They were the preseason favorites to win the Stanley Cup and played the role early on, starting the season 7-0 before miscues and underwhelming goaltending factored into the dismissal of Coach Bruce Boudreau.
Enter Dale Hunter, whose leadership and tenacity propelled the 1997-98 Washington Capitals all the way to the Stanley Cup finals. That same tenacity would be embraced by the team (and their fans), leading to an upset of the reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in round one before succumbing to the New York Rangers, the top seed in the East, in seven games during round two.
Then all those good feelings turned to dismay as Coach Hunter decided to return home to his family and the junior hockey team he co-owns with his brother in London, Ontario, leaving the Washington Capitals in search of their third head coach in just two seasons.
It will be just the 22nd time a team has had three coaches in two years since 1994, when the NHL switched to the current playoff format. The results have not been encouraging.
|Season||Team||Third Coach||W%||Points||Playoff result|
|1995-96||LAK||Larry Robinson||0.293||66||Did not qualify|
|1996-97||SJS||Al Sims||0.329||62||Did not qualify|
|1996-97||TOR||Mike Murphy||0.366||68||Did not qualify|
|1996-97||VAN||Tom Renney||0.427||77||Did not qualify|
|1997-98||PIT||Kevin Constantine||0.488||98||Lost in Round 1|
|1998-99||FLA||Terry Murray||0.366||78||Did not qualify|
|1999-00||NYI||Butch Goring||0.293||57||Did not qualify|
|2000-01||CHI||Alpo Suhonen||0.354||66||Did not qualify|
|2000-01||NYR||Ron Low||0.402||71||Did not qualify|
|2000-01||PIT||Ivan Hlinka||0.512||93||Lost in Conference Finals|
|2001-02||ANA||Bryan Murray||0.354||66||Did not qualify|
|2001-02||BOS||Robbie Ftorek||0.524||92||Lost in Round 1|
|2001-02||NYI||Peter Laviolette||0.512||92||Lost in Round 1|
|2002-03||DAL||Dave Tippett||0.561||107||Lost in Round 2|
|2002-03||NJD||Pat Burns||0.561||102||Won Stanley Cup|
|2003-04||BOS||Mike Sullivan||0.500||97||Lost in Round 1|
|2006-07||LAK||Marc Crawford||0.329||68||Did not qualify|
|2006-07||MTL||Guy Carbonneau||0.512||90||Did not qualify|
|2006-07||NYI||Ted Nolan||0.488||92||Lost in Round 1|
|2007-08||NJD||Brent Sutter||0.561||99||Lost in Round 1|
|2008-09||ATL||John Anderson||0.427||76||Did not qualify|
|2009-10||MTL||Jacques Martin||0.476||88||Lost in Conference Finals|
More than half (12) of the teams riding the coaching carousel did not make the playoffs for coach number three. Of the 10 that did qualify for the postseason, six lost in round one and just the 2002-03 New Jersey Devils under Pat Burns hoisted Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Of the nine teams that made the playoffs in the year before the third coach was brought in, just three managed to improve their playoff results under the new leadership. Of the remaining six, three did not qualify for the postseason altogether, two others lost again in the first round and one failed to make a repeat appearance in the conference semifinals.
That’s not to say whoever is chosen to be the coach — and there are many fine candidates — cannot have success next season. But when there is this type of excessive turnover behind the bench it typically indicates team problems run deeper than a coaching change can fix.
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