Every year, we see it happen; teams expected to make noise come out of the gates slow, and dig themselves a sizable hole in the standings. Every year, we hear the speculation “Is it time to oust the coach? Would that be an overreaction?”
This year, it’s the Stanley Cup favorite Anaheim Ducks and popular Playoff pick Columbus Blue Jackets who have begun their seasons with an extended run of poor play, with the Ducks compiling just 4 points in their first 10 games and the Blue Jackets going pointless in their first 7 matches (1). Todd Richards, in his 5th season as Head Coach of the Blue Jackets, was fired. Bruce Boudreau, whose 4 season tenure has seen the Ducks ascend to elite status, is on the hot seat.
Some say these are cases of being too quick to call for a coach’s head, that we’re overreacting. However, given the size of the hole that these teams have to climb now to just make the Playoffs, I think the Richards firing and the speculation about Boudreau’s job are perfectly justified.
This is, of course, going on the premise that a coaching change would improve the teams’ play, at least in the short term. Given the recent history with in-season coaching changes, this is not an unreasonable expectation; of the 7 teams who have changed Coaches in the midst of the 2014-15 or 2013-14 season, only the 2014-15 Toronto Maple Leafs (who were also the only team in a Playoff position at the time of the switch) did not see their record improve (1). The 2013-14 Jets, Oilers, and Sabres all saw their 5v5 Score Adjusted Scoring Chance For% and Corsi For% improve as well (2);this isn’t to say that the 2014-15 didn’t, I simply can’t coerce waronice.com into displaying those.
Of course, not all replacement coaches are created equal, but I believe Columbus found a good one in John Tortorella, and that there are still viable, though not perfect, options for the Ducks. Tortorella’s last NHL gig — a one year stint with the Vancouver Canucks — was tumultuous at best, but his overall record as a Head Coach remains impressive, with 8 Playoff appearances and a Stanley Cup in 12 seasons as a full-time NHL Head Coach (3). Moreover, Tortorella’s notoriously impassioned nature and emphasis on a widely accessible blue-collar play style gives the Blue Jackets as good a shot at a quick turnaround as they’re going to get, and it’s worth noting that Tortorella-coached teams are famous for their shot-blocking prowess and gutsy defense, which could aid star Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky regain the confidence that was shattered by his and the team’s awful early-season play.
Meanwhile, the Ducks have acceptable coaches to turn to if they do fire Boudreau. Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet believes that if Anaheim opts for a new coach, current Assistant Coach to Boudreau and former Head Coach of the Ducks’ AHL affiliate Trent Yawney would probably be the guy (4). The Defensively-inclined Yawney does have previous NHL Head Coaching experience, a very poor stint leading a then very poor Chicago Blackhawks team, but Ducks management apparently does not think that ordeal accurately represents Yawney’s skill as a Coach. In addition to Yawney, his fellow Ducks Assistant Coach Paul Maclean, and even Todd Richards, who both built reputations as solid Coaches over their times in Ottowa and Columbus respectively, have been floated out as possibilities, along with Randy Carlyle, who is at least the most intriguing option, even if not the best one. Carlyle has a high level of familiarity with the Ducks’ longer tenured players, having directly preceded Boudreau as Head Coach of the team, and has added to his resume — which already included 4 Playoff appearances and a Stanley Cup in 5 years with Anaheim (5) — since being fired, getting respectable performances out of a Toronto Maple Leafs roster that left much to be desired.
I also believe both teams have to turn it around now. Last season, the lowest point total of any Playoff team was 97; at the time of Richards’ firing, the Blue Jackets’ 0-7-0 record meant that to reach 97 points, they would need to earn 65% of their possible points for the rest of the year (which would be 106 points in 82-games). Anaheim’s current 1-7-2 record (1) means that to get to 97 points, they would also need to win roughly 65% of their possible points going forward (which again would be about 106 points over 82 games).
Clearly Columbus — who have a good roster, but certainly not a 106 point one in today’s NHL — needed to make a change to salvage any hope for the Playoffs. The Ducks, a team who finished with 108 points last year, can afford to have Boudreau on a slightly longer leash, although that still does not mean he has much room for error; if the Ducks lose their next game in regulation, their target point % becomes about 65.5%, which extrapolates to roughly 107 points, and climbs ever higher if they continue to struggle after that.
If the Ducks cannot start to turn it around in the next 2 or 3 games, their management would be wise to fire Bruce Boudreau and replace him with one of the viable replacements available to them, just as the Blue Jackets were wise to fire Todd Richards when they did and install John Tortorella in his place.
1 – http://www.nhl.com/ice/standings.htm
2 – war-on-ice.com/teamtable.html
3 – http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=5440
4 – http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nhl-puck-daddy/trent-yawney-to-take-over-if-anaheim-coach-bruce-boudreau-is-fired-192804626.html
5 – http://www.hockeydb.com/ihdb/stats/pdisplay.php?pid=829