After watching most of the Stanley Cup playoffs, it’s fair to wonder how the Los Angeles Kings ended up as an eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Kings arguably could’ve missed the playoffs if it wasn’t for the team’s decision to fire head coach Terry Murray and replace him with Darryl Sutter in the middle of the regular season.
Midseason coaching changes seldom lead to Stanley Cups, but if the Kings are able to finish off the New Jersey Devils, it wouldn’t be an unprecedented scenario.
Here’s a list of teams throughout NHL history that were able to reach the top of the mountain after a midseason coaching change.
1931 Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs moved into their new arena, Maple Leaf Gardens, in 1931. The team was expecting big things but didn’t get off to a hot start as Toronto dropped its first five contests. Head coach Art Duncan was fired and replaced by Dick Irvin, and the Leafs’ fortunes quickly changed.
The Leafs become an offensive powerhouse and finished with three of the top four scorers in the league. They were undefeated in three postseason games at home, which included a 6-4 win to the sweep the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup final.
1970-71 Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens were on top of the world with four Stanley Cup titles from 1965-69. But in 1969-70, the club missed the playoffs for the first time over 20 seasons. The team brought in Claude Ruel, but he was replaced after 24 games by Al MacNeil.
MacNeil brought the team back to the playoffs, where he made the controversial decision to start young goaltender Ken Dryden in the postseason. The Canadiens went on to down the rival Boston Bruins and defeat the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup.
Unfortunately, MacNeil was not very popular with the team and was demoted to coach the team’s AHL affiliate following the season after run-ins with Henri Richard and other players.
1999-2000 New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils were coming off a 105-point season but went into a tailspin late in the 1999-2000 season. Devils GM Lou Lamoreillo knew the team needed a drastic change, so he canned Robbie Ftorek and promoted assistant Larry Robinson in late March.
Robinson ran a .500 record in the team’s final eight games, but the Devils rolled through the Eastern Conference before taking on the Dallas Stars in the Stanley Cup.Robinson’s squad, led by a veteran group of defencemen, were able to overcome a 3-1 deficit to beat the defending champs and claim their second Cup of the decade.
Robinson was relieved of his post midway through the 2001-2002, but is now back with the franchise as an assistant coach.
2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins knew they had a choice to make. The club was out of the playoffs in mid-Feburary and a team led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin was trending downward. The Pens decided to promote AHL coach Dan Bylsma to replace Michel Therrien, and the team took off right away.
Under Bylsma, the Penguins finished the regular season with a 18-3-4 record and a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Penguins were able to overcome a deficit to defeat the rival Washington Capitals in the second round before they finally got revenge over the Detroit Red Wings, who defeated them in the Cup final the year before, with a 4-3 series victory in the championship. Blysma still remains as the bench boss of the Penguins franchise.
Other teams in various sports who have won titles after a midseason change:
-1968 New York Yankees, 1982 Los Angeles Lakers, 2003 Florida Marlins, 2006 Miami Heat
Other teams who made the Stanley Cup but lost after a midseason change:
-1959 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1968 St. Louis Blues, 1982 Vancouver Canucks, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers