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Coaches know being fired is part of the job

by Dave Lozo / NHL.com
 
You've got a sparkling resume? Plenty of experience? A burning desire to reach the top of your profession? That's great and all, but we'll let you know.

The plight of unemployed men and women in the world today extends to the NHL, where an abundance of successful coaches have been tossed aside like a high school freshman trying to take a run at Zdeno Chara.

"There's a lot of competition … for no jobs right now," said Peter Laviolette, who joined TSN as an analyst last season after he was let go by the Carolina Hurricanes. "For not a lot of opportunity, there're a lot of qualified people."

Laviolette, who guided Carolina to a Stanley Cup in 2006 and was the winningest American-born coach in NHL history at the time of his dismissal, was one of the many well-regarded coaches who were kicked to the curb last season.

Michel Therrien wasn't even a full season removed from taking the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final before he was shown the door. The Canadiens bid adieu to Guy Carbonneau, who guided the Habs to the top spot in the Eastern Conference in 2007-08. And it only took the Blackhawks four games to decide that Denis Savard was no longer needed after helping Chicago to a 17-point improvement between 2006-07 and 2007-08.

Laviolette says the biggest factor in whether an NHL coach winds up with his head on the chopping block isn't so much the wins and losses, but the expectations with which he is saddled.

"There's a lot of pressure to be successful," Laviolette said. "You sit here and they're about to kick off the new season, and there are a lot of expectations that go with all teams, not just the Pittsburgh Penguins of the world. There're expectations in Tampa Bay. There're expectations in Florida. St. Louis has big expectations this year. And not everyone can meet those expectations."

One of those coaches who failed to live up to his employer's expectations is Craig MacTavish, who was fired by the Edmonton Oilers on April 15 and is now working as an analyst as part of TSN's hockey coverage. MacTavish's Oilers took Laviolette's Hurricanes to a seventh game in 2006, but that was the last time Edmonton would reach the postseason during MacTavish's tenure.

A coach losing his job is almost as inevitable as death and taxes, but when the axed are as successful as Laviolette, Therrien, Carbonneau and Savard, it has to be a shock to the system.

Doesn't it?

"Not really, no coaching change shocks me," MacTavish said with a laugh. "It's part of the job."

Another part of the job is the aforementioned expectations. And when they're not met, even if people on the outside think they're looking at success, it can lead to a chain reaction that starts with frustration and ends with a coach seeking new employment.

And according to MacTavish, it's not necessarily a bad thing for everyone involved.

"They get to the point where they've tried virtually everything they can and they're still not getting the expected result out of the players," MacTavish said. "I think it's, in a lot of ways, a necessary change. It gives the players a fresh start as well, and sometimes the coach needs a break, a forced hiatus. It's a frustrating position when you're not winning, and I think that frustration leads to the firings in a lot of ways.

"The coaches get so frustrated and the players lose trust and belief in the coach and the coach doesn't trust and believe that the players are good enough to get to the level you need to get, and a change has to be made."

"There might've been a little more stability (in the past), but not much. It's a very unstable environment that you're working in."
-- Peter Laviolette on coaching in the NHL

"I think there's always been pressure," Laviolette concurred. "There might've been a little more stability (in the past), but not much. It's a very unstable environment that you're working in."

One would think after listening to Laviolette and MacTavish tell it, being an NHL coach is the most stressful and unpleasant job a person could have. Nightly evaluations from management and the frustration of lofty expectations are enough to drive a man insane. Well, at least enough to drive him into television.

But Laviolette is excited about the possibility of getting back behind the bench again.

"I hope so. I'd love to," Laviolette said. "There're a lot of good coaches out there. You hope what you've done in the past is good enough for somebody to give you an interview and then you gotta hope they like what you're saying. You've gotta be patient and hope you're a fit somewhere."

For now, Laviolette and MacTavish are a fit at TSN. But if last season was any indication, they could be trading in their microphones for dry erase boards sooner rather than later.

Contact Dave Lozo at dlozo@nhl.com
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