The calendar has yet to flip to 2012 and a whopping six coaches have been fired in the 2011-12 NHL campaign. Which hired coaches will make the biggest impact for their new clubs this season and beyond?
Ken Hitchcock, Blues
Record since taking over: 13-2-4
We’ve already seen what the Blues are capable of when they’re at their best – and Hitchcock has brought out the best in them. Do the Blues have staying power, though? Will Brian Elliott continue his great play between the pipes? If not, will Jaroslav Halak be able to return to top form? Can the Blues continue to win consistently without an elite talent up front?
Aside from the question marks, this Blues club is going to be tough for anyone to beat in the second half of the season. They are well-coached and are finally fulfilling the potential we’ve been waiting for over the last few years. Look for Hitchcock to have the Blues playing at a high level for the next couple years.
Dale Hunter, Capitals
Record since taking over: 4-5-0
I think everyone is taking a wait-and-see approach with Hunter, who is in the process of getting the Capitals to buy into his defensive system. In his few weeks on the job, Hunter’s club has been more up and down than a yo-yo. If he doesn’t turn things around soon, then a trade could go down. There’s no reason for the Caps to be sitting on the outside of a playoff berth on December 20th.
It’s going to take some time for Hunter to experience consistent success at the NHL level. He spent a lot of time coaching in the OHL, but had never been behind an NHL bench before getting this chance with the Capitals. In the long run I believe he’ll be successful. In the short term? That remains to be seen.
Bruce Boudreau, Ducks
Record since taking over: 2-6-1
It’s surprising to many to see the Ducks haven’t been sparked yet by the hiring of Boudreau. In the days following the change, Ducks players said the room responded well to the change from Randy Carlyle. But that has yet to be seen on the ice. Anaheim, who sits last in the Western Conference, has won just twice since Boudreau was brought in.
The Ducks obviously won’t be making the postseason come April. However, Boudreau needs to get the team on the right track sooner rather than later. If that doesn’t happen, then GM Bob Murray could re-consider making a major trade. In the long run, Boudreau will be just fine in SoCal.
Darryl Sutter, Kings
Record since taking over: Hired Tuesday
This may have been the most controversial hire of the six mentioned here. There’s no question that the Kings needed a shake-up; and it wasn’t going to come via trade, meaning Terry Murray was the fall guy. After a week of rumors, Sutter – someone GM Dean Lombardi knows very well – was finally hired this week to take over behind the bench.
Pundits believed the Kings needed to get a coach that was a 180-degree turn from Murray, someone that could light a spark and lead them to the playoffs. Because of that, Sutter wasn’t a popular hire around the league. His resume isn’t exactly filled with success (aside from the 2004 Cup final run in Calgary) and he doesn’t bring much change than what Murray brought to the table. In this writer’s opinion, Lombardi was almost too conservative in hiring Sutter.
Kirk Muller, Hurricanes
Record since taking over: 2-5-2
Since Muller took over, the Hurricanes haven’t seen any sort of turnaround, wins and losses wise. However, that can’t all be attributed to Muller. Captain Eric Staal and franchise netminder Cam Ward are each having a down year. The uber-talented Jeff Skinner, along with top defenseman Joni Pitkanen, is currently sidelined with a concussion. It’s difficult for Muller to have success under the circumstances.
Before he was hired to take over AHL Milwaukee over the summer, Muller was a hot commodity in the coaching ranks. Now he’s gotten his chance in an environment where he doesn’t have as much pressure as, say, Montreal. The team may not be playing well right now, but big picture wise, GM Jim Rutherford hit the ball out of the park by hiring Muller.
Randy Cunneyworth, Canadiens
Record since taking over: 0-1-0
Sutter wasn’t the only controversial hire. The Canadiens have taken a lot of heat for promoting Cunneyworth (who doesn’t speak French) from assistant to head coach. It is only on an interim basis, but the fact that he is not bilingual has caused a commotion in Montreal. Will it become a distraction until a full-time hiring is made in the summer? It’s not like the Habs have a lot of talent to fall back on.
I wouldn’t expect that Cunneyworth’s stay behind the Habs’ bench to last after this season. Patrick Roy’s name, among others, has been thrown out there as replacements. As for Cunneyworth and the Canadiens this season? I don’t think the coaching change will have a positive influence.
Photos credit: Getty Images
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