NHL Coaching Carousel Continues to Spin

NHL Coaching Carousel Continues to Spin

The Stanley Cup Finals rage on as Edmonton took Games 4 and 5 to push the series back home for at least Game 6 Friday night. Florida took the first three games of the series and seemed poised to steamroll their way to their first championship only to give up 13 goals in the last two games. While we wait to see which team will end up hoisting Lord Stanley’s chalice, the hockey world hasn’t stopped with other things. Whether it’s trades, like the one that sent Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Capitals in exchange for Darcy Kuemper or the one that shipped Jacob Markstrom from Calgary to New Jersey, or bigger personnel changes, they’ve run rampant during the postseason.

A full one-quarter of the league has moved on from their coach from the 2023-24 regular season, be it due to retirement or firing. Throw in five coaching changes in-season and five more last offseason and we’ve seen 18 teams bring in a new coach since the end of May 2023. Let’s take a look at who’s out and who’s in around the league after the latest hectic run of changes around the league.

Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres, after missing the postseason for a league-high 13 consecutive years, decided to part ways with Don Granato after three-plus seasons. Granato took over in the 2020-21 season, replacing Ralph Krueger, and went 9-16-3 over the final 28 games. Over the next three seasons, the Sabres posted 75, 91 and 84 points though they never made the postseason. The 2022-23 club came frustratingly close, missing by a single point as the Panthers clinched the final playoff spot en route to making a run to the Stanley Cup Finals. In his tenure with the team, Granato went 122-125-27 as the head coach of the team.

With Granato out, the Sabres turned to a familiar face as they brought back Lindy Ruff to take over the reins of the franchise. Ruff played for the team from 1979-80 through 1988-89 before being dealt to the Rangers. Over 608 games, he scored 102 goals and added 183 assists for 285 points along with 1,128 penalty minutes. Ruff coached the Sabres from 1997-98 through the early part of the 2012-13 season, going 571-432-78-84 with the team for a .560 winning percentage. He led the team to the Stanley Cup Finals in the 1998-99 season, when they fell to Dallas. Ruff went on to coach four seasons in Dallas and the last three-plus seasons with the Devils before getting fired on March 4.

Ottawa Senators: Ottawa fired D.J. Smith just 26 games into the season, when the team was 11-15-0, after four-plus seasons. He posted a record of 131-154-32 in his tenure and was replaced by former Senators coach Jacques Martin, who took over the team for the rest of the season. The Senators went 26-26-4 under Martin as the interim head coach but apparently that wasn’t good enough to secure him the job long term, provided he even wanted it. He was not retained at the end of the season.

Taking over the bench duties going forward is Travis Green, who finished the 2023-24 season coaching in an interim role himself. Green took over for the fired Lindy Ruff with the Devils and went 8-12-1 down the stretch as the Devils missed the postseason. Before that, Green spent four-plus seasons as the head coach of the Canucks before being fired on December 5, 2021. He has a career head coaching mark of 141-159-35 entering the 2024-25 campaign.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Atlantic Division has been full of upheaval as the Maple Leafs were the third team in the division to make a change behind the bench. After Toronto fell in seven games, losing the finale in overtime, against the Bruins in the opening round, the team decided to part ways with Sheldon Keefe. Keefe spent four-plus seasons running the franchise, taking over after Mike Babcock was let go in the 2019-20 season. He led the team to the postseason every year, including three seasons where the team posted at least 100 points. That includes the 2023-24 season when the team went 46-26-10. The problem was the fact that the Leafs won just one playoff round during his tenure. Despite posting a 212-97-40 mark, good for a .665 points percentage, Keefe was let go.

In his stead, GM Brad Treliving and Brendan Shanahan went out and got Craig Berube. The former tough guy who played 1,054 games in the NHL and won the Stanley Cup coaching the Blues back in 2019, was hired in mid-May to

take over the team. He has posted a 281-190-72 mark in his NHL coaching career, including going 206-132-44 with the Blues, before getting fired on December 12, 2023. He’ll be looked at to get the Maple Leafs to the promised land.

New Jersey Devils: New Jersey turned the page not once, but twice, since the start of last season regarding the coaching department. The Devils parted ways with Lindy Ruff after three-plus seasons on March 4, 2024, less than six months after signing him to a multi-year extension. He was 30-27-4 before getting the ziggy and was replaced by Travis Green, who went 8-12-1 as an interim coach. Green didn’t do enough to warrant earning the job long term and the team decided to make a change. As it turned out, both of the Devils’ coaches from last season landed elsewhere with Ruff taking over Buffalo and Green taking command of Ottawa.

