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EJ: Changing coaches not always a recipe for success

by EJ Hradek /
In a salary-cap league, where it's difficult to dramatically change your team with in-season trades, the coach is usually the fall guy.
If your team is underperforming, fire the coach. If your team isn't giving consistent effort, fire the coach. Heck, if your team just isn't that good, fire the coach.
On Saturday, the Canadiens became the sixth team since Nov. 6 to drop the axe on their coach, firing Jacques Martin after he compiled a 13-12-7 record. Habs GM Pierre Gauthier tried to take another tack several weeks earlier, firing assistant coach Perry Pearn on Oct. 26. The abrupt decision to fire Pearn, who was relieved of his duties on the afternoon of a game, was seen as a message to Martinm as well as an indication of the intense pressure on the current management group.
Elevating assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth to the top job (on an interim basis) didn't pay any immediate dividends as the Canadiens dropped a 5-3 decision Saturday night to the visiting Devils.
The Canadiens elevated assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth to the top job after firing Jacques Martin. (Photo: Getty Images)
In the coming weeks, I'm not convinced that Cunneyworth will have any more success than Martin. The Habs, who've been dealing with a number of injuries, are a flawed group. They're undersized and not strong up the middle. Under the circumstances, the team could be even further down the standings.
Thus far, the Blues have been the only team to benefit from making a coaching change. They were also the first team to pull the trigger, making the move Nov. 6.
After a 6-7 start under Davis Payne, they've gone 13-2-4 with Ken Hitchcock behind the bench. Of course, Hitchcock was a significant upgrade at the coaching position. That's no knock on Payne, who worked less than two full seasons in St. Louis before getting a pink slip. Hitchcock's simply a much more experienced and accomplished coach, with a Stanley Cup on his resume. He walked into the Blues' dressing room with instant credibility.
In Washington, Dale Hunter has gone just 4-5 since replacing Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28. The new coach hasn't had the luxury of a full lineup, though. Top defenseman Mike Green has been out since Nov. 11 and he's only worked in eight of the club's 31 games. When Green has played, the Caps are a perfect 8-0. When he hasn't, they're 8-14-1. Green isn't a miracle worker; but, clearly, the Capitals are better when he's in the lineup.
Still, this team has holes (a legit No. 2 center, for example) and they haven't shown to be mentally strong enough at times. Hunter, who has no previous NHL head coaching experience, faces many challenges.
On the same day the Caps canned Boudreau, the Hurricanes fired Paul Maurice, replacing him with former Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller. That move hasn't changed their fortunes, either. Carolina was 8-13-4 under Maurice. Since the change, Eric Staal and Co. are just 2-5-2. While a different voice behind the bench might serve the franchise well in the long-term, the Canes just aren't good enough right now. Staal's early-season struggles have made things worse.

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Now, Muller has more problems due to the concussion issues surrounding both Jeff Skinner and Joni Pitkanen. The Hurricanes aren't near deep enough to weather those type of injuries. While I think the 'Canes have the potential to be a better team in coming years as young players and prospects like Skinner, Brandon Sutter, Justin Faulk and Ryan Murphy continue to mature and develop, I don't see much of a short-term turnaround under Muller.
Less than three days after the Capitals/Hurricanes news, the Ducks grabbed Boudreau off the unemployment line, tabbing him to replace Randy Carlyle. After a 4-1 start, the Ducks' season had gone off the rails. They were 7-13-4 when they made the change.
The easy-going Boudreau hasn't had any more luck than the intense Carlyle. Anaheim is just 2-5-1 under its new coach.
With top stars like Ryan Getzlaf, Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and veteran legend Teemu Selanne at the top of their roster, the Ducks entered the season as a serious playoff contender. However, things have unraveled pretty quickly. The Ducks are scoring just 2.31 goals per game, while allowing 3.19. Obviously, that's not a winning formula.
Up the freeway, in Los Angeles, the Kings also made a coaching change, pulling the plug on Terry Murray last Monday afternoon. He was a victim of high expectations and under performance. That's a bad combo in the coaching business.
Thus far, the team hasn't seemed too inspired by the change, going 1-2 under interim boss John Stevens. LA looked particularly outclassed in an 8-2 loss in Detroit on Saturday night.
Veteran head coach (and former Flames GM) Darryl Sutter will assume the full-time head coaching job Tuesday when the team returns from its current Eastern swing. The Kings visit the Leafs on Monday night. Sutter hasn't been behind the bench in a few years, but he has a presence that will be felt in the dressing room.
Sutter should have a chance for success in Los Angeles as the Kings have several important pieces in place. While GM Dean Lombardi still needs to find a few missing pieces, the Kings have the people in place to be better than their current 14-14-4 record would indicate. Sutter will make his Kings' debut against Boudreau's Ducks on Thursday night at Staples Center.
While six coaches are already down, you can bet there'll be another change in the near future. That's the nature of the coaching business. If things are going wrong, the coach usually is the first to go.
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