Prior to the season, teams and their fans are full of anticipation and excitement about the upcoming season. Will this be the teams year? Will they meet or exceed their expectations?
Inevitably, a segment of teams fail to deliver on the expectations their fans and the team had, which will often lead to cries for changes to be made before the season is a bust.
Generally, the two areas where changes can be made which have a direct impact on the team and their results for the current season are moves in player and coaching personnel.
As was seen at this years trade deadline, making a deal for an impact player (i.e. Rick Nash), one that has the potential to turn a season around, can be exceptionally difficult and costly.
However, on the coaching front, the head coach who is in charge of systems, style of play, motivation, personnel moves and more, provides an easy way to shake a team up and in a relatively easy manner.
A change at head coach allows for a team to hit the reset button - not only bringing in a new motivator or potentially a new system of play but also a gut check for the players who (along with the past coach) played themselves into the situation where someone lost their job.
During the 2011-2012 season, the NHL has seen a total of 8 changes at the head coach position as teams took action to knock themselves out of their underperformance. However, like adding a player at trade deadline, there have been varying results from the changes made behind the bench.
But looking within the context of the 2011-2012 regular season, how have the changes at head coach impacted the results for the teams.
Overall, when comparing the Points/Game generated by a team prior to the firing to the Points/Game generated after the firing we see that on average teams have seen a positive improvement. At the end of the season, the 7 teams as a whole (Kings made two changes) have seen their Points/Game increase from 0.97 PTS/G to 1.13 PTS/G - which is a 16.5% increase.
Of the seven teams, four saw an improvement with three seeing a reduction in performance after the changes were made.
Here is a look at the individual teams performances prior to and after the coaching change:
St. Louis Blues
Prior to the move the team was 6-7-0. After the move, the team has become one of the elite teams in the league as Hitchcock has gone 43-15-11 as the Blues finished the season 49-22-11 with 109 PTS, enough for 2nd in the West.
The team has gone from 0.92 PTS/G to 1.41 PTS/G or 52.8% increase - which was the biggest improvement after a coaching change this season.
On Nov. 28, after going 8-13-4, the Hurricanes fired Paul Maurice who was on his second stint with the team after a brief tenure with the Maple Leafs. Replacing him was Kirk Muller, who took the team on a 25-20-12 run - finishing 12th in the East.
The team has boosted their performance from 0.80 PTS/G to 1.05 PTS/G or a 35.9% improvement.
When you have the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin on your team, expectations run high. That is likely why even after going 12-9-1 (not to mention some friction between coach and star player) coach Bruce Boudreau was let go on Nov. 28 during his 5th season as coach.
His replacement, Dale Hunter, former Cap and head coach of the London Knights the OHLs perennial offensive powerhouse. The hope was that this would ignite the Capitals offense and get them back to the top of the league.
After starting the season on a 1.14 PTS/G pace the team has gone 20-23-7 or a 1.12 PTS/G pace. However, while a dramatic turnaround wasn't realized, the Caps did make the playoffs finishing 7th in the East.
While the Capitals were ready to move on from the Bruce Boudreau era, the Ducks took advantage of the new coaching talent on the market when they hired Bruce Boudreau only two days after he was fired by the Capitals.
Boudreau replaced seventh-year coach Randy Carlyle, the coach who led them to their first Stanley Cup victory in 06-07, after the Ducks started the season 7-13-5 or 0.75 PTS/G.
Since the firing, the Ducks turned the ship around under the direction of Boudreau going 27-23-8 or 1.07 PTS/G, which represents a 42.5% improvement. The Ducks finished the season out of the playoffs in 13th place in the West but based on their improvement under Boudreau the Ducks are a team to watch next season.
Los Angeles Kings
Not every team has a replacement ready to step in when a coaching change is made. This was the case with the Los Angeles Kings let go Terry Murray after a 13-12-4 start (1.03 PTS/G), which while not poor was far below the expectations of the team who are looking to make a strong run for the cup after adding significant pieces to their roster (i.e. Mike Richards).
Replaceing Murray was assistant coach John Stevens as an interim replacement as the team started the process of finding a permanent replacement. After four games, where Stevens went 2-2-0, the Kings announced that they hired former Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter.
Since taking over, Sutter directed the Kings to a 25-13-11 record or 1.24 PTS/G or a 24.5% improvement. The move worked out well for the Kings who managed to sneak into the playoffs finishing 8th in the West.
Montreal can be a tough market to both play and coach in as the fans are both extremely passionate and vocal. After a slow start to the season with some clear blown opportunities, the team made the decision to part ways with third year coach Jacques Martin after going 13-12-7 (1.03 PTS/G).
Taking his place, on an interim basis, was assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth. This ignited a huge controvesy in the prodimently French speaking province as Cunneyworth became the first coach in nearly 30 years to be unable to speak French.
Now this may have ended up being a moot point had the fortunes of the team turned around but after the change behind the bench the Canadiens went 18-23-9 (0.90 PTS/G). The Canadiens missed the playoffs finishing last in the East but do have a lottery pick to add some new blood to the roster.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Usually, once the trade deadline has passed, coaches can start to feel a bit more comfortable in their position behind the bench - due to the team being in the playoff hunt and not wanting to make a drastic change or are so far out of the playoffs not much is going to right the ship until the offseason.
However, after being firmly in the hunt for the playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs went on a terrible run of games losing 10 of 11 in February. This cost the team valuable points sending them to the outskirts of the playoff picture and resulting in the firing of coach Ron Wilson who prior to his firing to the team 29-28-7 or 0.90 PTS/G.
His replacement, previously fired Randy Carlyle, was unable to do much to stem the loss of momentum by the Leafs as he guided the team to a 6-9-3 record or 0.83 PTS/G.
Here is a breakdown of the records by team and coach:
Obviously, there is no perfect formula for turning a season around in the NHL. But it does appear making a change at Head Coach can provide a positive boost to the performance of the team. And in some cases, the change can be a drastic improvement.
What do you think about the coaching moves?