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Throwback Thursday: When good NHL coaches were being recycled

Back in 2003, The Hockey News lamented the number of good coaches being fired. But much like today, it didn't take long for those coaches to find work elsewhere.

Welcome back to Throwback Thursday, where we comb the THN archives to bring you something from our past.

This week, 14 years almost to the day we published a column about good coaches being fired and re-hired. What prompted the column? Michel Therrien was fired by the Montreal Canadiens. Just like he was, again, on Tuesday. If things haven't changed since 2003, we should expect to see Therrien back behind an NHL bench soon, much like his replacement, Claude Julien, needed little time to find work.

'Good coach, bad fire'

February 14, 2003 -- Vol. 56, No. 23

By Jay Greenberg

Coaches who raise the bar wind up clubbed over the head with it. Half-a-year after lifting a franchise three seasons removed from the playoffs into the second round, Michel Therrien was sent out with the trash, even though the Canadiens were close to last year’s pace. Under a microscope, viruses infecting the relationship between coach and players can always be found, justifying any move. But the true instrument of examination should be binoculars.

The Stars were burned out by the obsessive Ken Hitchcock, yet the Flyers, a mess at the end of last season, see themselves in a better light in the reflection of his Stanley Cup ring. Jacques Lemaire’s dull system that had players chafing and fans sleeping in New Jersey only two years after the Devils won it all, is keeping in playoff position a three-year-old franchise consisting of Marian Gaborik and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t have jobs in a 26-team league.

Not out of work for long

No one is greatly surprised when good coaches remain good coaches after a boss they once made look so good fires, and effectively discredits, them. The Devils are neck-and-neck with the Flyers under a man, Pat Burns, who has had his neck stretched twice, the last time by a Boston team who replaced him with the winningest active coach, Mike Keenan, and then fired him, too, at the end of that season.

Keenan, considered by Bruins GM Mike O’Connell to be no teacher, now has Florida, the youngest team in the league, on the fringes of a playoff hunt and well ahead of its learning curve.

No wonder Darryl Sutter, who improved the Sharks each of his five seasons before being fired at the first downturn, was out of work for all of four weeks before Calgary scooped him up. Or that Bob Hartley, removed from his Colorado bench less than two seasons removed from a Stanley Cup, is Don Waddell’s best no-brainer since he took Ilya Kovalchuk with the first overall pick.

There is a reason why these coaches keep getting jobs: they are good at what they do. So good, in fact, that you have to question why Keenan is on his seventh team, Burns his fourth, and Sutter his third. These guys push hard, secure in the knowledge of what happens to teams when they don’t, secure enough about themselves to know if they win, they almost always will work again. Perhaps they will even replace somebody as good as they are.

Owners the problem?

Marc Crawford, who won a Cup in Colorado, has helped make the Canucks an elite team, but there’s no ongoing shame on the Avalanche for firing him because they won again under Hartley. But in Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, the three places where Keenan had time to raise teams to four finals and one Cup, there were long declines after he moved on.

St. Louis was an exception only because GM Keenan had traded for Chris Pronger and the Blues struck gold with a then-unproven Joel Quenneville. Now, we would like to give the Blues, whose best chance at a Cup, appears past, credit for staying with Quenneville. But considering how NHL teams never take advantage of their Don Shulas and Tommy Lasordas to be part of rebuilding processes, that would be at the considerable risk of being premature.

“Do coaches have short shelf lives or do owners just think coaches have short shelf lives?” asks Dallas’s Dave Tippett.

Until the Hurricanes reached the 2002 final, we wondered what pictures Paul Maurice had of whom that were keep him behind the Carolina bench. But now that the image of the Prince of Wales trophy is burned into owner Peter Karmanos’ eyes and Ron Francis finally looks burned out, can Maurice survive his own good work of a year ago?

It’s shameful the way this league is predisposed to dispose of proven coaches, when there is so much evidence that if you have one, you would be better off keeping him rather than give in to griping players and overrated talent that keep revolving doors hitting winners in the butt on their way out. Owners, GMs, media and fans only send success flying into someone else’s fortunate hands.



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