-10 CBJKen Hitchock22-36-13.5Claude Noel10-14-2.5
2008-09 PITMichel Therrien27-30-7.6Dan Bylsma18-7+7.0
2008-09 NYRTom Renney31-30-5.6John Tortorella12-9+1.5
2008-09 CHIDenis Savard1-3-2.2Joel Quenneville45-33+3.0
2008-09 MONGuy Carbonneau35-31-3.4Bob Gainey6-10-6.4
2008-09 OTTCraig Hartsburg17-31-15.4Cory Clouston19-15+5.5
2008-09 CARPeter Laviolette12-13-1.2Paul Maurice33-23+5.8
2008-09 TBBarry Melrose6-11-4.5Rick Tocchet20-46-16.4
2007-08 OTTJohn Paddock36-28-4.3Bryan Murray7-10-4.4
2007-08 WASGlen Hanlon6-15-6.7Bruce Boudreau36-24+12.8
2007-08 ATLBob Hartley0-6-6.0Don Waddell34-42+1.4
2006-07 PHIKen Hitchcock1-7 -5.7John Stevens21-53-17.2
2006-07 STLMike Kitchen7-21-11.2Andy Murray27-27+16.0
2006-07 CBJGerard Gallant5-10-4.7Gary Agnew/Ken Hitchcock***28-39+5.7
2006-07 CHITrent Yawney7-14-2.9Denis Savard24-37-3.4
2005-06 NJDLarry Robinson13-18-6.3Lou Lamiorello32-18+10.7
2005-06 NYISteve Stirling18-23-4.2Brad Shaw18-22-0.2
2005-06 PITEd Olczyk8-22-10.1Michel Therrien14-37-10.1
2005-06 MONClaude Julien18-22-4.9Bob Gainey 23-18+5.2
2005-06 LAAndy Murray37-32-1.6John Torchetti5-7-0.8
TOTAL583-851 (40.7%)-284.6 (-19.8% ROI)TOTAL1024-1166 (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.

2015-16 PITMike Sullivan16-8+4.9Won Stanley Cup
2015-16 MINJohn Torchetti2-4-1.4Lost in 1st Rd
2014-15 OTTDavid Cameron2-4-1.7Lost in 1st Rd
2013-14 PHICraig Berube3-4-0.6Lost in 1st Rd
2011-12 WASDale Hunter7-7+2.3Lost in 2nd Rd
2011-12 LAKDarryl Sutter16-4+11.2 Won Stanley Cup
2011-12 STLKen Hitchcock4-5-1.9Lost in 2nd Rd
2009-10 PHIPeter Laviolette14-9+4.2Lost Stanley Cup
2008-09 PITDan Bylsma16-7+7.2Won Stanley Cup
2008-09 NYRJohn Tortorella3-4+0.6Lost in 1st Rd
2008-09 CHIJoel Quenneville9-80.0Lost in 3rd Rd
2008-09 MONBob Gainey0-4-4.0Lost in 1st Rd
2008-09 CARPaul Maurice8-10+0.2Lost in 3rd Rd
2007-08 OTTBryan Murray0-4-4.0Lost in 1st Rd
2007-08 WASBruce Boudreau2-4-1.9Lost in 1st Rd
2005-06 NJDLou Lamiorello5-4-1.3Lost in 2nd Rd
2005-06 MONBob Gainey2-4-0.5Lost In 1st Rd
Total109-94 (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.

Mark Gallant

I'm the guy who does his job. You must be the other guy.

1 Comment
  • John bub
    02/13/2017 at 5:55 pm

    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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