NHL coaches fired under strange circumstances

Some great reaction from the hockey world Tuesday, via Twitter, as the Toronto Maple Leafs announce the firing of Randy Carlyle. (Denette/CP)

On Tuesday afternoon, the New York Islanders became the second team this season to part ways its head coach.

Jack Capuano spent parts of seven seasons with the Islanders, leading them to the playoffs in three of the last four years, two seasons with more than 100 points and their first playoff series win since 1993.

This season’s Islanders, though, are currently last in the Eastern Conference and third-last in the entire league with a 17-17-8 record — not a surprising place for a team with a recently-fired coach to sit.

But as of late the Islanders had started to show improvement.

New York started its disappointing season 5-8-3 before general manager Garth Snow gave Capuano a vote of confidence on Nov. 16. In the 26 games since then, the Islanders have registered at least one point in 17 contests culminating in a 4-0 shutout of the Boston Bruins on Monday, the day before his firing.

However, it was too little too late for Capuano. His dismissal may not be under the strangest circumstances in the NHL, but over the years their have been some questionable, or at least interesting, head coaching changes.


When the Florida Panthers fired Gerard Gallant, Don Cherry went on the record calling it “the worst firing in the history of [the NHL].” While Cherry’s words were strong (agree or disagree), prior to the start of the season Gallant was unlikely to be on anyone’s radar for first on the coaches chopping block.

When the axe fell, the Panthers were at the quarter mark of the season and sitting at a disappointing, but not disastrous, .500 record.

During his two seasons with the Panthers beginning in 2014, Gallant led Florida to a 91-point season followed by a 103-point campaign and a Jack Adams Award finalist nod. Firing a coach who has improved the team’s record each year from behind the bench after posting a 11-10-1 record through only 22 games seems a little … odd.

Since then, general manager Tom Rowe has taken over coaching duties and has led the Panthers to a 9-8-7. Not much of a change.


Picture this: a coach wins the Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens and then gets demoted to the AHL the next year.

That’s exactly what happened at the end of the 1970-71 season to Al MacNeil. During the playoffs he ruffled some feathers when he elected to go with a goalie that had only played in six games during the regular season. That goalie’s name? Ken Dryden.

Still confused?

MacNeil also benched Henri Richard during the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Rocket publicly called out his coach on the decision before he earned the ultimate ‘I told you so’ moment by scoring the tying and winning goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Even though MacNeil had a cup in hand, he made too many decisions that upper management did not agree with and was sent down to the AHL. His replacement: Scotty Bowman.

MacNeil would go on to win three Calder Cups.


In 2012-13, Randy Carlyle led the Toronto Maple Leafs to its first playoff appearance since the 2003-04 season. The year after it looked like they would head to the promised land for a second straight year, but instead went 2-12 during the final 14 games of the season to fall out of playoff contention.

To start the 2013-14 season, the team was not performing at it’s best — analytics-wise — but was still managing to collect wins. That is, until December. The team went on a 2-7 slide and, fearing a similar finish to the season prior, Carlyle was fired.

Here’s the kicker. On Jan. 6, 2015, the day of the firing, the Leafs were 21-16-3. Carlyle got fired while his team was sitting in a playoff spot.

Peter Horachek took over as interim head coach and Toronto won just one game over it’s next 13. They failed to make the playoffs, again.


Ralph Krueger was hired to start the 2012-13 season under the guise of a three-year contract. He only lasted one.

While his 19-22-7 record isn’t exactly one he, or anyone, was proud of, it was still his first year on the job and he had a questionable cast of characters to work with. Taylor Hall was at the beginning of his career, Ryan Smyth was at the end and Shawn Horcoff was the captain. They had talented young players that still needed time to reach their potential but, in general, it was not a very good hockey team.

Nonetheless, after just one season Krueger received a call over Skype — yes, you read that right — from general manager Craig MacTavish and after a brief conversation Krueger’s time with the Oilers was over.

It appeared that MacTavish had his eye firmly set on Dallas Eakins, a coach with zero NHL experience and currently serving time behind the bench of the Toronto Marlies of the AHL. He wanted Eakins for the job bad enough that he fired the coach the Oilers hired just one season prior.

Eakins only lasted 18 months behind the bench and was fired in the middle of his second season.


Prior to the 1999-00 season, the New Jersey Devils had perennially been one of the top teams in the entire league, but for three straight years they left the playoffs early.

Robbie Ftorek took over the job in May of 1998 and continued the trend of regular-season success. As the season approached it’s end, the Devils lost 10 of 16 games prompting general manager Lou Lamoriello to fire Ftorek. At the time, New Jersey sat at the top of the league with a 41-20-8-5 record with only eight games remaining in the regular season.

Ftorek lost his job after putting his team in a better position than any other team in the NHL. The Devils, however, put the pedal to the medal under new head coach Larry Robinson and won the Stanley Cup in the ensuing playoffs.

Gutsy move by Lamoriello, but it worked.

Fun Fact: Ftorek was fired by the Boston Bruins in 2002-03 near the end of another winning season where he went 33-28-8-4.

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