Less than a week after being let go by Toronto, New Jersey went out and hired Keefe to take over the bench duties. There’s a lot of talent on the Devils but not nearly as bright a spotlight as what he had to deal with in Toronto.

Winnipeg Jets: Unlike the rest of the teams on this list, Winnipeg made a change because of a decision made by the coach as opposed to the franchise. Rick Bowness, who spent the last two seasons with the team in his second stint behind the bench for the Jets, stepped down and retired after the Jets fell in the first round of the playoffs. He finishes his career with a 310-408-48-37 mark as a head coach but counting his games as an assistant or associate coach, he was behind the bench for an NHL record 2,726 games. Bowness is one of three NHL coaches, along with Scotty Bowman and Pat Quinn, to coach in five different decades.

In his place, the Jets promoted associate head coach Scott Arniel to take over the franchise. Arniel played for the Jets from 1981-82 through 1985-86 and then again in 1990-91. He totaled 80 goals and 112 assists for 192 points with 336 penalty minutes in 406 games with the franchise. Arniel previously was a head coach with the Blue Jackets for one and a half seasons, posting a 45-60-18 mark in 123 games before getting fired midway through the 2011-12 season.

Seattle Kraken: The Kraken, who are the league’s newest team, made the first coaching change in franchise history. Seattle made the postseason in their second year of existence and won their first playoff round before backsliding in 2023-24. The Kraken went 34-35-13 and finished sixth in the Pacific Division to miss the playoffs. As a result, the Kraken fired Dave Hakstol, who had signed an extension through 2025-26 last July. He posted a 107-112-27 mark in his three seasons with the team. Overall, Hakstol has a 241-213-69 mark in his head coaching career, including four seasons with the Flyers between 2015-16 and 2018-19.

Taking over behind the bench for the Kraken is Dan Bylsma, who has had success as the head man in the league. He has a 320-195-55 mark with the Penguins and Sabres, including a Stanley Cup victory with the Penguins in the 2008-09 season. Bylsma had coached the Kraken’s AHL affiliate, the Coachella Valley Firebirds, the last two seasons, prior to getting the job.

San Jose Sharks: San Jose made a move though to be fair, the guy that got booted wasn’t at fault for the miserable product the team put on the ice. The Sharks were brutal last season, going 19-54-9 while posting the league’s worst record. After that, the organization decided that two seasons under coach David Quinn was enough and fired him after the season. San Jose was 41-98-25 over the past two seasons and finished nowhere near the postseason. The Sharks dealt away most of their top-tier talent during Quinn’s tenure, leaving him with a lack of proven options to work with on the ice.

Much like their on-ice prospects, the Sharks have turned to a youth movement in the coaching department. Ryan Warsofsky, who coached the Chicago Wolves to the Calder Cup in 2021-22 and was an assistant coach the last two seasons with the Sharks, takes over the job. At 36, he is the youngest current coach in the NHL, though this will be his first NHL head coaching gig.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus was a late addition to the group of teams with new coaching staffs in the organization. In late May, the Blue Jackets brought in former Hurricanes GM Don Waddell as their GM and president of hockey operations. Then, on Monday, Columbus fired Pascal Vincent after just one season behind the bench. The Blue Jackets were 27-43-12 last season and finished well off the pace for the postseason. Waddell decided that a change was needed for the organization to have success and made the choice to let him go.

The coaching search goes on for the Blue Jackets and it’s unclear as to who may be the top target at this point. Watch for further updates regarding this situation in the coming days.

There you go, a full look at the upheaval we’ve seen in the league just since the regular season has come to an end. Which moves will pay dividends and which ones will end up being failures? We’ll find out in the coming months, starting with the beginning of free agency in a couple of weeks.

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Ben Hayes

Ben has been a sports writer for over 35 years, dabbling in college and pro basketball, college and pro football, baseball, college lacrosse, minor league baseball and even college gymnastics. He's also been involved in the gaming industry for nearly 30 years and has been looking to beat the books since he was 13! Ben has had great success in handicapping college football, the NFL, college basketball, the NBA and MLB for 27+ years. His Twitter handle is @BenHayesWAW